BEIRUT: The exchange rate of the dollar for money exchanges in Lebanon reached a new record on Saturday.
Money exchangers sold the dollar for 3,250 Lebanese pounds. Lebanon has never seen that price, even during its civil war in the 1980s. The official price of the dollar in banks remains 1,507 pounds.
Last October, the country witnessed an economic and financial crisis that worsened with the spread of COVID-19 in the country, paralyzing public life and an already weak economy.
“The reason for the rise in the price of the dollar to this level is due to the scarcity of hard currency in banks,” Mahmoud Murad, head of the Syndicate of Exchange Offices in Lebanon, told Arab News.
“There’s demand for dollars from traders of livestock and food, but supply is scarce. People who withdrew their deposits in dollars from banks at the beginning of the crisis are spending them very carefully,” he said.
“With the closure of the border crossings, especially the airport, people who used to come from abroad carrying dollars, either for themselves or for families of friends, stopped coming,” he added.
“Expatriates abroad, because of the coronavirus pandemic, need help and can no longer work abroad to send money to their families in Lebanon,” Murad said.
“During the civil war, money used to be pumped into the country, but today the countries that want to support Lebanon are no longer able to do so because of the coronavirus crisis and the economic crisis it has caused,” he added.
“The Bank of Lebanon intervened on Friday, selling a small amount of dollars to curb the price of the currency in the market. If this intervention is limited to one day, it won’t have results and the price of the dollar will continue to rise.”
Four new COVID-19 cases recorded on Saturday brought the total number in Lebanon to 672.
But despite restrictions on movement to prevent the spread of the virus, Lebanese have taken to the streets to protest against high prices.
Dozens of people held a sit-in on Saturday in the city of Baalbek to protest against high prices as salaries have lost their value, but they wore face masks and adhered to social distancing rules.
“We’ve reached a state of economic and financial collapse, and relations are severed between Lebanon and all Arab and international parties,” said activist Khaled Solh.
Activist Ali Taha said: “Living conditions are unbearable. We came out in small numbers today due to the coronavirus pandemic, but we’ll return with our crowds and say our word against everyone who fights us.”
Bus drivers, who have stopped working due to the government restrictions, held a sit-in on the Choueifat highway, asking the state to allow them to work under certain conditions so they can earn a living. In the city of Tripoli, protesters clashed with the army.
Popular anger is accompanied by major political differences between the government and the opposition.
In a tweet, Walid Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party, accused the government of carrying out a “financial and political coup to seize the country in the manner of the Syrian Baath Party.”
Sami Gemayel, head of the Kataeb Party, said at a press conference on Saturday: “Depositors’ money went to finance the errors and fake numbers of successive governments.”
Gemayel blamed Hezbollah, saying it “isolated Lebanon at the Arab and international levels because of its dominance and its actions in the region and the world.”