Protests flare as Lebanese pound nears record 10,000 to the US dollar

Politicians fail to save Lebanon from economic doom as population sinks further into poverty

Protests ignited in Beirut and across Lebanon on Tuesday evening as the Lebanese pound dropped to 9,975 to the dollar, a record low since an economic crisis began in October 2019.

Small-scale demonstrations began across Lebanon's capital, with hundreds of people demanding government action to restore financial security.

In the city centre near Al Amine Mosque, young men lit tyres and banged scaffolding with rocks to show their anger.

Passing scooters sounded their horns, reminiscent of the height of the protests against the government in 2019.

The pound, also referred to as the lira, is officially pegged at 1,500 to the dollar. It has steadily fallen in the past 18 months, losing more than 80 per cent of its market value.

Salaries are unchanged but the prices of basic goods, most of them imported in dollars, have shot up, pushing more than half of the Lebanese population into poverty, UN data shows.

Roy, 27, a schoolteacher, said the protests could intensify. He said his salary had been hugely devalued in recent months.

"The situation is very bad, very, very bad," Roy said. "I would like to see our political organisations fall down and see a new political organisation come to rule and let us see a plan.

"We cannot continue like this."

Protests also occurred in northern Tripoli, southern Saida, in Qornayel and the Bhamdoun villages in the Mount Lebanon governorate.

Salah Naous, 25, a master's student in economics, said the situation had become "beyond catastrophic".

"Deep inside I want to leave, but I do believe that it's not the right solution," Mr Naous said.

"If all the youth leave this country and don't put their hands together to vote for a new authority, there won't be any change, not now, not ever."

Earlier on Tuesday before the protests began, The National  spoke to members of the public struggling to make ends meet as the currency continues to plummet and other economic woes batter their lives.

Before the problems began, retired civil servant Alaa, 74, told The National  his pension, once worth $1,000, is now equal to about $100, barely enough for his groceries.

"If I wasn't a homeowner with my kids supporting me, I would be begging for food on the streets," Alaa told The National.

Sparked by shortages in foreign currency and decades of corruption and economic mismanagement, the crisis has deepened as politicians fail to enact reforms required by global lenders, such as the International Monetary Fund.

The minimum wage in Lebanon, set at 675,000 pounds ($445 at the official rate), is now worth about $67 on the parallel market.

Quote
People are starving and our politicians only care about themselves

Social media users have taken to Twitter to vent their frustrations.

The hashtag "Lebanon Is Not OK" was the number one trend on the platform on Tuesday.

Inflation weighs heaviest on the poor.

Mohamed Abdel Karim, a Syrian concierge, said on Tuesday afternoon that he dreamt of leaving Lebanon after having escaped war at home.

"My salary was worth $600, now it's equal to $90," said Mr Abdel Karim, 46.

"I have nine kids, and the prices of goods are going up. How am I supposed to feed my family?"

He said that half of the Lebanese families living in the building where he worked had left the country.

"Life has become impossible," Mr Abdel Karim said.

Yet impending economic doom has been met with political inaction.

The country has been run by a caretaker government since last August, when prime minister Hassan Diab resigned after a blast struck Beirut, killing more than 200 people and destroying large parts of the capital.

Political disputes over sectarian seats in the next Cabinet have halted government formation despite a severe economic crisis.

"People are starving and our politicians only care about themselves," said Mohamed, 28, an employee at a perfume shop in Beirut.

Mohamed said the strict coronavirus lockdown introduced in January compounded an already dire financial situation.

Shop owners did not receive compensation for closing their stores and customers were scarce.

"It's only going to get worse," he said.

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS