The US is still trying to destroy the Assad regime in Syria and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Is this what underlays the frightening economic undertow?
I sniffed something was wrong in Lebanon when the central bank governor Riad Salame announced to us all that there were plenty of dollars in the system. No shortages. No tightening of the purse strings. I still have the papers with his announcement on page one.
Both before, during and after the 1975-1990 civil war, you’ve been able to pay for anything here in Lebanon in US dollars: dinner bills, rent, militias, guns (during the war), cars, airline tickets, groceries. The Lebanese pound fell amid the conflict but settled afterwards – courtesy of the country’s billionaire prime minister Rafiq Hariri – at 1,500 “lebs” to the dollar.
And everyone was happy. You knew that the cheerful local currency, splashed with colourful cedar trees, Roman ruins and Phoenician figurines, was interchangeable with the greenback. General Grant’s face was equal to 75,000 lebs. We even combined them in our change.
Until I walked up the road to my local ATM last week, inserted my bank card, demanded $400, was given the usual warning that this would attract an extra $5 from the machine – and was then presented with a terse voice message: “Your transaction has been cancelled.” The accent was American, of course.
I tried again, at $200. Same problem.