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Lebanon struggles while diaspora flourishes

The country is losing home-grown talent amid government corruption and sectarian strife

Tarek Ali Ahmad

Published: Updated:

For years, Lebanon’s citizens have been leaving the country in search of job opportunities. Those who have succeeded have made their mark in various fields.

Dr Jacques Morcos studied chemistry at the American University of Beirut (AUB), and is now co-chairman of the neurological surgical division at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, the third-largest public hospital in the United States.

Names such as Carlos Slim, the Lebanese-Mexican telecommunications tycoon, and Carlos Ghosn, the Lebanese-Brazilian boss of Renault and Nissan, raise the small country’s name overseas.

While success stories about Lebanese working abroad are common, the country is losing home-grown talent amid government corruption and sectarian strife.

Obstacles

“Lebanon is the tomb of initiatives and talent,” Lebanese expat Fadi Nahas, the honorary consul general of Ecuador in Istanbul, told Al Arabiya News.

“We have a society that doesn’t embrace talent. They just want to step on talent for their own ego. If you go to the United States, they don’t ask you who your father and uncle are.”

With 10-12 million Lebanese living abroad, most of the country’s best and brightest have moved away.

Ranya Radwan, blog editor at Mercury Content group, told Al Arabiya News that Lebanese are leaving “because of the lack of opportunities and continuous instability. They emigrate to escape financial insecurity, the deprivation of basic human needs, corruption, sectarianism, and poor living standards in Lebanon.”

For almost two years, the country has had no president, and frustration with the government has been building.

Other obstacles include Beirut being ranked the Middle East’s fourth and the world’s 44th costliest city, in a survey by consulting company Mercer.

Success abroad

“Nowadays, I don’t consider it emigration, but rather expansion… Ambassadors for Lebanon,” said Nahas.
“If you’re qualified, go outside, make your money outside and stay outside, while keeping your heart in Lebanon. This is the formula.

“We have Oriental roots with Western values. We speak languages... and most important is our survival spirit. Nothing can threaten us.”

Author Zeinab Fawaz says in her book “Success factors of Lebanese small business in the United States,” that “good education, adaptability and networks” place Lebanese expats ahead of the rest.

Lebanon ranks 32nd out of 144 in terms of quality of education, based on the Global Competitiveness Index 2014-2015. However, its rank in efficient use of local talent is 138.

Zeina Saab, founder of The Nawaya Network - an NGO that helps connect youth to opportunities so as to prevent them from emigrating - told Al Arabiya News: “Because Lebanon doesn’t really provide so many great opportunities, those who are able to make it abroad do their absolute best to make use of that opportunity.”

Prospects

In a survey by Al Arabiya News of 100 students in Lebanon, 63 percent said there were no job opportunities in the country.

When asked about their country of preference to work in (more than one answer), 63 percent chose Europe, 43 percent the United States, and 38 percent Lebanon.

Radwan believes that to tackle emigration, Lebanon “has to create jobs, eradicate ‘wasta’ [nepotism] and provide basic services to its people. The government must ensure financial security, religious freedom, healthcare, and safety for its people. Perhaps they should start by collecting the garbage.”

Despite the brain drain, Nahas remains optimistic: “In Lebanon you had bombs, terrorism, fanaticism, Islamism, whatever ‘ism’ exists here, but still Music Hall is fully booked, and you have fun in Beirut while being bored in Amman. Nobody can explain that.”