Angry depositors in Lebanon resort to bank raids to get their money from frozen accounts

Banks have blocked $100bn in deposits since 2019 financial crash and imposed strict limits on withdrawals

Desperate depositors raided at least five Lebanese banks on Friday demanding dollars from frozen accounts. It brings the number of such incidents this week to seven.

Lebanon’s caretaker interior minister Bassam al-Mawlawi has called for an emergency meeting of the domestic security council, while banks have declared a three-day strike.

Banks were targeted in Beirut, south Lebanon, and Mount Lebanon. The first man secured $19,000 from his savings before being detained. The second, an indebted businessman, was arrested before accessing accounts containing $300,000. The third raider recovered a total of $70,000 from two Beirut banks.

Later in the day shots were fired when a first lieutenant in the army stormed a bank in the mountains. There were unconfirmed reports of another three incidents.


On Wednesday, Sali Hafez, armed with a toy gun, held up a Beirut bank to extract $13,000 for cancer treatment for her sister. She was accompanied by activists from the Depositors’ Outcry group, which broadcast the raid on social media.

The group said it had also co-operated with a man, armed with an unloaded shotgun, who demanded money from a bank in the hill town of Aley.

Alaa Khorshid of Depositors’ Outcry said depositors had no choice but to “take matters in their own hands” and pledged to “organise more raids”. His colleague Ibrahim Abdullah said the “revolution is against all banks”.

Ms Hafez was the third depositor to resort to a heist. The second was a food delivery driver, bearing a hunting rifle, who secured $35,000 to pay for his father’s medical bills. The first raid took place at a regional bank where the perpetrator gained $50,000. In all of the heists, petrol was used to threaten bank staff if they failed to deliver.

The Association of Banks has said members would not be lenient and urged the authorities to hold accountable perpetrators of “verbal and physical attacks” on banks.

Lebanon’s 2019 financial crash forced banks to block $100 billion in deposits and impose strict limits on withdrawals, while the country’s economic meltdown plunged 80 per cent of Lebanese people into poverty.

Lebanese face a “dollarised” economy where even fruit and vegetables are priced in dollars and paid for in Lebanese pounds. Before the crisis, the dollar fetched 1,500 Lebanese pounds; the present black market rate ranges between 35,000 and 38,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar.

Lebanon’s power plants shut down this week. There is no electricity from the state-run company which awaits a delayed delivery from Iraq. The outage coincides with the cancellation of fuel subsidies, although consumers dependent on generators are compelled to use fuel priced at the black-market rate.

There has been political stasis since prime minister Najib Mikati’s government resigned in March. Although he has been designated to form a new technocratic cabinet since June, president Michel Aoun has refused to accept candidates and has demanded the addition of six political ministers. Parliament is meant to choose a candidate to replace him when his term ends on October 31st, but there is no consensus. Mr Aoun has threatened to remain in the presidential palace until the situation is “normal”.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times