Written by Bushra Bani-Salman – September 19, 2022
Another “hero” emerges in Beirut, Lebanon after holding hostages at gunpoint in a bank for access to her own funds. Sali Hafez and accomplices stormed Blom Bank in a successful attempt to secure funds that have been blocked from withdrawal for nearly two years. This is the second heist a patron commits for funds this summer. Earlier in the summer, Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein stormed his bank demanding his funds be released to help pay for his father’s operation. He threatened to burn the bank down with everyone in it if he did not receive his funds. In the end, he surrendered to authorities after the funds were released. The bank later dropped their lawsuit against him and he was released. Hussein was declared a hero throughout Lebanon and abroad via social media.
In an interview with a local Lebanese channel, Sali Hafez says, “The Bank has robbed us publicly…I got to a point where I considered selling my kidney to help pay for my sister’s treatment…Our money is in the bank. Money we earned with our sweat and tears…I took $13,000 from my own money. I did not take anything that was not mine…I took the gun from my nephew. It is fake… I told everyone in the bank not to fear because I will not harm them…”
Major protests broke out in 2019 in Lebanon with citizens pressing for resignations from their country’s politicians, demanding an end to political incompetence and corruption. Banks closed their doors for weeks, then reopened with tight limits on withdrawals in fear of depositors withdrawing all their funds amid political unrest and a financial crisis. Banks now allow for a maximum of $400 USD withdrawn a month plus some Lebanese pounds.
While some Lebanese chose to live without electricity for the majority of the day (up to 20 hours), almost everyone in Lebanon relies on generators for electricity due to the country’s failed electricity grid. They dependency on generators costs the Lebanese people a hefty sum, as well as their health due to the toxic fumes spewed. In addition to the electricity shortage, there is a diesel and petrol shortage in Lebanon. People wait hours in line to fill their vehicles with gas that has shot up in price. The currency crisis is another factor. The Lebanese lira has lost 90% of its value in less than three years. Currently, one Lebanese pound (LBP) is worth $0.00067 USD. Growing grievances and frustrations from the Lebanese people have led to desperate measures. Officials fear that more patrons will take up arms in a desperate attempt to access their money, and some publicly blame the country’s political elites.
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