Lebanon bank customers stage sit-ins to force withdrawals

MP and honorary consul general of Ireland stage protests to reclaim savings

Two Lebanese depositors have this week used peaceful sit-ins - rather than force - to extract funds from stressed banks which have been hoarding foreign and local currencies since 2019.

On Wednesday, Cynthia Zarazir, a member of parliament, entered a bank to withdraw $8,500 needed for surgery. “I am a Lebanese citizen demanding my rights in light of this exceptional situation,” she said.

Her lawyer Fouad Debs said Ms Zarazir rejected a “ridiculous” offer to access her savings in Lebanese pounds which would see them lose 90 per cent of their value. After hours of bargaining, she left the bank with the required sum but described the process of securing it as “unfair and arbitrary”.

Her sit-in coincided with two violent heists. A retired internal security official stormed another bank which, after negotiations, parted with $3,000 of his $48,000 blocked savings and millions of devalued Lebanese pounds from his pension. Another man fired an assault rifle at the glass facade of a bank after he was denied entry.


Hold-ups by depositors have increased because of frustration with capital controls imposed by banks since an economic downturn began in 2019. Banks partially reopened last week after a week-long closure following a series of hold-ups in mid-September.

On Tuesday, Georges Siam, a retired diplomat and honorary consul general of Ireland to Lebanon, staged an all-day sit-in to reclaim his savings. He settled for a compromise while two violent hold-ups took place at other banks.

Sali Hafez became a household name in September when she used a toy gun and petrol to wrest money from her account to pay for her sister’s cancer care. On Wednesday, she surrendered to the authorities to face charges pressed by the bank and on Thursday she was fined, issued a six-month travel ban, and freed on bail of $25.

As Ms Zarazir and Mr Siam are high-profile figures, their banks chose to negotiate rather than call the police, but Lebanese people with no influence continue to threaten banks with violence as they seek to make withdrawals.

Meanwhile, president Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement has continued to block cabinet formation by insisting on appointing six ministers and denying a consensus presidential candidate to succeed Mr Aoun (87), whose term ends this month.

The Israeli government on Thursday rejected amendments made by Beirut to the proposal submitted by US mediator Amos Hochstein for ending the dispute with Israel over offshore natural gas fields. It had been reported that the Hizbullah movement, Israel’s enemy, and Israel prime minister Yair Lapid had welcomed the unamended proposal. Without an agreement, a Greek-British Energean drill ship already in place could proceed with drilling in Israel’s Karish zone, which overlaps part of Lebanon’s Qana sector, risking strikes by Hizbullah. France’s Total Energies had been poised to begin operations in Qana.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

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