BEIRUT – A small group of protesters stormed a ministry building in Beirut early Friday morning and removed the president’s portrait from one of his main rooms, as the Lebanese pound hit new lows amid a worsening economic and political impasse.
Nearly 12 protesters who entered the Ministry of Social Affairs said that the conditions in the crisis-stricken country had become unbearable as a result of the rapid economic collapse and the continuous collapse of the pound, which reached $25,100 to the dollar. The previous record was 25,000.
Prices have skyrocketed in recent weeks as the government lifted subsidies on fuel and some medicines, leaving them out of reach for many in Lebanon. About three-quarters of the population of six million people, including one million Syrian refugees, now live in poverty. The minimum monthly wage is now around $27.
The demonstrators blamed the ministry for the slowdown in issuing ration cards, which are supposed to give poor families monthly financial aid.
Protesters stormed the ministry’s conference room and overturned a framed picture of President Michel Aoun before it was removed. They replaced it with an Arabic banner that read “October 17 Revolutionaries.”
The protesters were referring to the start of nationwide protests on October 17, 2019 against the country’s ruling class. They are blamed for decades of corruption and mismanagement that plunged the small country into the worst economic and financial crisis in its modern history.
“He who has usurped public money cannot make reforms,” shouted one of the demonstrators before leaving the building after the police intervened. “We’ve hit rock bottom. Things can’t go wrong.”
The crisis was exacerbated by the coronavirus and the port explosion on August 4, 2020, which killed 216 people, injured more than 6000 and destroyed part of the capital.
The cabinet, formed in September after a 13-month hiatus, has not met in more than six weeks amid deep divisions between rival groups over the judge leading the investigation into the port explosion. Tensions were exacerbated by the statements of a government minister that sparked a diplomatic row with the oil-rich Gulf states.
The state-run National News Agency said protesters in other parts of the country had put up posters reading “the mafia that destroyed the Lebanese pound” outside some local bank branches.
Over the past two years, local lenders have imposed informal capital controls that prevent many people from accessing their savings.