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Attack on economist fuels anger over Beirut capital controls

BEIRUT: Lebanese economist Mohammed Zbib, who joined a campaign criticizing the Lebanese central bank’s economic measures, was attacked on Wednesday night by unidentified persons after he left the campus of the American University in Beirut (AUB), where he was taking part in an economic seminar.

Zbib told Arab News that he “filed a complaint before the public prosecutor against two unknown persons, even though the attackers’ faces were exposed, and there were security cameras that recorded the incident. The attackers didn’t utter a word, they only beat me for a few minutes and then fled the scene.”

He said: “I have no personal differences with anyone. My economic stances are the reason behind the assault. Nothing scares us; the assault might be to prevent me from carrying out seminars and activities.”

The economist added: “If the government decides to pay the Eurobonds’ entitlement, Lebanon will be driven toward an even worse crisis. The central bank must inform us of its assets before taking any step. What is the use of breaking the assets if we do not have enough money to meet the citizens’ needs? What is required is to stop paying and negotiate with the creditors.”

“No one will tell us that we are facing a tight deadline, nor that the creditors will seize Lebanon’s assets abroad in the event of nonpayment. Lebanon has no properties abroad, but the central bank does.”

Zbib considered the discussion regarding the capital control law to be “misleading, because its application will include all depositors. We revealed, by numbers, that $27 billion was withdrawn from banks in 2019.”

Several media professionals stood in solidarity with Zbib. The Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom called for conducting “the necessary investigations and revealing the attackers’ identities as well as the identity of whoever ordered them to carry out the assault, no matter how important they are, and strongly hold them accountable.”

The Reporters for Freedom center described the attack on Zbib as “organized,” while the Syndicate of Editors condemned it as a “cowardly act.”

The hashtag #Mohammad_Zbib topped the list of Lebanon trends on Twitter.

“This is the ruling mafia,” said activist Lucien Bourjeily, while writer Ahmad Baydoun Zbib described him as a “strident voice against looters.”

University professor Wissam Saadeh said: “The aggression of capital thugs against Zbib requires that classes be more organized from now on.”

In a statement reported by the French Embassy, the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs called on Lebanon to “proceed quickly to meet the economic, social and political aspirations that the Lebanese have expressed for several months, especially economic transparency, as well as economic and financial sustainability, combating corruption, and the judiciary system’s independence.”

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