Banks strike after series of holdups, Ogero strike ends, Mawlawi offers security reassurance: Everything you need to know to start your Monday

Here’s what happened over the weekend and what to expect today, Monday, Sept. 19.

Lebanese Army and security forces deployed outside a Blom Bank during a bank holdup on Friday. (Credit: Mohammed Yassin/L'Orient Today)

Lebanese banks today will close, marking the first of a three-day strike to protest “repeated attacks” after five banks were held up across Lebanon Friday, bringing the total number of bank holdups in the country last week to seven. The Association of Banks in Lebanon added that three days would serve to instate “security measures in coordination with authorities.” Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi announced a “strict plan … to protect depositors and citizens,” while withholding specific details of the measures to be taken. On Friday, depositors forcefully attempted to withdraw their own funds from Byblos Bank in Ghazieh, the Lebanese French Bank in Kafaat, Lebanon and Gulf Bank Ramlet al-Baida, BankMed in Shehim and Blom Bank in Tariq al-Jadideh. All but the last resulted in a withdrawal. MPs Ashraf Rifi (Independent/Tripoli) and Nabil Badr (Independent/Beirut II) on Sunday criticized the arrest of Abed Soubra who left Tariq al-Jadideh's Blom Bank in Beirut Friday night without securing any of his savings. On Wednesday, Sali Hafez, brandishing a toy gun and accompanied by activists, held up Blom Bank in Sodeco, Beirut, escaping through a window with around $13,000 from her deposit. The hold-up was “coordinated” with depositors’ associations, lawyer Rami Ollaik told L’Orient Today after another hold-up took place in BankMed in Aley the same day. Two of Sali’s accomplices were apprehended by security forces. Protesters on Wednesday blocked a road in Akkar and gathered at Blom Bank's chairman Saad Azhari's residence in Beirut to demand the financial institution drop its charges against the two arrested. A few dozen protesters demonstrated Sunday in front of a Blom Bank branch in Halba and threatened to escalate their actions and block roads in Akkar and the north if the two activists are not released.

Lebanese Armenians protested outside the Azerbaijani embassy on Friday, joining several other protests around the world. Protesters carrying Armenian, Lebanese, and Artsakh flags demanded an end to resurfaced military attacks by Azerbaijan forces in a disputed border area with Armenia and Artsakh. Protesters were met by security forces, and a scuffle broke out, as shown in a video from the protest and according to several protesters at the scene. Protesters carried signs, one of which said, "The cost of oil is once again more valuable than Armenian blood." Armenian diaspora also protested in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., calling for an end to US military assistance to Azerbaijan. In the last week since the attacks by Azerbaijan’s forces, approximately 200 people have been killed.

State telecom provider Ogero employees on Saturday announced they would return to work, ending a weeks-long strike and calling on workers to make up for lost time. Ogero employees began an open-ended strike on Aug. 30 to demand increased compensation. The strike ended after President Michel Aoun approved a Treasury advance intended to raise Ogero employees’ salaries. Caretaker Minister Johnny Corm on Sept. 8 decreed financial assistance grants for the striking workers, who nonetheless persisted in their protest pending improved payment. The executive council of the Ogero employees' syndicate called on members to “exert maximum effort to address the malfunctions and complaints that have accumulated during the downtime." Telecom outages proliferated in Lebanon over the course of the strike, interfering with several businesses’ operations and interrupting crucial services, such as the Red Cross hotline in southern Lebanon.

"Next week, we will begin to discuss the names [of presidential candidates]" Forces of Change MP Waddah Sadek said Saturday, concluding the first round of meetings with different parliamentary blocs held by opposition MPs to discuss their presidential initiative. “We have a common vision,” Sadek said after a meeting between Forces of Change and Lebanese Forces MPs at the outcome of which representatives from both blocs decried foreign interference in the election. Forces of Change MPs last Monday launched an initiative to define the profile of the next Lebanese president as the end of Aoun’s term, Oct. 31, approaches. During this time, they met with Kataeb, Tashnag, the Progressive Socialist Party, Amal, Hezbollah, independents, and the Free Patriotic Movement. Various parliamentary bloc MPs reportedly rallied behind a common rejection of a presidential vacancy while descriptions of Aoun’s ideal successor varied between a “consensus,” “rescue” and “reformist” president. "There are calls for unity around a president, and we call for a consensus on a name, far from vetoes," Hezbollah head Hassan Nasrallah said Saturday. Maronite Patriarch Bechara al-Rai on Sunday expressed a similar sentiment, calling for the election of a president “who has qualities around which there is agreement among the Lebanese” before the end of Aoun’s term. Rai also called for expedited government formation, joining Hezbollah central council member Nabil Kaouk’s hopes, expressed during a memorial service the same day, of a cabinet being formed "before the end of September." Delays in government formation have exacerbated fears of a presidential vacancy, fueling disagreements between Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati and Aoun over the prerogatives of the current government, operating in caretaker capacity since May, if no presidential successor is named.

Parliament’s discussion of the 2022 draft budget law was suspended Friday until Sept. 26 after MPs withdrew mid-vote as the International Monetary Fund delegation is expected to arrive to Lebanon today. “This is not how you discuss a budget," Deputy Parliament Speaker Elias Bou Saab said, criticizing “chaos” during the session, which lost quorum due to MP walkouts while the budget was being voted on. Lebanese Forces MP Georges Adwan after withdrawing from the session criticized “last minute amendments and increases to the numbers [in the budget].” Other MPs, including those who approved the budget as part of the parliamentary Budget and Finance committee, have expressed discontent with the budget. The International Monetary Fund stipulated, among other reforms, that Lebanon adopt credible, balanced budgets in order to access a multi-billion dollar aid package in a preliminary agreement signed in April. "Implementation of measures is progressing slowly,” IMF spokesperson Gerry Rice said in a statement Thursday, announcing a delegation is scheduled to visit Lebanon today to "accelerate" the government's implementation of reforms.

“Reports show that there are no security incidents to be expected,” Caretaker Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi said Sunday in the security forces’ attempt to crack down on crime. Mawlawi chaired two Central Internal Security Council meetings last week after deadly altercations erupted the previous weekend in Tripoli and a spate of bank holdups occurred this week. Last Tuesday, Mawlawi announced “increased military and security measures” as part of a “sustainable” security plan for North Lebanon in response to deadly clashes in Tripoli possibly involving “cells financing armed groups.” On Saturday, the Lebanese Army arrested five people wanted for "theft, drug trafficking and counterfeit money" after a raid on various neighborhoods of Tripoli and Koura in North Lebanon. The same day, Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces announced it had freed two kidnapped Iraqis in the Bekaa earlier in the week. Also on Saturday, the army and security forces pursued drug traffickers in the Bekaa and Beirut port, seizing nearly 1 million Captagon pills in each location. The drug is an illegal stimulant that resulted in a ban on agricultural exports from Lebanon to Saudi Arabia after a shipment of pomegranates from the former to the latter was discovered in April 2021 to be loaded with the pills.

In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from over the weekend: Women and the sea: Lebanon’s fisherwomen cast a net into a man’s world.

Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz

Correction: A previous version of this article said Armenian Lebanese protested on Saturday. To clarify, they protested on Friday. 

Lebanese banks today will close, marking the first of a three-day strike to protest “repeated attacks” after five banks were held up across Lebanon Friday, bringing the total number of bank holdups in the country last week to seven. The Association of Banks in Lebanon added that three days would serve to instate “security measures in coordination with authorities.” Caretaker Interior...