The Lebanese parliament on Monday held the third and final parliamentary session required to approve the 2022 general budget after the last session, originally scheduled for 16 September, was postponed following a wave of armed bank robberies that rocked the country. Dozens of protesters had gathered outside the chamber to demand reforms, including a large group of retired military personnel, dressed in full uniform or, failing that, in military fatigues.
They were demanding better retirement conditions in the midst of an unprecedented economic crisis that has left Lebanon a wasteland. Since 2019, the Mediterranean nation has been going through what the World Bank (WB) has described as the worst crisis in modern history. The pound has been devalued by 90% and shortages of energy and basic commodities are widespread. A collapse that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is struggling to resolve despite the pressing climate of political division.
#Lebanon— Rula El Halabi (@Rulaelhalabi) September 26, 2022
Retired soldiers storm the #Parliament area in protest against one of the budget items related to their
compensation as the general budget discussion session was being held.
The Kleptocrats are very clear in driving the country towards more bankruptcy,#EconomicCollapse pic.twitter.com/T62TMaqDMl
The demonstration, which began early in the morning in central Beirut's Nejmeh Square, escalated until the group of retired military personnel decided to charge the security forces and storm the parliament. Many of them managed to break through the security cordon, the last barrier to access the building. The police, overwhelmed, had to be backed up by the army and riot police to contain the advance of the demonstrators. Finally, the security forces were able to stop the mob by firing tear gas.
On hearing of the events, Forces for Change MP Cynthia Zarazir left the session to join the rally. While the acting Minister of Defence, Maurice Slim, wanted to address the protesting retired military personnel: "We have decided today that the salary [of the military] will be multiplied by at least three times, but we leave the technical details to the competent financial authorities".
لأول مرة يتمكن متظاهرون من اختراق حواجز مجلس النواب والوصول الى مدخلهpic.twitter.com/GaG3eklaEW— Naim Berjawi | نعيم برجاوي (@Naimbrj) September 26, 2022
The retired brigadier general said he had defended the interests of military retirees by asking for "the maximum possible" to improve their conditions. In early September, Slim himself, who has been in office since last year, announced a £2 million increase in transport allowances for the military. But protesters consider the subsidies insufficient.
Reforms are failing Lebanon in the face of protracted institutional deadlock and corruption among the political elite. That was the conclusion reached by the IMF delegation, which travelled to Beirut last week to closely monitor compliance with the agreement. The budgets that finally passed through parliament on Monday do not meet the IMF's demands. They put spending at 41 billion pounds, some 1.2 billion euros, far below the IMF's demands.