Sali Hafiz, a 28-year-old Lebanese interior designer on the run from authorities after forcing a bank to release her family funds at gunpoint to cure her cancer-stricken sister, says she is not the culprit.
“We live in a mafia nation. The wolves will devour you if you are not a wolf “She spoke to Reuters while standing on a gravel trail somewhere in Lebanon’s rocky eastern Bekaa valley, where she has been hiding since.
Hafiz held up a Beirut branch of BLOM Bank last week, taking by force some $13,000 in savings in her sister’s account frozen by capital controls that were imposed overnight by commercial banks in 2019 but never made legal via legislation.
Dramatic footage of the incident, in which she cocks what later turned out to be a toy gun and stands atop a desk bossing around employees who hand her wads of cash, turned her into an instant folk hero in a country where hundreds of thousands of people are locked out of their savings.
A growing number are taking matters into their own hands, exasperated by a three-year financial implosion that authorities have left to fester – leading the World Bank to describe it as “orchestrated by the country’s elite”.
Hafiz was the first of at least seven savers who held up banks last week, prompting banks to shut their doors citing security concerns, and call for security support from the government.
The bank employees syndicate’s George Haj claimed the holdups were misdirecting anger that should be addressed at the Lebanese state, which was mostly to responsible for the crisis, and that 6,000 bank employees had lost their jobs since it began.
Authorities have decried the holdups and claim they are working on a bank security strategy.
Depositors, on the other hand, say that bank owners and stockholders have benefited themselves by receiving large interest payments for lending government depositors’ money, and that they are prioritizing banks over people rather than implementing an IMF bailout plan.
According to the administration, it is working hard to execute IMF reforms and hopes to win a $3 billion bailout this year.