A group of activists helped a woman who claimed to be carrying a toy pistol break into a Beirut bank on Wednesday and steal $13,000 from her savings account.
The local Al-Jadeed TV reported that Sali Hafez said she needed the money to pay for her sick sister’s cancer treatment. She claimed that she had gone to the bank several times to request her money, only to be told that the maximum monthly amount she could receive in Lebanese pounds was $200. Her nephew, according to Hafez, owns the toy gun.
For example, “I had begged the branch manager for my money before, and I told him my sister was dying, didn’t have much time left,” she said during the interview. To paraphrase, “I realized I had nothing left to lose.”
Since 2019, Lebanon’s cash-strapped banks have imposed strict limits on withdrawals of foreign currency, effectively freezing the savings of millions of people. The tiny Mediterranean country’s economy has been plunging for some time, pushing about three-quarters of the population into poverty.
Hafez and the Depositors’ Outcry group stormed the BLOM Bank manager’s office. They extorted $12,000 in US currency and the equivalent in Lebanese pounds, or about $1,000.
Hafez claimed that she had $20,000 in savings stuck in that account. She revealed that in order to pay for her sister, age 23,’s cancer treatment, she had already sold many of her possessions and considered selling a kidney.
The robbers “doused gasoline everywhere inside and took out a lighter and threatened to light it,” Nadine Nakhal, a customer at the bank, said of the break-in. She claimed the woman armed with a gun had threatened to kill the manager if she did not get her money.
In a Facebook Live video, Hafez explained that she was not intending any harm. She emphasized that she did not rob the bank with the intention of hurting anyone or destroying property. I came to demand my legal entitlements.
The people of Lebanon’s small, crisis-stricken country have been struggling to make ends meet and retrieve their savings, so Hafez has been widely hailed as a hero on social media. In her advocacy for reclaiming financial security, she urged others to follow suit.
Activists split up; some followed Hafez into the bank, while others demonstrated outside. Eyewitnesses reported seeing Hafez leave with a plastic bag containing cash.
Numerous protesters, including one who was carrying what appeared to be a handgun, were detained by security guards stationed outside. This gun’s toy status was initially unclear.
The leader of the protesters, Alaa Khorchid, claims that one of their members robbed a bank in the mountain town of Aley to get his money out of a safe deposit box. According to the local media, the man tried to rob the BankMed branch while armed only with an unloaded shotgun, but he was eventually apprehended.
Both events happened a few weeks after a food delivery driver held 10 hostages for seven hours in a Beirut bank for the sake of the tens of thousands of dollars he had stashed away there. There was widespread praise for him.
Khorchid told the Associated Press that with “no government, no economic recovery plan, and little reserves left,” the people have no choice but to “take matters into their own hands.”
They toiled for decades, but not to help the rulers erect palaces while the common people went without food and medicine.
Two activists who had stormed the bank earlier in the day with Hafez were being held in a police barracks in Beirut on Wednesday night, so activists there shut down a major road in the city. Those demonstrating called for the two men to be freed right away.
Lebanon’s banking sector and economy have been devastated, and the country has scrambled for over two years to implement key reforms. However, it has been unable to negotiate a recovery plan with the IMF that would allow it to access the billions of dollars in international loan and aid necessary to revive its economy. Since May, the country’s caretaker government has been unable to get anything done, and the newly elected parliament has yet to find common ground.
Meanwhile, millions of people are struggling to deal with rising prices and frequent power outages.
We need to put an end to everything that is happening to us in this country,” Nakhal said. “Everyone’s funds are trapped in the banks, and in this particular case, it’s a sick person. We have to figure this out.