To get your money back in Beirut, “the quick fix is ​​robbery”

Made up, hair sculpted, face uncovered… There was no reason to guess that Sali Hafiz was about to rob a bank. His, located in the Sodeco district of Beirut. The theft? His own money. On the streets, passers-by are not surprised by the sight. “He’s right,” commented one of them. The footage is doing the rounds on social media. At the same time, Wednesday morning, another bank in the southeast of the capital was the victim of a similar robbery. How to explain that the Lebanese were reduced to robbing their own banks? 20 minutes make the point.

What happened on Wednesday in Beirut?

It was 10:30 in the morning on Wednesday when Sali Hafiz, a 28-year-old interior designer, entered his bank, a (plastic) pistol in his hand. Behind him, accomplices blocked the main entrance, poured gasoline and filmed the scene. The young woman sat down at the table and asked for money. His money. “I asked to give the $20,000 that I had in my account since 2015” to pay for his brother’s cancer treatment, “but the bank refused”, he explained to Release. He left less than thirty minutes later, 12,500 dollars in his pocket, and fled.

Around the same time, Rami Charafeddine committed the same type of robbery at BankMed in Aley, southeast of Beirut. He left with 30,000 dollars before being arrested by the police. Security forces also arrested Abdel Rahman Zakaria at Sali Hafiz’s apartment. Both are prominent activists in the “revolutionary” movement, which calls for regime change. ACCORDING releasethe two robberies were coordinated by activist lawyer Rami Ollaik and the association for the protection of depositors’ rights Mouttahidoun.

Why are the Lebanese reduced to stealing their own money?

Since 2019, the country is in a severe economic crisis. Prices soared, poverty exploded, and the state withdrew from many areas including health, allowing the black market and corruption to spread. In the case of Sali Hafiz, three factors came together. “We are a country where people have to pay for surgery, but the bank refuses to give money. And we are in a society where getting a weapon is easy,” explained Alex Issa, teacher of geopolitics and manager in IRENE training at ESSEC Business School.

With bank withdrawals limited since 2019, Lebanese can only withdraw $200 per month in cash. Too little for treatments that cost thousands of dollars. Above all, “we lose by getting our money back”, because the exchange rate is manipulated. “The bank gives about 8,000 pounds for a dollar instead of 37,000,” explained the person who works for UNDP in Lebanon to 20 minutes. Instead of spending a lot of time waiting for some discounted tickets, “the easy solution is to rob”, he sums up.

Can the government survive the crisis?

For three years, the crisis in Lebanon only worsened. Economic, political, religious… The situation seems inseparable, despite the demands of international organizations for governance reform. However, “the system in place organizes power” in a country plagued by corruption, explains Alex Issa. “There are suspicions that the money is gone. The central bank would have asked commercial banks to lend it people’s money. It would have fallen into the hands of the political class and disappeared,” he said.

Worse, international pressure does nothing to change the problem. “These are the people who pay when the IMF refuses to give money, the rich political class is saved”, criticizes the researcher. The problem is that the Lebanese multi-confessional society is not united, “the majority follows his religious community, the party leader who says that others are corrupt”. However, “we have reached a stage where people just want to eat and live,” complained Alex Issa. A fatalist, he fears “more and more violence” and that “social conflict has become a religious conflict”.

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