Failed State — Lebanese Banks Steal Reader’s Money

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“Run by an unholy, mostly undeclared, coalition of warlords, businessman and clerics, this trinity has recently orchestrated what could be defined as the only government-sponsored Ponzi scheme the world has ever witnessed. Citizens’ (and Expats’) bank deposits – the majority of which in the form of lifelong savings, mine included – have evaporated overnight.” 
 
 
“Prior to the sudden announcement that depositors would be unable to withdraw cash from their hard currency accounts, there had been mounting speculation that some banks were facing liquidity issues. However, no one expected that the banking system as a whole was going down the path of a full-blown insolvency crisis. The news took everyone by surprise.
 
Living in the middle-east nowadays – let alone being a 42-year-old Lebanese, pursuing a professional career in Iraq for the last 14 years for lack of genuine future prospects back home – does not hold many promises. The region is one hotspot for eternally recurrent flare-ups. 
 
Alas, it cannot – or, say, is not constructed to – be otherwise for three main reasons, at least: the immense natural resources it sits on; its strategic geographical location; and the presence of the state of Israel at its heart. One need not look further than the current Gaza war to fathom the interplay of power, interests, blood, tears and pain that has long inflicted the region with no light at the end of the tunnel.   
 
On a more personal note, my home country, Lebanon, is a textbook example of a state teetering constantly on the brink of collapse. 
 
Run by an unholy, mostly undeclared, coalition of warlords, businessman and clerics, this trinity has recently orchestrated what could be defined as the only government-sponsored Ponzi scheme the world has ever witnessed. Citizens’ (and Expats’) bank deposits – the majority of which in the form of lifelong savings, mine included – have evaporated overnight.
 
Prior to the sudden announcement that depositors would be unable to withdraw cash from their hard currency accounts, there had been mounting speculation that some banks were facing liquidity issues. However, no one expected that the banking system as a whole was going down the path of a full-blown insolvency crisis. The news took everyone by surprise.
I have some USD 300k withheld by the bank. Other affected accounts range from several thousands to several millions USD. And there are rumors galore that the superrich managed to transfer their deposits out of country – not innocently, though – just prior to the crisis.
I would be lying if I say the entire situation has not troubled me. It has very much indeed and made me all the more convinced that the country is ruled by a clique of thieves. But I am trying as best I can to maintain my composure and carry on in the hopes of recovering the “stolen” money – fully or partially – one day. As for others, we frequently hear about depositors going into deep states of depression with some committing suicide. Strokes and heart attacks are skyrocketing per official medical accounts. And I am sure whatever is transpiring in terms of sad stories is nothing but the tip of the iceberg.
 

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Even worse, not a single culprit has been identified or put on trial. Also, power vacuum on all government levels is the sad norm: the presidency of the republic post has been vacant for the better part of the last year and a half; a caretaker government has been in place for even longer with no intention, willingness or capability to form a new government; a parliament split up between the parties that best represent the interests of the aforementioned unholy trinity; an inefficient and weakened judiciary; and rampant corruption with corrupt officials empowered by an entrenched sense of impunity. 
 
All of this is topped by the unquestionable control the Shiite party, Hezbollah, exercises across the board, bolstered by an internal immunity by dint of a self-articulated role as the only defendant of the country against Israel; and an external, unconditional support by the regional behemoth and its sponsor, Iran.   
 
Looking at things through the Iraqi prism does not reflect a much different picture. Plagued by many of the ills that cripple Lebanon, the post-Saddam version of the country is governed by a motley combination of Shiite militias-turned-parties and – to a lesser extent – a group of Sunni and Kurdish politicians coerced into greedily sharing the corruption spoils. 
 
The one major difference between the two countries is that – unlike Lebanon – Iraq basks in gigantic and seemingly inexhaustible oil resources. One would, however, anticipate there something akin of larger-scale Dubai. On the contrary, common scenes are reminiscent of a dreadful equivalent of third-world shanty towns.  
 
Faced with the above realty, I have recently made the decision to gradually transition to a place that – albeit imperfect – resembles a world that is more in line with my human vision and values. 
 
My goal is to leave Iraq permanently as soon as I sort out the work-related part of the transition. 
 
As for Lebanon, I cannot help but visit it frequently to check in on parents and the very few remaining friends there. To say that their everyday life is nothing short of a nightmare is an understatement. From lack of physical security and basic services, to high living expenses and ever-shrinking work market, impediments abound. 
 
That is while the spectre of a war breaking out is all-too-encompassing. Sympathizing with our loved ones is essential. But it is by no means sufficient, as stories of patients unable to receive pertinent treatment are enough to make one wonder what else can possibly go wrong. Most ironically, everyone I know there – parents included – encourages me to forgo relocating to Lebanon.   
 
I am writing these words on a train cutting across the French countryside. A much needed respite, indeed, from the agonizing situation awaiting me upon return to Lebanon – and to Iraq shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, how bleak a turn the unfolding events take there, in the meantime or going forward, is anyone’s guess.  
 
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