BEIRUT: Thousands of people once again took to the streets across Lebanon on Tuesday as the dollar exchange rate hit a record high of more than 10,000 Lebanese pounds. Currency exchanges closed as protesters gathered and blocked roads in Beirut and many other parts of the country.
Demonstrators returned to Martyrs’ Square in the heart of the capital where they expressed their anger at the devastating effect the soaring exchange rate is having on daily life, chanting for another revolution and banging on metal sheets.
Roads there and in other Beirut neighborhoods were blocked with rocks, as protesters complained that the situation is intolerable and the state is collapsing while politicians do nothing. Their chants soon turned into insults directed at the ruling authority.
Protests also broke out on the outskirts of the southern suburbs of Beirut, where the Old Airport Road near the Great Prophet Hospital was blocked in both directions.
They reached Dora and Jounieh, and all the way to Tripoli on the northern coast. They spread south to Choueifat, Khalde, Jiyeh, Sidon and the Zahrani highway. The Qaaqaait Al-Jisr road in Nabatieh was also blocked.
There were also demonstrations in the city of Tyre and in Marjayoun, and protesters in Souk El-Khan in Hasbaya district blocked the road linking the Bekaa Valley to the south.
The protests spread east to Bhamdoun in Mount Lebanon, Taalabaya, Chtoura in the Bekaa Valley, and Baalbek, where the Rayak to Baalbek road was blocked. Tires were burned in some places.
The protesters called for a revival of the Oct. 17, 2019 revolution, when people from all regions took to the streets in protests sparked by government plans to impose a tax on the use of messaging service WhatsApp.
Footage of Tuesday’s demonstrations was broadcast live. It showed protesters calling on people who had remained in their homes to join them on the streets, telling them: “We will starve, so what are you waiting for?”
As the Lebanese Armed Forces worked to reopen blocked roads, there were confronted by protesters who chanted: “We are protesting for you, too.”
One of the protesters said: “We can no longer put bread on the table.”
The latest rise in the dollar exchange rate has decreased the minimum monthly wage in Lebanon to about $67.
The scarcity of usable reserves at the Banque du Liban, the Lebanese central bank, has forced it to strictly ration the supply of dollars, for example by suspending the financing of some food subsidies and the payment of bills for some types of medical supplies.
The Banque du Liban also has a complex procedure for securing financing in dollars for imports, which has prompted importers to turn to the parallel market, increasing the already high demand for dollars.
A number of politicians have warned of escalating chaos if the stalemate in efforts to form a new government is not broken, and if the reforms required by the international community to unlock financial aid for Lebanon are not implemented.
The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) refuses to form a government without a blocking third in favor of the president under the slogan of “restoring the rights of Christians and the powers of the president of the Republic.”
Meanwhile, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri insists on a government of 18 ministers and no blocking third.
Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, Walid Jumblatt, agree with this. Hezbollah has not objected to this form of government but has requested an understanding be reached with its ally, the FPM.