Lebanese army soldiers stand guardbank branch during a demonstration in Beirut. PHOTO: Hasan Shaaban/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Nine Lebanese bank workers were taken hostage by an irate man demanding to withdraw $50,000 from his savings account, as the country struggles under an escalating currency crisis. Abdullah al-Saii, 37, is accused of storming into the bank branch in the Bekaa Valley brandishing a gun and grenade before dousing himself in petrol and threatening to burn himself after he was told he could not withdraw the cash from his savings account.
Local media reported that the terrified staff allowed him to take out some of his savings in the siege last week, which he said he needed for stock for his cafe. Saii has been hailed a “hero” by many in the country, where people have only been allowed to take out a limited amount of cash from their accounts since October 2019.
The measure was introduced by local authorities to avoid bank runs after the country’s currency - the lira - began devaluing. What followed was an economic meltdown in which the lira devalued by 95 per cent over the last 2 years. The poverty rate has grown, and the UN in 2021 estimated that 78% of Lebanese people live below the poverty line. The Lebanese public prosecutor has ordered local authorities in Saii’s home village of Kefraya to return the amount of cash he reportedly gave to his wife, who remains at large.Bank unions have argued that Saii’s actions endanger people working in bank branches around the country, and demanded that local authorities increase security measures to prevent copycat incidents. "We support Abdullah al-Saii as he faces banks robbing people of their lives," the Depositors’ Union wrote in a statement published on Twitter last week.The Depositors’ Union’s lawyer, Dina Abou-zour, has filed for the release of her client. She told alArabiya.net that Saii has only withdrawn his own savings, and denied the allegations of her client using a weapon. She claimed that the public prosecution is trying to make an “example” out of Saii to stop people rightfully demanding their own money from the banks.Saii has been jailed and reportedly started a hunger strike against his detention, according to local media. The government in Lebanon is in talks with international donors to bail out the country, but these have been stalled by the deadlock over conditions of political reforms in Lebanon. A power-sharing government system between Shias, Sunnis and Christians — which was set up to ensure all the country’s sectarian and religious groups are represented — has led to corruption, nepotism, and left the economy in ruins.