BEIRUT: Beirut MP Cynthia Zarazir joined on Wednesday the angry depositors who have been resorting daily to force to recover their money that has been withheld by Lebanese banks since 2019.
She managed to get $8,500 from her deposit hours after entering the bank and negotiating with the bank’s management.
Zarazir, one of the MPs who has participated in the protests that Lebanon witnessed since 2019, entered the Byblos Bank branch in Antelias, 12 km from Beirut, on Wednesday morning without a prior appointment.
She waited for a customer to come out of the bank and entered by force, but she was not, like the rest of the intruders, carrying a weapon or incendiary materials to threaten to ignite it.
Zarazir's storming of the bank came less than 24 hours after a Lebanese diplomat, George Siam, stormed the Intercontinental Bank in Hazmieh, 6 km from Beirut.
Bank storming operations are no longer confined to retired soldiers, merchants, or people with limited income whose deposits are suspended in banks and they need to pay school or university fees for their children, pay off accumulated debts, or pay for the treatment of cancer patients.
MP Zarazir was accompanied to the bank by a group of lawyers and was later joined by MP Halima Kaakour.
Zarzir said she acted as an "ordinary citizen," declaring that she "relinquished her immunity as a deputy" when she entered the bank.
She said the amount she asked for was to pay her insurance company for surgery.
Lawyer Sharif Suleiman, one of the attorneys of MPs demanding change, including Zarazir, told Arab News that the bank management asked Zarazir to sign an agreement not to disclose what happened inside the bank in terms of giving her part of her deposit in dollars.
Suleiman said that "When Zarazir left the bank, she tore up the pledge and said it was illegal, and challenged the bank's management to go to court and sue her."
Suleiman added: “What Zarazir did shows that she is just like the rest of the Lebanese people. She did not act like an MP to prevent any future political blackmailing.”
#WATCH: Lebanese MP Cynthia Zarazir inside a branch of Byblos Bank north of #Beirut to demand access to her savings supposedly to pay for an upcoming surgery. (video: @janoubia_news)https://t.co/O8zoo1tFHX pic.twitter.com/M1PRRVlsY9
— Arab News (@arabnews) October 5, 2022
The storming of Lebanese banks by depositors comes as a result of the political class not setting a strategic plan and a timeline to release people’s deposits, three years after they were seized.
In Beirut’s southern suburbs, depositor Hussein Chokr, a retired security officer, protested in a Credit Libanais branch, demanding his saving to pay his children’s university tuitions.
Such acts took a more violent turn, as a person fired a weapon at a Bank of Beirut branch in the northern city of Byblos after the branch’s security guard prevented him from entering because he did not have a prior appointment.
This led the depositor, a Lebanese citizen, to pull out a machine gun from his car and fire at the bank, causing material damage. Police have launched an investigation.
Hassan Moghnieh, the head of the depositors’ association, told Arab News: “I expect the depositors’ protests to increase and the situation to further deteriorate. I am not proud of it.
“Closing the banks will not solve the crisis. What is needed is the formation of a crisis cell that would set priorities, as up until now, nobody has tried to solve the crisis. The protests taking place will continue and might take advanced forms.”
Some activists on social media said that what Zarazir did will encourage others to adopt illegal methods to get their rights. Others questioned the way the security forces dealt with the protesters after they arrested them and let Zarazir go because she enjoys parliamentary immunity.
Meanwhile, a group of people protested in front of the central bank in Beirut and set tires on fire. The protest was ringed by strict security and an altercation took place between the protesters and the police.
Moghnieh said these movements are different from the depositors’ protests, "as they are politically motivated and the participants are affiliated with the president’s party, which is demanding the dismissal of the governor of the central bank, accusing him of corruption."
Lebanese banks accuse the political class of “having withdrawn from the central bank the amount of $62.670 billion, which was wasted on maintaining the subsidies, fixing the exchange rate, the high-interest rates, electricity sector and the state’s import needs among others.”
Depositors accuse the banks of transferring their capital and that of the politicians’ abroad, considering that they both share the same responsibility and blame when it comes to the theft of people’s deposits.