On Tuesday night, protesters in Sidon, Lebanon, broke into a bank and set it on fire while singing. Demonstrators chanting “revolution” also tossed Molotov cocktails at a local central bank branch. The crowd cheered each time they hit their target. Protesters broke curfew to inflict similar destruction in Tripoli, Beirut, and Nabatieh.
Demonstrations that began in October 2019 resurged across the country this week as the coronavirus pandemic worsens Lebanon’s economic troubles and its new government scrambles for a solution. Violence escalated in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest and poorest city, after a protester died on Tuesday. The military expressed regret over the killing but didn’t take responsibility. Paramedics with the Lebanese Red Cross treated at least 22 people for injuries and evacuated four others to hospitals.
The uproar began when the government last fall proposed taxing WhatsApp and other internet messaging apps. It quickly grew into unprecedented calls for anti-corruption enforcement, improved public services, and a new government. Saad Hariri stepped down as prime minister, and former Education Minister Hassan Diab took over the task of forming a new government in January.
But the country’s import-dependent economy continued to decline. Lebanon’s currency, the Lebanese pound, has lost more than half its value since October and traded at 4,000 pounds to the U.S. dollar this week.
Coronavirus-related shutdowns have pushed even more people out of work, intensifying the protests, with demonstrators targeting banks that cut off access to their deposits. A taxi driver set fire to his car after officials fined him for breaking lockdown restrictions. A street vendor scattered his wooden table of produce and yelled after security officials asked him to pack up and leave.
“What you’re seeing is a result of accumulated problems,” Abdelaziz Sarkousi, a 47-year-old protester, said. “We had a revolution, people were suffering, then came corona, and people were locked in their homes for a month and a half without the state securing food and drink or anything else for them.”
France has said it will organize international support for Lebanon as soon as the outbreak restrictions are lifted. The United Nations special coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, tweeted that the ongoing violence should serve as a caution for the country’s political leaders: “This is the time to provide material support to increasingly desperate, impoverished and hungry majority of Lebanese all around the country.”