In October, the financial banking system in Lebanon suddenly turned from provider to with-holder. A transformation from the good Dr Henry Jekyll to the evil Edward Hyde. It happened so fast that people did not see it coming. No one understood what happened, and people still do not get it!
By Hiba Kilany
Unfortunately, I experienced it first-hand. I had to beg and cry for weeks and months to all kinds and colours of Abdallahs, Nisreens, and the like, repeating the same story for anyone willing to hear me. I wanted to find one good Samaritan that could perform a magical act of empathy towards me.
Unable to resolve it through international calls, I wrote a letter, a cry of despair, that I eventually published on my Facebook page. Below is the letter that made things move.
Mind you; I had to remove the letter so things could finally move.
Dear BLOM Bank,
I have been your loyal client for over 20 years. I left the country but kept my trust in both Lebanon and your bank. Despite moving abroad, I kept my money - the money I have gathered through years of hard labour and sweat- in your branch.
I am sorry to say that, but you are acting like thieves! I want to have access – I need to have access- to my money: I cannot live with 600 euros a month! My rent is already 500 euros! Not even a dog can survive on 100 euros a month!
I live where Point-of-Sale (POS) usage is not widespread, and most payments are made with cash! You decreased the international card limits and refused to transfer even the slightest amount to my empty Italian bank account!
I have my monthly obligations. I have dues to pay, and payments to do that exceed $1k a month by far: if you don’t solve my problem ASAP, I will not be able to pay the minimum needs of a decent human being!
You have forced your Diaspora to live below any acceptable social level while you claim to be Bank of Lebanon and that of Expats?! What ex-pats!
I am not asking for alms or charity! I want to ask you for my right as a lawful customer in your not-so-respectable bank. This is sad. I am raising my case to the global network of friends and connections.
Please help me in any way you can!
A couple of hours and a thousand views on my Facebook page later, I received a call from a newbie from the bank’s social media department. He asked me to remove the post, but I refused. He got nervous and transferred me to his boss, who, with a little hidden threatening tone, explained that if I wanted any help, I had to delete the post.
So I did. Not because I was afraid but because the purpose of the post was to get hold of my money. I decided to share my story again to tell everyone how sad things have become. I got minimal savings thanks to that person's help: am I grateful? He said that it was a miracle they accepted to do the transfer: somehow, to me, it still felt unfair, unjustified, that I should be grateful because I could get a hold of a stupid silly sum of my own damn money. A relatively low amount that would only save me for a while from living on the streets in a foreign country.
It is not over yet. The tragedy remains. Now discussions about the rate at the banks force us Lebanese with US dollar accounts to transfer the amount into Lebanese Lira. The debate is at what speed the system will screw us and how much they will rip us off.
Can we ever trust the Lebanese banking system again? Can we ever trust any system: the political system, the health system, the financial system, and the banking system? Seen the recent global developments, the political system proved to be a failure; the health system proved unreliable, and the financial guarantees you thought you had were another source of our insecurities.
A system full of liars, unworthy of our trust, failing us all… In Lebanon, even the revolution failed. Unfortunately, le temps des révolutions est mort, 'the time of revolution is long gone….'
Yet, and although it frustrates me, I can assure you that after all of this is gone: post-Covid-19, after the most significant economic depression of the century that is yet to come, after the revolutionaries burned all the tires in Lebanon after we get ripped off of all our savings, we the people, we will get back. We'll be eating things we shouldn’t eat, placing money in banks we don’t trust, and we be voting for politicians we don’t trust
Unfortunately, that is the irony and predictability of men.