The Lebanese pound hit a historic low of 100,000 per dollar.

The Lebanese pound fell to a historic low against the dollar in a parallel market on Tuesday, the latest gloomy milestone in an economic crisis that has plunged much of the population into poverty.

Officially pegged to the dollar at 15,000, dealers said the pound traded at 100,000, a dizzying fall from 1,507 before the economic crisis hit in 2019.

At the end of January, the market value of the currency was about 60,000 per dollar.

The fall in the currency has pushed up prices, including for fuel, food and other essentials, and this month supermarkets began pricing items in dollars.

Despite the severity of the crisis, the political elite, which many blame for the country’s financial collapse, has taken no action.

Since last year, the country has had no president, but only an interim government amid a continuing stalemate between rival factions.

“The lyre has become completely useless,” said Abu Abbas, 75, the owner of a small jewelry stall on Beirut’s busy Hamra Street, who was barely making ends meet.

“I used to buy medicine for my wife for £40,000, now it costs £900,000,” he told AFP.

– Banks are on strike –

Lebanese banks, which have imposed draconian withdrawal limits, essentially depriving depositors of their savings, were closed on Tuesday after resuming an indefinite strike.

The strike began early last month to protest what the Lebanese Banking Association called “arbitrary” legal action against creditors after depositors filed claims to get their savings back.

Some judges have tried to seize the funds of bank directors or board members, or have creditors pay back customers’ dollar deposits in pounds sterling at the old exchange rate of 1.507.

Clients had a two-week reprieve from strike after Acting Prime Minister Najib Mikati intervened late last month to thwart one of the judges investigating banks.

Withdrawal restrictions sparked public outrage, with some Lebanese resorting to armed robbery in an attempt to get their hands on their own money.

The facades of many of the capital’s banks are almost unrecognizable from the outside, covered with protective metal panels, and ATMs have been vandalized.

“The ruling politicians … robbed the country and stole depositors’ money,” said Mohammad al-Rayes, a shop owner in Beirut.

“They have to go and bring in new leaders,” the 65-year-old told AFP, adding: “It’s going to be very hard times.”

– “Loss of trust” –

Political inaction and lack of accountability have been a hallmark of Lebanon’s economic crisis, which the World Bank has described as one of the worst on the planet in recent history.

Last April, the International Monetary Fund announced an agreement in principle to lend $3 billion to Beirut over four years, subject to a wide-ranging reform package.

But officials have failed to implement the changes demanded by international lenders in exchange for unblocking emergency loans.

Central bank governor Riad Salameh is under investigation at home and abroad on suspicion of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars.

A Lebanese judge asked Salameh to appear before European investigators on Wednesday as part of a multinational inquiry into his personal condition.

Lebanon faces an economic crisis, largely leaderless, as a divided parliament has been unable to elect a new president for months – in a country already ruled by an interim cabinet with limited powers.

Repeat meetings convened to elect a successor to Michel Aoun, whose term expired in October last year, failed to reach agreement on a single candidate.

The pound’s steady decline reflects “a complete loss of confidence in the country’s politicians,” said Saeb El-Zein, a former Lebanese banker who has worked with international lenders.

“You need political leadership to have economic leadership – and we don’t have political leadership,” he told AFP.

Aya Iskandarani