Retirees clash with police in Beirut over deteriorating living conditions, collapsing lira

Retirees clash with police in Beirut over deteriorating living conditions, collapsing lira
Security forces shot tear gas at military retirees, who attempted to storm the parliament.
2 min read
22 March, 2023
A Lebanese soldier collapses from tear gas inhalation on Wednesday's protest, 22 March 2023. [William Christou/TNA]

A crowd of hundreds of demonstrators, most of them military retirees, clashed with security forces in downtown Beirut on Wednesday in protest of rapidly deteriorating living conditions and the declining lira.

On Tuesday, the Lebanese lira plummeted to 140,000 lira to the US dollar – an unprecedented devaluation and an almost 99 per cent drop in value from the exchange rate three years prior.

Retirees, most of whom are on pensions that do not exceed US$50 per month, attempted to storm parliament and the Prime Ministry, tearing down barbed wire and pushing past security forces.

The security forces shot tear gas in response, scattering protesters.

"We are being deprived of our rights. Our standard of living is on the floor, we don't have enough for rent even," Samir al-Moqdad, a retiree who served 26 years in the country's Internal Security Forces (ISF), told The New Arab.

Al-Moqdad's income brings in 7 million lira from his pension a month, the equivalent of about US$50 at the current exchange rate.

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Iyad Mohammed, also a retiree who served more than two decades in the ISF said that he has had to pick up a second job after his retirement to make ends meet.

"I oftentimes walk or bicycle to work to save on gas and to stay healthy because I can't afford a doctor," Mohammed told TNA.

The lira has been declining steadily since the country's financial crisis in the fall of 2019.

In recent weeks, however, the decline has been precipitous, dropping from 90,000 lira to the dollar to 140,000 during a three-week period.

The Lebanese state, currently without a president and ruled by an unelected caretaker government, has done virtually nothing to arrest the free-fall of the country's currency.

The IMF has promised over US$3 billion in financing to Lebanon if it undertakes economic reforms, but the government has not passed a single meaningful reform since the start of the crisis.

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The dramatic loss of purchasing power has pushed basic goods out of reach of most Lebanese.

Supermarkets and restaurants now price their goods in dollars, creating debilitating sticker shock for Lebanese who still earn Lebanese lira.

The prices of goods in lira fluctuate throughout the day as the exchange rate climbs and falls without warning.

The Ministry of Energy and Water used to publish the price of petrol once a week; now it publishes prices twice a day.

Even still, gas stations will occasionally shutter for the day if the lira continues to plummet, waiting for the next day’s price list to be published so that they can make more money.