The Lebanese government had announced a $0.20 daily charge on voice calls made through WhatsApp and other apps.
On Thursday, the government announced a new daily tax for calls made via voice-over-internet-protocol (Voip), which is used by apps including WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Apple’s FaceTime.WhatsApp is an extremely popular messaging service in all over the world, with 1.5 billion users worldwide. People in Lebanon reportedly use free service frequently to make voice calls, since it is a low-cost way to stay connected. But it scrapped the plans hours later amid clashes between security forces and protesters.
The fee could potentially bring in up to $250m in annual revenues from the country’s estimated 3.5 million VoIP users but triggered huge protests across Beirut.
The country has only two mobile phone service providers, both are state-owned, with priciest mobile rates in the region.
Thousands have protested, calling on the government to step down over its handling of an economic crisis.
Protesters have vented their frustration at several new proposed taxes and other unpopular economic policies. Lebanon is in a state of ‘economic emergency,’ and one of the world’s most indebted countries.
“We are not here over the WhatsApp, we are here over everything: over fuel, food, bread, over everything,” said Abdullah, a protester in Beirut.
Telecommunications Minister Mohamed Choucair said that the 20-cent fee will not go into effect and that the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri had requested the policy reversal. Lebanese media said.
“We are asking for jobs, for our rights, electricity, water, we are demanding education,” said another protester.
In one of the biggest protests the country has seen in years, demonstrators blocked roads across Lebanon with burning tires. Security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in central Beirut. Lebanese media said.