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Beirut: Suicides in Hamra and “Louis Vuitton” in the Markets…

Hazem El Amin
Lebanese Writer and Journalist
July 3, 2020
The collapse began to reach us through small stories. A young man committed suicide in Hamra street in the middle of the day, and another was found hanging in the Al-Zeina valley region, north of Saida.

A family from Tripoli transferred its sick baby to the electricity company to provide him with 24 hours of electricity, since the ventilator needed energy to work. News about daily incidents of pick-pocketing in Beirut’s streets, and a security camera in a pharmacy registers an armed young man entering the pharmacy, threatening the pharmacist with a gun and demanding diapers, then leaving without stealing anything else.

This is Beirut and nowadays you have to be careful while walking through its streets. Not only are the incidents of pick-pocketing and suicides increasing, but you may also be surprised in the city by a cafe that decided to close down, or a beggar who only yesterday had a job as a waiter. What’s even more amazing is walking by a crowd at Beirut’s Downtown Louis Vuitton, approaching the queuers and asking them about the secret behind this overcrowding at it’s gates. The response returns that Louis Vuitton decided to sell its goods at a dollar worth of 3,800 liras. “We buy Louis Vuitton bags at this price and send them to our relatives abroad, who sell them for 3 times the price.” This is noting that the people in front of this store are not it’s traditional customers. Those who are hungry have quickly taken the opportunity to double their money, by transforming their money into purses, as the lady in front of the store tells me. “You are either buying gold or dollars with whatever money you have left, and we are buying Louis Vuitton’s bags, what is the difference?” she asked.

People are really afraid, but it is a fear of another kind, different from the fear of wars or diseases, a fear that they themselves have not yet understood. “The poor” buy “Louis Vuitton” while “the rich” isolate themselves at home. At night, the rich roam around without their handbags for fear of pickpocketing. Prices are moving strangely. The dollar this morning was worth 8500 liras, but last night it was worth 9500 liras! What happened to produce this downfall? The cambist answers: “Nothing… wait until the afternoon, it will rise again.” A local news agency publishes news about the dollar price rise in some Lebanese regions. The price of the dollar in the capital is different from its price in other cities. Which is more expensive? No logic can explain the difference.

The media, as well, is roaming around aimlessly, and grapples between the banks that finance it, and Hezbollah that is threatening it. The distance between the party and the banks is also unclear. The party does not want them to fall, but wants them to be subdued, whereas the banks hate Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who has been introduced by the Party, and to whom they continue to adhere. In this strange space, the governor of the Bank of Lebanon, Riad Salameh, moves between MTV, which supports him, and Al-Akhbar newspaper, which hates him. Meanwhile the former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, declares that Riad Salameh is a red line, and that he will fight for his protection.

This is Beirut and nowadays you have to be careful while walking through its streets. Not only are the incidents of pick-pocketing and suicides increasing, but you may also be surprised in the city by a cafe that decided to close down, or a beggar who only yesterday had a job as a waiter.

The scene, within its tragedy, is also satirical. Officials’ statements are hilarious. The president of the Banking Association blames the atmosphere of social media as the cause of the rise of the dollar, while the Minister of Interior refuses the Minister of Information’s request that his ministry should apologize for beating the journalists in Beirut airport, on the pretext that “the military suit should be respected”! Imagine that in this bizarre setting the military suit should still be respected!

In the morning, you get up and immediately head to the bank to book a place in the queue of humiliation, awaiting the minor looting incident. The bank has decided to pay you part of your money in Lebanese liras at a rate of 3800 liras/dollar. The dollar in the market however, is worth 10,000 liras. This means losing about 70% of your savings. The bank manager receives you with his usual smile, as he will ‘grant’ you a sum of money of which his bank will steal at a rate of 70%. At this time, the Prime Minister declares his intention to separate the Lebanese economy from the dollar price fluctuations. This step, which the world’s expert economists have failed to fulfill, will be achieved by our Prime Minister in one night, as he promised the Lebanese. The same day, the president receives the Chinese ambassador in Beirut and decides after the meeting to invite China to replace America in Lebanon, and asking the minister, Imad Hoballah, who was nominated by Hezbollah for the government, to follow up with this decision.

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