BEIRUT: The 16th day of protests in Lebanon witnessed an exceptional development on Friday, as banks reopened their doors to customers, amid speculation on the impact demonstrations have had on the value of the Lebanese lira.
Multiple banks saw large numbers of deposits being placed. Dr. Salim Sfeir, chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, said that there had been no rush to withdraw funds by customers. “The banks are meeting the needs of citizens, and are ready to take all necessary measures to preserve a normal workflow,” he added.
Dr. Nassib Ghobril, chief economist and head of the Economic Research & Analysis Department at Byblos Bank, assured that no restrictions on the movements of funds in Lebanon had been issued.
Economist and Strategic Expert Dr. Jassem Ajaka, meanwhile, told Arab News that operations at most banks were limited to retrieving salaries and checking transactions, while operations related to buying US dollars were limited.
He added: “In August, $1.4 billion was transferred to Lebanon, a sign of confidence in the Lebanese Economy. The number of depositors who showed a desire to transfer their money abroad was very limited compared to the total number of deposits in Lebanese banks.”
Dr. Ajaka claimed “political reasons” were driving rumors about the possibility of a deterioration in the financial situation as a result of the demonstrations, and that: “The political dispute in the country (has) spread to various fields, including the banking sector.”
The US dollar maintained its stability on the Beirut Stock Exchange, and closed at an average price of 1,507.50 lira per $1, according to the Lebanese central bank. However, reopening roads and public and private institutions, including schools and universities, did not prevent protesters from continuing their activities.
Protests are expected to regain momentum over the weekend, after a group of protesters stormed the headquarters of the Association of Banks in Gemmayze in Beirut, and closed its main entrance. The group read out a statement accusing the association of “protecting the assets and funds of the political elite against the interests of poor people.”
It called for “converting apartment and personal loans to the lira to free poor people from mortgages in US dollars,” as well as the rescheduling of personal loans to free people from high interest rates and the recovery of money “looted” by the banks through “illegally accumulated profits.”
A confrontation then ensued outside the building between the protesters and security forces who detained four people. A fifth activist was arrested as he approached the police vehicle where the four others were put. All were later released.
“The rallies in the streets were a wake-up call to all political parties, including Hezbollah, whose popular bases were affected by the economic downturn,” caretaker Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan told CNN.
She added: “Those who took to the streets were middle-class students, young women and housewives. They were people legitimately calling for change, with no solid information about any foreign interference in the demonstrations.”
Al-Hassan said the demonstrations achieved a relative victory through the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri, before calling for his nomination again as head of a technocrat government.