BEIRUT — After days of tense protests in Lebanon over a crumbling economy, a minutes-long reprieve came in the form of a beloved children’s song.
Eliane Jabbour was driving through Baabda District, just south of Beirut, when a crowd of cheering protesters surrounded her car. Her 15-month-old son, Robin, was with her.
“I told them, ‘I have a baby, don’t be too loud,'” she told CNN about the encounter Saturday night.
That’s when the protesters started singing “Baby Shark,” the song that’s become an anthem for toddlers around the globe.
“It was spontaneous,” Jabbour said. “He likes this song. He hears it many times at home and laughs.”
The video quickly spread across Lebanon–so quickly, Jabbour said, that her husband saw the video before she could tell him about it.
Protesters opposed new taxes, weakened economy
Jabbour’s encounter with protesters marked a light moment in a turbulent time for Lebanon as hundreds of thousands of people demand reform.
Demonstrations began Thursday after the Lebanese government announced proposed new taxes on residents, including a 20-cent charge per day for voice over internet protocol (VOIP), a feature on WhatsApp that allows users to make calls with an internet connection instead of a phone line.
But protesters’ anger runs deeper than an app. Residents are challenging a sectarian government where power is consolidated among political and business elites, often one and the same. Crippling debt has stalled the country’s economic growth and has kept many citizens from accessing basic services.
Mounting pressure from protesters pushed the government on Monday to drop the measures, cut officials’ salaries and approve a 2020 budget that could allow billions of dollars in pledged international donations. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri refused to resign despite protests.
Jabbour said the video of protesters singing to her son represents the reality for children in Lebanon.
“Kids in Lebanon should have a better future,” Jabbour said. “Robin will see the video when he grows up and know that Lebanese guys were fighting for him.