Now Politicians Are Storming Lebanon’s Banks Too

New security measures have been put in place after a wave of bank sieges, but people forcing banks to let them withdraw their own money has become part of daily life.
lebanon banks savings cash
Lebanese politician Cynthia Zarazir. Photo: Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images

Political figures in Lebanon have begun holding sit-ins to demand their money, as a wave of bank sieges continues to sweep across the country, with impoverished citizens resorting to extreme measures to demand access to their own savings.   

Sit-ins and protests inside Lebanese banks now happen every day as people kick against economic hardship forced upon them by the government, who only allows people to withdraw a few hundred dollars per month, hardly enough to pay for basics. 


Ordinary people have been withdrawing their savings from banks in unconventional ways, with a string of hostage situations stunning the country.

Now, public figures have joined the trend by holding sit-ins inside bank branches. On Wednesday, Cynthia Zarazir, an independent opposition member of Lebanese parliament, entered Byblos Bank in Antelias, north of Beirut, to demand $8,500 (£7,500) from her savings account, saying that she needed the money to pay for surgery.


An elderly woman remonstrates with police during a protest against banks. PHOTO: Marwan Naamani/picture alliance via Getty Images

Videos posted on social media showed Zarazir behind the glass window of the bank negotiating with staff to give her some of her own money, and she told reporters filming her behind the glass door: “I’m a Lebanese citizen who is seeking her rights under an extraordinary situation.”

The politician pushed inside the heavily fortified and guarded bank after a customer left. Zarazir appeared to film messages for local television saying that she was urgently in need of the cash, and refused to leave.

On Tuesday, there were four similar incidents, one of which included Georges Siam, the former Lebanese ambassador to Turkey, who joined members of the public in trying to withdraw their savings.

The Lebanese government placed informal limits on withdrawing currency in 2019, as the country faced a liquidity crisis. Since then, the financial system has worsened, with most of the population living in poverty and living standards dramatically decreasing. 


Banks in Lebanon closed for a week last month after three days of intensifying bank sieges. The rise of break-ins has forced banks to take extra security measures, but people have continued to raid branches. 

One of the most popular recent incidents was that of Sali Hafiz, who went viral after holding up a bank with a plastic gun to get money to pay for her sister’s medical treatment, and her case has inspired people to follow suit. 

Since late 2019, the country has been enduring an economic meltdown, topped with a currency crisis that saw the Lebanese pound losing 95 per cent of its value over the last two years. The poverty rate has grown, and the UN estimates that 78 percent of Lebanese people live below the poverty line. 

In Lebanon, the power-sharing system for the country is split in three, giving the premiership to a Sunni Muslim, the presidency to the Christians, with a Shia Muslim chairing parliament. The mechanism, which secures representation based on religious and sectarian constraints, has led to corruption, nepotism and the gradual ruination of the economy.

The country is awaiting an economic reform plan to stabilise the currency, but political deadlock means the issue has not been resolved.

The Association of Banks in Lebanon put out a statement on Tuesday blaming politicians for putting the banks as cannon fodder for the people’s anger at the crumbling economy and financial collapse in the country. Bank employees are expected to hold protests demanding more security as the incidents of hostage-taking increase every month.

An association founded recently to defend depositors' rights in Lebanon, calling itself the Depositors Outcry Association, reported another incident of a man taking another bank hostage for his savings on Wednesday.