AMMAN, JORDAN - Protesters in Lebanon have again taken to the streets amid an economy in tatters and political disagreements over the creation of a new government. Late Tuesday, demonstrators destroyed bank windows, burned tires, blocked roads, and clashed with army and internal security forces, who responded by firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Public anger has reached a boiling point as Lebanon's banks impose capital controls on foreign currency accounts in response to the plummeting local currency. The lira plunged to 2,500 against the dollar, compared with the official exchange rate of 1,515. The banks have turned away irate Lebanese trying to access their deposits.
Habib Malik, professor at the Lebanese American University, blames Shi'ite militant groups Hezbollah and Amal for the violence. He says at least two of the men involved in the bank attacks declared their allegiance to the groups on television.
"They want to tarnish the uprising by saying it is violent and civil disobedience," Malik said. "They want also to take their revenge against the central bank and the banking system as a whole, which has been cooperating closely with the U.S. Treasury Department in putting pressure on Hezbollah. Nobody believes that the popular uprising in Lebanon has anything to do with the violence of last night."
Heavily indebted Lebanon has been in crisis for months as anti-government protesters sought to sweep away an entire political class seen as corrupt. Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in October under pressure from demonstrators, and a caretaker government is temporarily in place.
Jan Kubis, the U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, said politicians are to blame for the turmoil. He said in a tweet that preserving Lebanon's stability requires "the urgent formation of an effective and credible government" that is capable of meeting the aspirations expressed by the Lebanese.
All Lebanese are upset with the behavior of the political elite, according to Malik.
"This criminal, political class is very corrupt and only thinks in terms of self-promotion and staying in power," he said. "They don’t feel the people's pain. They don't feel the country's collapse. They have all of their millions, and in some cases billions, stashed away abroad. They plundered the country over many years. What we fear as Lebanese is that the international community will lose patience with Lebanon and throw the baby out with the dirty water. We don't want Lebanon as a country to go under."
Others accuse the central bank's governor, Riad Salameh, of financial policies that have worsened Lebanon's liquidity crunch.