Lebanon: Where A Bank Heist Is Your Survival

Lebanon: Where A Bank Heist Is Your Survival
Photo by Karolina Grabowska via Pexels


Vivien Fakhoury

Middle East and Human Rights Researcher

Global Human Rights Defence

Bassam Hussein’s bank heist [1] led to a domino effect across Lebanon. The official number of bank heists from the past few days is unclear, since such incidents are prone to fake news. But it is certain that there have been several bank heists with real and/or fake weapons. On September 14th, 2022, Sally Hafez stormed Blom Bank in Beirut with a toy gun, demanding to withdraw her own money - she received at least 13 thousand US dollars. [2] As with Hussein, Sally’s sister is ill and needs the money for her treatment. Sally is currently in hiding, and it is unclear whether the bank will press charges. People in Lebanon have hit a breaking point. Sally encouraged all depositors to do what she did. [3] Shortly after, multiple other banks around the country were held up, and various individuals and groups explicitly said they will help continue this trend until the issue is fixed. [4]

Due to security concerns, banks across Lebanon said they will close their branches for 3 days this week. The head of the Lebanese Depositors Association, Hassan Mughniyeh, said the bank closures are to pressure Parliament to take care of the matter. Yet, lawmakers have been slow to respond [5] - as is usually the case in Lebanon and one of the reasons this crisis exists in the first place. There is also a debate on the motivations behind bank closures - banks argue they are striking to pressure Parliament; while others argue they want to avoid people withdrawing their money. [6]

But what is the cause of this bank failure? It is clear that the USD 400 per month withdrawal limit plays a role in this. [7] Banks claim they make exceptions for humanitarian and emergency cases, but depositors say this is not the case in reality. [8] The makings of this crisis have been in the works for decades. According to the World Bank, it’s a Ponzi scheme. [9] Accountability here is essential for access to basic needs such as food, electricity, and healthcare; so Lebanese can stop resorting to bank heists for their survival.

Sources and Further Reading

[1] Fakhoury, V. (2022, September). Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein: Lebanese Hero holds Bank Hostage. GHRTV. http://ghrtv.org/search?q=Bassam+al-Sheikh+Hussein&sys_lang_id=1

[2] Exact amounts vary by source.

[3] Al Arabiya. (2022, September 15). فيديو مؤلم لشقيقة مقتحمة مصرف بلبنان.."خذوا أموالكم بالقوة"! Al Arabiya. https://www.alarabiya.net/arab-and-world/2022/09/15/مصابة-بالسرطان-فيديو-مؤلم-لشقيقة-مقتحمة-مصرف-لبناني; Al Jazeera. (2022, September 14). Armed woman breaks into Lebanon's BLOM Bank demanding her savings. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/9/14/armed-woman-breaks-into-beirut-bank-takes-trapped-savings

[4] Arab News. (2022, September 15). After heist, Lebanese activists promise more bank raids. Arab News. https://www.arabnews.com/node/2163446/middle-east; Shabaro, A., & Tlais, H. (2022, September 16). مصارف لبنان تغلق أبوابها بعد موجة اقتحامات غير مسبوقة. الحرة. https://www.alhurra.com/lebanon/2022/09/16/مصارف-لبنان-تغلق-أبوابها-موجة-اقتحامات-غير-مسبوقة

[5] Shabaro, A., & Tlais, H. (2022, September 16); Al Arabiya. (2022, September 16). سخط المودعين يحاصر بنوك لبنان.. إغلاق لـ 3 أيام. Al Arabiya. https://www.alarabiya.net/aswaq/companies/2022/09/16/بنوك-لبنان-تنوي-اغلاق-أبوابها-3-أيام-بعد-تزايد-هجمات-المودعين-

[6] Sky News Arabia. (2022, September 19). بين مؤيد ومعارض.. اقتحام بنوك لبنان يقسم الشارع. سكاي نيوز عربية. https://www.skynewsarabia.com/middle-east/1556396-مؤيد-ومعارض-اقتحام-بنوك-لبنان-يقسم-الشارع

[7] Banque du Liban is Lebanon’s central bank; Banque du Liban. (2021, June 8). Basic Circular 158 Addressed to Banks: Basic Decision 13335: Exceptional Measures for the Gradual Repayment of Foreign Currency Deposits. http://www.bdl.gov.lb/files/circulars/158_en.pdf

[8] Reuters. (2022, September 15). In Lebanon, armed customers rob banks to get their own money. CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2022/09/14/world/lebanon-bank-heist-access-money-frozen-savings-intl-hnk/index.html; Reuters. (2022, September 16). Wave of Lebanon bank 'heists' to seize back frozen savings. Gulf News. https://gulfnews.com/world/mena/wave-of-lebanon-bank-heists-to-seize-back-frozen-savings-1.90625308

[9] World Bank. (2022). Lebanon Public Finance Review : Ponzi Finance? Washington, DC: World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/37824