A Lebanese parliamentarian on Wednesday entered a bank branch near Beirut, demanding some of her trapped savings to cover medical expenses. Cash-strapped Lebanon in recent weeks has witnessed a surge in depositors storming bank branches to forcefully withdraw their locked savings as the country's economy continues to spiral. On Tuesday, depositors stormed at least four banks. Beirut legislator Cynthia Zarazir was one of them. She entered a Byblos Bank branch near the capital, demanding $8,500 from her savings to cover expenses for a surgery.
The reformist lawmaker arrived with a lawyer, and negotiated with the bank branch's management for several hours. "I am a Lebanese citizen demanding my rights in light of this exceptional situation," Zarazir told the press and bystanders. Her lawyer, Fouad Debs, told the AP that the bank initially made a "ridiculous" proposal that would have seen her withdraw her savings in Lebanese pounds at a fraction of its dollar value. Hours later, Zarazir left the bank having secured the money she needed for her surgery.
Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed informal limits on cash withdrawals since late 2019. Since then, three-quarters of the population plunged into poverty, and the Lebanese pound lost some 90% of its value against the dollar. Elsewhere on Tuesday, dozens of protesters scuffled with riot police at the Central Bank’s headquarters in Beirut. Protesters hurled rocks and molotov cocktails towards the building, and set ties on fire at the entrance. And in Byblos, a man fired an assault rifle at the glass facade of a bank branch, after employees did not let him in without an appointment. Another man stormed a bank branch in the southern Beirut suburb of Dahiyeh demanding some of his trapped savings; he was reportedly unarmed.
The general public has commended the bank heists, some even hailing the perpetrators as heroes. Among the most notable cases was Sali Hafez, who last month stormed a Beirut bank branch with a fake pistol and gasoline canister to take some $13,000 to fund her 23- year-old sister’s cancer treatment. The banks, meanwhile, have condemned the angry depositors' actions, and said in a statement Tuesday that the Lebanese government is primarily to blame for the crisis. Last month, the banks closed for a week after at least seven banks were raided, and have since only partially reopened. (Read more Lebanon stories.)