By Arab News
By Najia Houssari
Widespread anger at Lebanese banking restrictions boiled over on Saturday when dozens of protesters stormed a Beirut branch following its refusal to deliver employees’ salaries in US dollars.
The protest group, made up mainly of Communist Party members, occupied the BLC bank’s Hamra branch and staged a sit-in over what they described as “the false practices of the banks.”
Lebanon’s banks have imposed weekly limits on withdrawals of US dollars amid a shortage in liquidity as the country grapples with its worst economic and financial crisis in more than three decades.
The restrictions have added to mounting anger over job layoffs, salary cuts and rapidly rising prices.
The Communist Party later issued a statement saying that the sit-in resulted in “all customers receiving their money and deposits, which confirms the false practices of the banks, as the administration claimed that the dollar was not available inside the branch, which turned out to be untrue.”
On Thursday, protesters staged a sit-in outside the central bank and the Lebanese Banks’ Association building in protest against the banks’ policies amid unprecedented capital controls.
Banks’ strict controls on releasing hard currency have added to the liquidity crisis on top of an economic downturn.
Meanwhile, attempts to form a national salvation government stalled after a number of Sunni political figures refused to accept ministerial positions in the leadership. The Future Movement, the largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, is boycotting attempts to establish a new government.
Nasser Yassin, acting director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, told Arab News that he had rejected a request to take up a ministerial position.
Yassin described the portfolio as a “suicide mission.”
“I am not enthusiastic in the current circumstances,” he said.
Yassin said the offer of a ministerial position “has nothing to do with the representation of the movement, but rather because I am a Sunni figure, in light of other people refusing to participate in the government.”
He said: “The parties that have held power for decades lack any idea of justice and human rights. Nothing will change unless these politicians are removed from power and replaced by a new academic generation armed with new concepts that prevent them from using power to enrich themselves and exert influence.”
“What applies to politicians applies to banks as well since the private good has priority over the public good,” Yassin added.
Leader of the Lebanese Forces party, Samir Geagea, told a party meeting that the immediate solution would be “to form a government whose members are all independent technocrats because the economic wheel cannot be relaunched with the same forces present in authority.”
Muhammad Al-Hajjar, a member of the Future parliamentary bloc, said that although the incoming government appears to be technocrat, “in reality it is political.”
“I fear it will not gain the trust of the people and the international community, which monitors what is happening in Lebanon,” he said.