Sunday June 12, 2022
Lebanon’s middle class moving away
Lebanon has been suffering from a series of crises, starting with the ammonium nitrate explosion near the airport, which killed 218 people, 7,000 injured, 300,000 people homeless, $15 billion worth of property damaged in August 2020.
This had led to protests and an economic meltdown, no prime minister was able to form a government, the banks had stopped transactions, and there was power breakdown.
Even after the elections last month, there have been little signs of political stability, with the Lebanese Forces party, the Christian party, winning a majority replacing the Hizbollah. And the Lebanese GDP halved, from $52 billion in 2019 to $21.8 billion in 2021, a 58/1 per cent contraction, plunging 82 per cent of the population below the poverty line.
In May, the Lebanese pound fell to 35,600 against the US dollar.
This has left the middle class, the educated class with professional qualifications, to leave Lebanon to seek their fortune and future in the United States, in Western Europe, in Australia, and in the Gulf countries. This time round, desperate middle-class Lebanese, nurses, doctors, and others migrating even to Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Serbia, and even Iraq.
According to a February 2022 Information International report, 79.134 Lebanese migrated in 2021 compared to 17,721 in 2020, the highest in five years. There was an earlier emigration peak with 66,800 emigrating between mid-December 2018 and mid-December 2019 compared to 33,841 who had emigrated in 2018.
The Lebanese embassy in Iraq said that 20,000 people had arrived in Iraq between June 2021 and January 2022, apart from the pilgrims who visited the Shiite shrines of Najaf and Karbala.
Most of those are in the health sector, with Lebanese doctors offering their services in Lebanese hospitals. A World Bank report says that one in five persons have lost jobs since October 2019, that 61 per cent of the companies reduced their permanent staff by 43 per cent. A 2020 Arab Youth Opinion Survey showed that 77 per cent were thinking of emigration.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a favourite destination for many Lebanese emigrants. Marianna Wehbe, 42, who runs a luxury PR firm, moved to Dubai to be with her daughter Sophie, 17, in August 2021. Wehbe said, “My daughter needed a place to study in safety and to keep her sanity. Beirut, with the electricity and internet cuts, was not that anymore. Her formative years are ahead of her.”
Walid Alami, 59, who had a lucrative cardiology practice in the United States, came in 2012 because he wanted his children to grow up in Lebanon and feel the nation of their roots.
“I wanted my children to grow up in Lebanon and know their motherland. But to my disappointment, things professionally didn’t go as planned because our system is corrupt, including the medical system.” He could not support his daughter Noor, 21, at New York University in New York, and his son, Jad, 18, at the boarding school. He has one deep regret: “It was my dream that they would graduated from the American University in Beirut but that didn’t happen.”
Wehbe summed up the situation and the state of mind of the Lebanese emigrant. She said, “Lebanon has always been that way: You leave and then you come back. You give up and then you have hope because we all want to go back home.”
The middle-class emigration has a serious social dimension. Lebanon is being drained of the educated work force. Alami said, “The exodus of the middle class in Lebanon is wiping out the country.” Therein lies the tragedy of the country where its most able people move out of the country.