Dozens of Lebanese protesters attacked several banks in Beirut on Thursday, causing damage to at least four branches in the Badaro area of the city. The demonstrations were held in protest of informal restrictions on cash withdrawals, which have been in place for years, and the worsening economic situation in the country. The protesters, who were frustrated with the rapidly deteriorating economic conditions, set fire to tires outside the banks and broke windows and doors.
The demonstrations came on the 10th day of a strike by Lebanon’s commercial banking institutions. At least six banks had been targeted, as the Lebanese pound hit a new record low. The protests were organized by United for Lebanon, a collective of lawyers seeking to fight corruption and protect depositors’ rights.
Lebanese banks began their open-ended strike last week in protest of recent judicial actions. A court recently ruled in favor of a couple who had been involved in a dispute with Lebanon’s Fransabank over their blocked deposits. The Court of Cassation had ordered that the couple be paid cash, rather than a check, which would have been at a much lower value. The Association of Banks in Lebanon disagreed with this decision and announced the strike soon after.
Why Lebanese protesters are taking to the streets
The pound has lost more than 95% of its value against the dollar since the start of the economic crisis in 2019. The severe depreciation of the local currency on the parallel market has indirectly led to Thursday’s developments. The depreciation has caused a surge in fuel prices in a country where 80% of the population now lives below the poverty line, according to the UN. Lebanese banks have imposed restrictions on withdrawals in US dollars and Lebanese pounds that were never formalized by law, leading depositors to seek access to their funds through lawsuits and often by force. The economic meltdown in Lebanon has led to a major shift towards a cash-based economy.
Rami Ollaik, the founder of United for Lebanon, warned that unless recent judicial decisions were implemented, the group was ready to go back to article 184 of the penal code, which according to United for Lebanon allows the use of force and the committing of an offense in defense of oneself or one’s money. He said Thursday’s developments were a “demonstration of force and an act of defiance” and that there would be “no tolerance for ripping us off further without complying to court decisions.”
Image Credit: AP Photo, Hussein Malla