For as long as I can remember, Lebanon has always been an “organized chaos”. Despite the widespread nepotism and the never-ending egotistical conflicts between people sharing the same religion — Lebanon has 18 religious groups — and the same country, the Lebanese still found a way to make money and enjoy life…
…up until now
The actual Lebanon is so riddled with bullets, so poisoned at its core, that its citizens’ relentless hope is slowly dying.
I spent the last 7 days trying to figure out the best way to convey the focal message of this article, but the more I tried to develop the content, the further I got from the point I wanted to make ( I guess writing about Lebanon is as complicated as the Lebanese situation itself ! ). This led me to do things differently; instead of adopting a politically detailed approach necessitating forevermore explanations, I will explicate the Lebanese context through real-life examples (only names will be fictitious for the sake of privacy).
Tony got denied attending his master's in Barcelona
Ahh good old Tony, a kind-hearted individual who will always go the extra mile to please the people he loves. Tony is also ambitious and dreams of a life with big responsibilities and a high growth potential.
A natural first step that made sense to him was to apply for a master's abroad, so he could network, learn, and widen his chances of a better future.
And this is what he did!
A few weeks after he sent his application, he got the kind of news that justified the 24/7 smile on his face. It was a difficult choice to leave his family and friends behind, but he knew deep down that following his dreams of success means leaving his country behind.
In the week that followed, he sold his car and used the money to pay the deposit of this nice apartment he found, plus the 4000 Euro admission fees asked by his university. Once the apartment contract and the paid admission papers in hand, he went to the Spanish embassy to get the last missing piece; the student visa.
Little did he know that this last step would shatter his forward-looking dreams into an exasperating nightmare…
Despite having all the official papers, the rent contract, the university acceptance letter, and the admission fee receipt; the Spanish embassy followed by the Lebanese authorities still found a way to ask for more documents, more money, and more time.
I let you imagine what happened… After three months of constant back and forth between his home and their offices, he missed his Spanish flight without being refunded, he said goodbye to his master's degree and the respective admission fees and accepted the fact that he won't see his deposited rent money again.
Good thing Tony can still enjoy cruising around town in his wrangler… Ohh wait ! he lost that too.
The reason he got denied his dream of a better life will astound you. After a bit of investigation, our dear Tony found out that some religious community leaders have put down the word that little to no visa should be given to the young. At the time, those religious authorities feared that the immigration of individuals such as Tony would end up widening the gap between the different religions reining the country.
The alarming part isn't the decision itself, nor what religion was behind it, but what pushed for such an initiative. Lebanon is known for its brain drain for a long time now; youngsters leaving the country in search of better growth potential — no wonder the Lebanese diaspora is nearly 3 times the number of Lebanese in Lebanon —.
Tony’s situation happened in late 2019, at a time when the long-lasting inadequacies and uselessness of all and every single individual forming the Lebanese government provoked a currency depreciation that reached 62.5% (from 1$=1500 LBP to 1$=4000 LBP).
And then we get surprised by the growing amount of young Lebanese immigrating with the aim of never coming back…
August 4, 2020, 6:00 pm. Beirut exploded
Meet Elias; down to earth during times anyone would wish they were on the moon and the type of individual who doesn't complain much even though the situation demands it.
Like anyone and everyone, Elias has his own little habits that help him disconnect from harsh reality; and having a haircut at his friend's barbershop located in the city is one of them.
Yes, the country was in a pseudo lockdown due to the pandemic, and yes, local TV showed once again how depressing is the news, but this still makes it a day like any other day, and a haircut appointment like any other haircut appointment…
…so he believed.
If only Elias knew what was going to happen to him, to his car, to his friend’s barbershop, to his home, and to the life of many around him…
But how could he know?
How could anyone expect that at the very same moment Elias entered the barbershop, Lebanon would be home to one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in human history!?
How could anyone anticipate that in the space of a few seconds, the precious lives of 216 husbands, wives, sons, and daughters would end abruptly, that hospital beds be overloaded with more than 7500 fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters, and finally, that around 300 000 Lebanese — elderly for the most part — would go homeless without a penny to build again?
Wait a second… could this have been prevented? did someone actually know about the 2,750 tonnes of badly stored Ammonium Nitrate located in the “privately-owned” warehouse 12 at the port of Beirut since 2014?
Well, for the defense of the politicians and the said “owners” of the warehouse, I guess it was hard to notice the seizing and storing of 2,750 tonnes of a chemical compound that accounts for 80% of all industrial explosives (ANFO) in northern America.
Wait I have even better…
I guess they found it even harder to notice the many unanswered letters sent by the customs officials to them, urging the displacement of this time bomb. Or to pay attention to the 90m-long cargo ship from which the chemicals were unloaded, sinking in Beirut's port 4 years after it was deemed suspicious and unseaworthy.
Now I’ll jump from sarcasm to science fiction
Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound that is considered dangerous because of its ability to accelerate and amplify combustion. That is why strong safety guidelines are put in place all over the world to control the storage of such substances. The Lebanese governing authorities managed to spit on them all:
1- Following a 20-year-old table on storage distance for explosive materials (2001), 2,750 tonnes of Ammonium nitrate should be stored — at least — 20 km far away from any human habitations… Beirut’s port warehouse 12 is 1.6km far from the busiest highway in Lebanon, and 2km from the capital.
2- Ammonium nitrate should under no circumstances be put next to combustible substances… Fireworks (and/or ammunition) were stored in the very same warehouse!
3- Ammonium nitrate shouldn't reach 59.4% humidity, above which it liquefies and become more sensitive to detonation, and so requires to be put in tightly sealed containers… The 2,750 tonnes were thrown on the ground like bags of rice scattered all over the place.
And at the culmination of all this grotesque situation
Instead of a government-led workforce, it is Elias and all the individuals that managed to come out with just some stitches and broken bones, who went back on the streets the next day — literally — to clean, rebuild, help, and support their not-so-lucky fellow Lebanese.
Lebanese currency depreciation downgrading middle-class families
Dany and Maria are finally enjoying their hard-earned money!
No, they’re not, they actually lost most of it. Remember when I mentioned the 62.5% Lebanese currency depreciation in Tony’s story? now we’re at 90% (1$=15,000 LBP).
Dany and Maria are parents of 2; a daughter doing an internship abroad, and a son attending his last bachelor's year in Lebanon.
Wait let me update this last phrase.
Dany and Maria are parents of 2; a daughter who stopped her internship and came back to her family home, and a son who’s struggling to complete his last bachelor year.
In Lebanon, you can either pay in Lebanese pound or in US dollars, which means that banks accept the storing and emission of both currencies. The majority of people have a mix of both in their bank accounts because 1; it’s never recommended putting all the eggs in the same basket, and 2; it’s the country’s national currency after all!
So having 40% of their life savings in LBP wasn't a bad thing for Dany and Maria at the time… now they can't sleep anymore because of it.
How frustrating it is to see about half of your money getting devaluated by a factor of 9, and then to receive a word from your son’s university stating the ~160% increase in tuition fees?
How disheartening it is to see your daughter quit an internship in Paris she loved and come back to her childhood bedroom because she couldn't sustain herself financially?
See, Christina (the daughter) worked in Lebanon until 2 years ago, which made her put aside some money in her Lebanese bank account. Reluctant to ask her parents for financial help, she was withdrawing the needed amount from her own savings. But things changed, Banks took the initiative to install a capital control that denied Christina (and every Lebanese in the same situation) from using her own money abroad, denied her of buying food, going to the restaurant, and/or paying for a taxi ride.
Fast forward a few months, Christina is at a Lebanese restaurant thinking twice before adding fries to her overpriced dish. Her brother’s weekly habits shifted from meeting friends for drinks to finding ways to reduce his driving itineraries. And finally, Dany and Maria went back to micromanaging their finances to be able to buy enough groceries for the month.
If Lebanon was a human body; the government would be a heart tumor denying the body to feel, the — 20 years present — “foreign” military force, a bone cancer denying the body to move forward, and finally, the big portion of indoctrinated citizens, a brain tumor denying the body to think and evolve.
Despite all the wars, the bloodshed, and the corruption Lebanese citizens have been through over the years, they still found a way to improvise, adapt, and overcome. The big dreams they had and the inner freedom they felt made them fight all and everything to find ways to make money and explore the world…
…Up until now
Although being born with wings, how can a bird fly if put in a cage? I’ll let the Lebanese government reflect on that — Wait did I say “government”? It’s the 7th month without one because they still can't agree on which ministry will get them the most money —.
Disclaimer: This piece is more targeted for non-Lebanese, giving them an introductory idea about the Lebanese situation. But I am sure that some Lebanese readers will still remind me of worst circumstances to tell, such as the Lebanese minimum wage falling under 50$/month, the fact that one suicide happens every 2 days and a half in Lebanon as we speak, the actuality that there is no proper healthcare, little to no electricity, and poor internet. Hell, the Lebanese passport is arguably one of the worst in the world!
Stories for another day.