Protesters in Beirut clash with authorities

Lebanese security forces clashed with protesters in Beirut on Wednesday, as hundreds of retired army and police veterans, along with angry depositors and other demonstrators, took to the streets to protest against low pensions and deteriorating economic conditions. The rallies occurred near a joint meeting of parliamentary committees, where politicians were discussing measures to alleviate the public’s increasing financial hardship and declining livelihoods.

Reasons behind protesters in Beirut

The retired soldiers, frustrated at a lack of action to address the currency crisis and devaluing pensions, repeatedly attempted to storm the government palace in the city centre. Security forces responded with tear gas, heightening tensions. The veterans demanded that all public sector salaries be adjusted to a discounted rate of 28,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar through the government’s Sayrafa exchange platform, bringing their pensions closer to a liveable wage. Before the economic crisis, a veteran’s monthly pension was worth $1,600. Should the veterans’ demands be met, the same amount would be worth $245.

Lebanon’s economic collapse

Since the 2019 economic collapse, over 80% of the population has been pushed into poverty, and the local currency has lost over 98% of its value on the parallel market. Lebanese commercial banks imposed informal capital control laws that locked depositors out of much of their savings, further driving down their quality of life. Inflation has skyrocketed since 2019, making essential daily items increasingly unaffordable.

The central bank’s intermittent interventions through the Sayrafa platform, which sells public sector employees a limited amount of dollars at the discounted rate of 70,000 pounds to the dollar, have been little more than temporary stopgaps and have not kept pace with the rapid devaluation of the nation’s currency. The Lebanese pound fell as low as 140,000 to the US dollar on Tuesday before another intervention by the central bank saw it recover some of its value. On Wednesday afternoon, it was trading at about 110,000 to the dollar.

Protests also erupted in other parts of the country, including the main north-south highway and the eastern Bekaa Valley, with angry protesters briefly closing roads. Many gas stations, which have been changing their fuel prices several times a day, closed on Tuesday amid calls to price oil products in US dollars. Some pharmacies also closed because of the constantly changing exchange rate.

The latest crash of the pound comes days before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk. The ongoing economic crisis has also stalled the implementation of broad reforms agreed with the International Monetary Fund to enable access to a $3 billion bailout package and unlock funds in development aid to make the economy viable again. The country is currently being run by a caretaker government, and there is an ongoing deadlock over the election of a new president, a post that has been vacant since the end of October.

Tags : Lebanon