Ex-Lebanese president Émile Lahoud decries capital controls, can only withdraw $1,000

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Former Lebanese leader Émile Lahoud decried the informal capital controls in the country, saying that he was joining the ongoing popular protests as he is only allowed to withdraw $1,000 per month despite his status as a former president, according to a recent interview.

“Is it fair that these people are hungry and then you accuse them of being foreign agents? No, they’re not foreign agents! There are people who are hungry. You have been preventing me from withdrawing … I’m using myself as an example as I am a former president of the Republic, and I’m only allowed $1,000,” Lahoud told pro-Hezbollah and pro-Syrian al-Mayadeen news channel.

Last week, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the government had the names of the people who were burning state institutions, and the top UN diplomat in Lebanon previously suggested that some responsible for the burnings were “hired” and belonged to “politically manipulated suspicious groups.”

 

Protests have picked up in the country as the economic situation becomes direr, and more find themselves out of work due to coronavirus lockdowns, which recently began to lift. More have found themselves out of work, and hunger is on the rise.

“How can you guarantee that my income … those who I’m responsible to who also maintain the lives of a few, etc … Where am I going to bring them [money]. It’s a good thing my son told me to maintain a few [dollars] on the side … right now after two months they’re gone. What should I do as a [former] president of the Republic, I’m going to head down to the streets with them,” Lahoud, who was president of Lebanon from 1998 until 2007, told Beirut-based al-Mayadeen.

During the interview last Friday, Lahoud accused the political elite of attempting to sabotage current Diab’s economic plan, urging him to “return the stolen money” and “not to be afraid.”

Many Lebanese on social media took aim at Lahoud’s comments and suggestion that he would join the popular protest movement.

“Who wants to join in and start a donation for Emile Lahoud, please he made me cry,” twitter user @tonymsawma wrote.

“$1,000 is the weekly cost of cleaning and filling his pool. It’s personal for this guy. They’re not letting him swim,” another user wrote, referencing the claims critics have made that Lahoud spent much of his presidency swimming and tanning at the Yarzeh Country Club in Beirut.

For months, informal capital controls have made life harder for citizens who struggle to access funds in their accounts and are subject to arbitrarily and illegally imposed daily withdrawal limits, sometimes as low as a couple hundred dollars a day.

A dollar shortage in Lebanon has set off the implementation of a series of illegally imposed and ad hoc capital controls imposed by banks as they struggle to keep dollars in the country.

The country needs dollars to pay for imports, and since the last half of 2019, greenbacks have been drying up. Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said that US dollar reserves at the central bank stand at $22 billion, and that accumulated losses at the bank are around $63 billion. In mid-September 2019, reserves stood around $38.7 billion.

Dollars are used commonly alongside the local Lebanese lira to buy goods in the country, and officially the lira is pegged to the US dollar at 1,507 to $1. However, rapid inflation has seen the local currency lose more than half its value in recent weeks.

Lebanese abroad have had problems as well using their Lebanese bank cards. One Lebanese person vacationing in Dubai in March, who asked to remain anonymous, was told by her bank that she could only make 15 transactions on her card per week for international spending, and they must fall below $1,000 per month. The monthly limit has since been reduced to $100 per month.

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