Central bank governor Salamé keeps Lebanon going
The longest-serving central bank governor in the world has seen it all, and even now is keeping the economy growing despite domestic political paralysis and the spillover from Syria.
Entry into Riad Salamé’s office is a curious process. You pass through the anteroom of his long-standing assistant Claude, open the door, and then find a second door, padded, in the same doorframe, half an inch behind the first one. Then you open that one too and there, amid a cloud of cigar smoke, is the longest-serving central bank governor in the world.
It’s not clear if the double-padded door arrangement is a matter of privacy or to protect Claude’s lungs from the cigar smoke (she reckons the former), but the impression it gives of some sort of bunker or inner sanctum is appropriate, because right now you couldn’t dislodge Salamé as governor of Banque du Liban with dynamite. And nobody would want to. In a country that over the years has been beset by wars both civil and external, by assassinations and now by political paralysis and a million and a half Syrian refugees in a nation of just four million people, Salamé is revered by the banking and business sectors. Some want him to be president; others are just grateful that he’s here at all. “The central bank,” says one banker, “is the only place doing any thinking right now.”