Want to get the Morning Brief by email? Click here to sign up.
The Association of Banks in Lebanon (ABL) yesterday announced that their currently suspended open-ended strike will resume as of next Tuesday. ABL, due to “arbitrary judicial decisions,” reverted a two-week suspension to a strike launched on Feb. 6. Days before ABL’s protest began, a court allowed the continuation of a legal case by plaintiffs demanding Fransabank refund their deposits in dollars. ABL says that a ruling in the plaintiffs’ favor would constitute a double standard as long as debtors are not subject to the same conditions to repay loans. Meanwhile, depositors continue to take matters into their own hands. Yesterday, a bank account holder contesting informal capital control measures in place since 2019 on foreign currency deposits attempted to forcibly retrieve her funds from a branch of the Lebanese Swiss Bank in Hadath, south of Beirut. It was the latest in a series of occasionally armed bank holdups that ramped up late last year and forced banks to briefly close before reopening with heightened security measures. A number of security incidents occurred during ABL’s two weeks of strike suspension, notably resulting in a depositor suffering a gunshot wound, allegedly at the hands of a bank security guard. ABL’s secretary-general said in an open letter published Wednesday that commercial banks do not have enough liquidity to pay back depositors — echoing a line from a banking association statement published last month after a spree of vandalism against banks telling depositors that their funds are “not there” and shifting the blame for the situation to the central bank.
Security forces arrested seven people in the Jnah neighborhood of Beirut’s southern suburbs suspected of involvement in armed clashes that put a plane descending towards Beirut’s international airport at risk, caretaker Transport Minister Ali Hamieh said. “An incident took place between two families in Jnah during which shots were exchanged. Neither the airport nor the plane was targeted,” Hamieh added, reporting heavy army deployment to the airport vicinity. “The plane was not hit by bullets,” said Airport and Civil Aviation Director-General Fady al-Hassan, after videos showed the aircraft descending toward the runway as tracer bullets flew in its direction. “Lebanese shoot in the air for any reason,” lamented Ghobeiry mayor Maan Khalil, calling for an intervention from authorities — who attempted last December to impose a moratorium on gunfire during the tourist-laden holiday season, usually rife with celebratory gunfire. Stray bullets have repeatedly jeopardized aviation safety in Lebanon. Greek company Aegean Airlines temporarily suspended its flights to Beirut after a bullet damaged one of their planes in January 2022. Forces of Change MP Paula Yacoubian last November called for an “end to loose weapons and stray bullets,” after a Middle East Airlines plane she was on was damaged by a stray bullet.
High electricity costs in Lebanon impede nine out of 10 households’ ability to buy essentials, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said yesterday in a report. More than half of the households surveyed struggled to keep food refrigerated due to electricity supply shortages, HRW said, while citizens on average spent almost half their income on private generator bills — a figure that could reach 88 percent of income for the poorest households. Ninety percent of households surveyed rely on private generators, an expensive imposition on citizens due to state power provider Electricité du Liban’s inability to meet the country’s demand. Caretaker Energy Minister Walid Fayad last year argued that increased EDL tariffs which came into force last November would result in savings for customers who would have to rely less on private generators — the state electric utility, three-quarters of the way into its improved electricity generation plan, last week boosted its production to the equivalent of five hours of daily electricity. The tariff hike is among the electricity sector reforms demanded by international actors to advance a plan to supply Lebanon with Egyptian gas and Jordanian electricity to improve power supply.
The lira briefly fell back to LL90,000 to the dollar on the parallel market, losing last week’s central bank intervention-linked gains. The lira traded around LL87,000 to the dollar yesterday evening, plummeting from the LL80,000 rate around which it had stabilized for the past several days. Last week, Banque du Liban raised the ceiling on lira amounts depositors can exchange for dollars at the Sayrafa rate, which the central bank almost doubled to around LL20,000 below the then-record-low parallel market exchange rate of LL90,000 per dollar. “[BDL governor Riad Salameh] seems to be counting on the psychological effect of such a measure, but I am afraid that it will not last long, as it didn’t last time,” one banker told L’Orient Today. Last week, supermarkets began displaying some items’ prices in dollars.
In case you missed it, here’s our must-read story from yesterday: “Electricity crisis is worsening poverty in Lebanon, rights group says”
Compiled by Abbas Mahfouz