LEBANON: IS IT OVER ?
Written by Abdallah Hayek, P.E
I don’t have to tell you that Lebanon isn’t at its best at the moment. We see it in our daily lives. You get sick and you can’t find a hospital bed anywhere in the country. You go to the supermarket to find prices increasing day by day. You can’t even withdraw your own hard-earned money from the bank anymore!
On top of the financial and economic crisis, we have to deal with a global pandemic! By the time this newsletter reaches your inbox, the government probably renewed the full lockdown yet again. Thousands of cases, dozens of deaths. It feels like an apocalypse.
However, this had me thinking how many catastrophes have I personally witnessed after occupations, Israeli aggressions, acts of terrorism, crises after crises. And yet, Lebanon survived. How is that possible?
Lebanon, in spite of it all, still possesses several key resources. They are the backbone of this country.
Lebanon’s geographic location is of great strategic importance. It is the heart of the Middle East. Whether because of geopolitical or commercial interest, the international community will not allow this country to fail:Lebanon is a fundamental actor in regional and global stability.
We also cannot ignore the sheer importance of government assets. This includes infrastructure and many other state owned land and commercial assets. The government also owns Middle East Airlines, two airports, three ports, a Casino, a national tobacco company, the Intra Investment Company, the Finance Bank, and two refineries in Tripoli and Zahrani. These assets give the state leverage over the economy, and provides great opportunities for a national wealth fund.
Commodities are another key national resource. According to Reuters, Lebanon has the second biggest gold per capita ratio in the world, with 69.3 grams for each citizen. Its’ gold reserves represented more than 22.3% of the Arab world’s aggregate world reserve. Oil and gas are also another strategic asset. With the Total partnership, Lebanon is on its way to become a major actor amongst oil and gas producing countries.
Above all, Lebanon’s most important asset is its people. Our country is full of young and bright talents. The Lebanese people are historically known for their salesmanship and their entrepreneurial inclination. The country is also ranked 10th worldwide in education quality. Our universities, such as LU, AUB, LAU, USJ, NDU, are the most prolific in the region. The Lebanese diaspora, despite the political turmoil, is still investing in their homeland. In 2020, Lebanon recorded more than $6.9 billion in remittances. This is more than 36.3% of the national GDP! (Graph 1)
These resources are what keep this country afloat. Lebanon never lost its potential to recover.
It is important not to forget that.
However, we cannot ignore the pain Lebanese people have to deal with on a daily basis. This is on every level possible: unemployment is on the rise, wages are losing their value, hospitals are struggling to treat patients. Daily life is becoming more and more difficult, to the point of tragedy.
It is not up for discussion that our political class is corrupted. But are they even able to be corrupted anymore? If they let the country go to waste, is there left to steal? There is no leader without anyone to lead!
The sad truth is that, in this day and age, the Lebanese media fails to fulfill its role. It picks and chooses topics that are sensational and that go in their own personal interest. Media outlets conveniently forget that there are still some positive things happening in this country! But more importantly, is it not bizarre that no one seems to care about electricity, taxes, or what happened on August 4th anymore? The media should be friends of democracy: they should present a full picture of the problems we are facing as a country. However, they only seem to care about protecting a certain class of corrupted people.
Unless the political mafia’s influence is weakened, and until they are held responsible for their actions, the private sector won’t be able to get back on its feet.
The current ruling model is not sustainable. It is in everyone’s best interest to take a stand against corruption, apply major legislative reforms, and leverage on our resources. Let us fight for a stronger economy, and for a better country, before it’s all over!