An armed man has become an unusual hero in Lebanon after holding hostages at a central Beirut bank and demanding access to his funds - an act that garnered widespread acclaim.
Bassam al-Sheikh Hussein stormed the Federal Bank branch at midday on Thursday, brandishing a firearm and threatening to douse himself in gasoline to retrieve a portion of his $210,000 (£172,000) frozen money to help pay for his father's hospital cost.
Like most Lebanese, the hostage taker's money has been restricted for almost two years. Due to an economic crisis, banks have permitted depositors to withdraw only nominal amounts of dollars each month, which are insufficient to cover even the most fundamental demands.
After installing informal capital controls, approximately 80% of the country's population is deemed impoverished. News of the siege quickly spread throughout the country. Scenes of a rebellious individual holding a bank to ransom resonated with hundreds of thousands of people held captive by a catastrophic economic collapse that has ravaged Lebanon and could wipe out billions of dollars in savings.
Since early 2020, the pay of soldiers and police who congregated around the bank as the siege unfolded has been lowered by more than twentyfold, with many now earning the equivalent of $70 per month. Even though a large portion of Beirut's Hamra quarter was rendered inaccessible, onlookers expressed their admiration for the audacious move.
"He's not even a real thief," Ghassan Moula commented next to the bank on the street. "He is merely requesting what is his. With the help of the central bank, our benevolent leaders moved all of their billions to Swiss banks, leaving us to suffer. All of Lebanon desires this."
By evening, it appeared like the gunman's attitude was successful, as the bank agreed to give him $30,000 after he refused an earlier offer of $10,000. As night fell, he permitted a local restaurant to carry meals to the bank's entrance and feed his hostages. Shortly after that, he turned himself into the police.
Ahmad Yatoum, a bystander, remarked, "No one will say he did something wrong." "Desperate people engage in desperate behavior. Even the soldiers and the riot police were fond of him.
This year, the bank siege was the second of its sort; in January, another enraged depositor sprayed bank customers with gasoline and demanded his cash. He also achieved success. Despite the Lebanese community's severe and ongoing suffering, such acts of defiance have remained uncommon.
Remittances from relatives abroad have long been a lifeline for Lebanese citizens. However, with the local currency still falling, a continuing political stalemate, and no real indication that leaders are willing to meet the probity requirements necessary for global rescue packages, they have been essential for keeping the country together.
Many depositors are limited to receiving no more than $200 a month from the bank, in addition to a hybrid version of the local currency known as lollars, distributed at roughly one-third the market rate. There is considerable concern that dollar bank deposits may become worthless if and when a financial solution is discovered.
Most products and services are now priced in dollars, making the availability of the currency even more crucial for people who lack access to offshore accounts or a steady flow of income from outside Lebanon.
Baker George Haddad declared, "Hyperinflation has ruined us." Even the necessities of existence, such as bread, are out of reach for many.