The Lebanese Army sent armoured vehicles to the streets of Tripoli on Wednesday after men shot live ammunition in the air and forced shops to shut in response to the country's worsening economic crisis.
What began as an armed dispute turned into protests against power cuts and inflation in Lebanon’s second largest city, which is one of the poorest on the Mediterranean.
“I was on my way home when I heard shots fired around me,” Tripoli resident and analyst Chadi Nachabe said.
“People are on edge; the situation is unlivable.”
Calm was restored to the city early in the evening, an army representative told The National.
The streets of Tripoli are a barometer of popular unrest in Lebanon because it is one of the poorest cities in the country. When living conditions deteriorate, clashes and protests often break out.
Wednesday's clashes were the second outbreak of violent demonstrations in the northern city this week.
A man was stabbed to death on the outskirts of Tripoli after a dispute between protesters who were blocking the road and drivers, according to Lebanon's national news agency.
Tripoli was known as the “bride of the revolution” for the prominent role it played in the mass anti-government protests of late 2019. But the city has also been associated with extremist groups, like the Al Nusra front, which briefly took root after the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
A severe economic crisis has engulfed Lebanon since late 2019, with blame placed on decades of corruption within Lebanon’s entrenched political class.
The financial meltdown has pushed more than half of the population below the poverty line, according to the UN, and foreign currency shortages have put even basic necessities like fuel, baby formula and medicines out of the reach of many.
“People are angry, there is nothing left in this country: no baby formula, no medications, no fuel … If this continues, the security situation in Tripoli can only deteriorate,” Mr Nachabe said.
Frequent power cuts have plunged Lebanon into darkness in recent months, with particularly severe blackouts in the north.
Tripolitans have told The National that state electricity is only available for one to one and a half hours per day. Private generator owners have been rationing electricity for four to five hours per day to remedy shortages in fuel.
Lebanon has been without a fully functioning government for the past nine months as politicians bicker over their share of ministerial portfolios. The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90 per cent of its value since 2019, causing rampant inflation and crushing the purchasing power of residents.
Tripoli's mayor, Riad Yamak, has said that if the state does not intervene to help Tripolitans, the worsening economic crisis will cause more violence in the streets.
The Lebanese Parliament on Wednesday approved a new law to allocate $557 million to the needy through a system of ration cards. But the caretaker government has yet to secure these funds and the law does not specify through which criteria the applicants will be selected.
“Since the onset of the economic crisis we’ve been begging the state to look after Tripoli,” Mr Yamak said.
“Even as a municipality, we are not doing enough. When state officials overlook Tripoli, they have to take responsibility for what happens next.”
Large protests erupted in Tripoli in February against deteriorating living conditions that were worsened by an unpopular nationwide curfew. One protester was shot dead after the International Security forces said they used live ammunition in self-defence.
For decades, the city has been neglected by the central government. While the national poverty rate is at roughly 50 per cent, experts estimate that 70 per cent of Tripoli's residents are living below the bread line.
“We have been seeing increased acts of vandalism in the evenings," Mr Yamak said.
“Some people are trying to take advantage of the situation and cause chaos."