Anyone following the news, even from afar, will know that the past few years in Lebanon have been far from easy. From a worsening economic crisis and ridiculous inflation rates to a disastrous explosion that killed hundreds, the Levantine nation’s overall condition has been going from bad to worse and doesn’t really seem like it will be improving anytime soon.
Today, several local reports have confirmed that an armed man, identified as 42-year-old Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein, is holding bank staff and customers in Beirut hostage, demanding his frozen savings as ransom as the Mediterranean country recently implemented measures to control capital in a last resort attempt to counter its ongoing and stifling financial collapse. According to officials, the man, upon entry into the Federal Bank, fired three warning shots with a shotgun before attempting to reclaim his alleged $200,000 of denied savings. He also threatened to set himself ablaze with gasoline if his frozen funds aren’t returned.
The man’s brother, who was also on-site when the heist was taking place, told Associated Press that this desperate move to recuperate the funds was to provide for his family and also cover for their father’s medical bills.
“My brother is not a scoundrel, he is a decent man,” Atef al-Sheikh Hussein told the news agency. “He takes what he has from his own pocket to give to others.”
It’s been reported that negotiations are taking place to try and convince the man to stand down. Meanwhile, crowds of bystanders have gathered outside the bank in Beirut’s bustling Hamra district, chanting anti-government slogans and demanding that the man’s frozen funds are released.
The upsetting news is a reflection of just how dire the situation in Lebanon is right now as well as how desperate the Lebanese people are in the midst of the country’s financial decline. Far from an isolated event, this is not the first time that citizens have felt the need to take matters into their own hands and do previously unthinkable things to survive amid the worsening and seemingly never-ending economic crisis. Back in January, a 37-year-old coffee-shop owner pulled an identical move to access his funds, withdrawing $50,000 trapped in a bank after taking employees hostage and threatening to kill them.
Since 2019, Lebanon witnessed the decline of its own currency, the Lira— the local currency lost over 90% of its October 2019 value— following the crash of the country’s banking system, which was further deepened by the recent pandemic as well as the Beirut port blasts two-years-ago. As a result of these successive catastrophes, many global institutions, including the World Food Program, have recorded that 61% of people in Lebanon struggle to access food and other basic needs in 2021 which has, as you can imagine, severely impacted the mental health of the country’s own people.
The news of the bank heist in Beirut is eerily reminiscent of the Arab Spring’s inception, when Tunisian Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire following the confiscation of his goods as his final act of protest against the North African country’s condition. Lebanon seems to be following onto the same damning path. Given how desperate Lebanese citizens have become to try and keep their heads above water, the Cedar country is showing similar metrics, if not worse, as to those seen back in 2011. With only few reforms put in place to efficiently tackle the crippling corruption and put a full stop to ongoing struggles, although unfortunate and saddening, it’s fair to say that the situation in Lebanon is only getting more critical.