Destabilizing the future: the Lebanese Diaspora

A country with no youth is a country with no future

It is hard to delimit the percentage of Lebanese emigration every year. We do not know exactly how many people leave Lebanon. The political sensitivities of the country preclude efforts to collect reliable data on the number of emigrants.
First Phase Digital

No official census has been taken since 1932 for fear of upsetting the fragile agreement governing the division of power between the various rival Lebanese confessions.
This subject is taboo. In fact, the real concern is that the new confessional and religious composition of the population would be revealed.
It is without doubt that successive governments have been ignoring the need to create an organized database, so that we would know who is entering and mostly leaving the country.
However, some research has been conducted and estimates have been provided by several non-governmental organisations.
According to a survey published and conducted by Information International, an independent research centre located in Beirut, 30% of Lebanese in general – almost one out of three Lebanese – and 60% of the 18-25 year olds want to emigrate.
Also according to the survey results, nearly 12% of undergraduates want to leave, as well as over 15% of professionals.
They cannot be blamed for wanting to leave, as the lack of infrastructure, the absence of security and the locked bureaucratic confessional box that Lebanon has placed itself in, are discouraging for most.
The National Council of Scientific Research in Lebanon has recently published that more than 50% of the graduates leave the country after finding a job abroad.
In this study, 997 Lebanese citizens of all ages and all faiths were interviewed across the country. Nearly half of the Maronites, the largest Christian community in the country, said they were considering emigrating, against about 22% of Shiites and 26% of Sunnis.
Lebanon has a population of approximately four million, and an estimated 16 million of people of Lebanese origin living overseas, the largest Lebanese communities being located in South America, West Africa, the United States, Canada, Australia and France.
A country falling apart and a generation fleeing
For the past two decades, economic instability and growing insecurity have been pushing young very well trained and educated Lebanese to emigrate. The main case is insecurity and political instability.
Lebanon has been suffering from a new campaign of bombings and political assassinations, since the murder of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005.
Lebanon’s youth are very pessimistic about the future of their country, and they have the right to be.
Even the most rewarding jobs like journalism seem to raise some issues. Although working for a local newspaper seems to be a stable job, many journalism graduates try to emigrate to Europe and America where reporters are appreciated, respected and decently paid. There, at least, they will not need to worry about losing their lives in a car explosion or having their children kidnapped.
The country is hence, suffering from a very serious brain drain. The “ brains” of Lebanon are fleeing and this is threatening the economic and social future of the country. These are young people who could invest their knowledge and energy in Lebanon and eventually foster a strong working middle-class of entrepreneurs.
The young generation being the next generation, “a country with no youth is a country with no future”; and by leaving Lebanon, the young generation is abandoning the country to the warlords who have contributed over the years to its systematic socio-political and economic meltdown.
In the long term, their absence could result in a severe shortage of policy makers and managers.
Living at the expense of our brethren living overseas
In Lebanon, the minimum wage set by the state is less than $300 per month and has not increased since 1996.
According to a World Bank report dating May 2007, nearly 26% of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country, which amounts to about $5.6 billions is generated by migrants.
The report also shows that 45% of these transactions were carried out by the 400,000 Lebanese residing in the Gulf countries, especially those who live in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait.
The high level of brain drain is the result of “inept” policies implemented by successive governments, which have failed to generate economic growth at a time when the debt was soaring.
At present, in addition to growing insecurity, extreme indebtedness of the country is also an obstacle to economic growth. According to the highest estimates, Lebanon’s public debt in 2006 stood just over $40 billion, equivalent to 209% of the GDP, one of the highest debt ratios in the world.
Lebanon has three sources of revenue. The first is its natural resources, the second is finance and the third – the most important – is based on our human resources. When our human resources disappear, we will not be able to handle the first two.
However, even if effective economic reforms and better pay progressively appear, I fear this will not be enough to convince everyone to stay. Deeper socio-political reforms in terms of secularisation are necessary.
Lebanon is faced with many issues: massive emigration from its youth, insecurity and economic meltdown. The entire system must be re-modelled. If Lebanon is suffering it is not because, the Lebanese are lazy and incapable, but simply because they are not given a chance to prove themselves.
Why is that? Lebanon, despite its very modern institutions, is still inherently based on feudalism. Mentalities have not evolved, and people still count on their “tribal chief” for survival.
“They are the victorious wherever they go and loved and respected wherever they settle” (Gebran Khalil)
When Lebanese find the opportunity to leave their country and finally find the “free world” they shine! In the words of the Lebanese poet, Gebran Khalil Gebran: “They will succeed wherever they are.”
We may take Canada as an example- one of the most welcoming countries for Lebanese refugees and migrants. And without a doubt, throughout the history of Canada, the Lebanese immigration has played a significant role in the economic and social dynamics of the host country. The first (1859-1917) and second (1938-1960) waves of immigration consisted primarily of Lebanese working in trade, including textiles. But it is mainly from 1968 to 1992 that the Lebanese massively started to immigrate to Canada.
This last wave was formed initially by young desperate Lebanese students who studied in Canada and remained in the country because of the uncertainty of Lebanon’s future during and following the 1975 civil war.
Given the economic constraints that hit Lebanon in the aftermath of the war, the biggest wave of Lebanese immigration to Quebec took place between 1989 and 1992. It is estimated that some 120,000 Lebanese immigrants fled to Canada in less than 5 years. Moreover, in recent years, more and more Lebanese students enrol in Canadian universities applying for permanent residence in Canada, and dreaming of a better future.
Today, there are approximately 400,000 Lebanese in Canada, active in all sectors of the economy. In addition to their professional success, the Lebanese in Canada have developed a sense of belonging vis-à-vis the host country. The importance of the Lebanese diaspora in Canada has greatly contributed to the diplomatic relations between the two countries. Bilateral high-level visits have succeeded, as evidenced by the presence of former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien in Beirut in October 2002, during the Summit of the Francophonie. In addition, cultural and academic exchanges between Lebanon and Canada, including Quebec, continue to grow.
While the Lebanese diaspora in Canada is well integrated, it does not forget its roots. Private initiatives arising from this community are responsible for multiple investments in Lebanon. Culturally, there are also many Lebanese associations in Canada. Some take a humanitarian character such as Lebanus, whose objective is to raise funds to promote the education of disadvantaged youth in Lebanon. Most of these associations allow the diaspora to promote Lebanese culture in their host countries and to support each other in their integration in Canada. They also aim to discuss cultural and political issues related to their host country or try to overcome community divisions found in Lebanon. The new generation of Lebanese in Canada is very active in this area, a piece of evidenced being the Lebanese Student Federation in Montreal (Tollab). In the same vein, several churches and mosques frequented by the Lebanese community were founded in Canada in order to reunite the Lebanese spiritually, socially and culturally.
The Lebanese diaspora has proven to be very successful, not only in Canada, but all around America, Europe, and elsewhere in the world.
Their success is the result of a certain level of education and upbringing but mostly a consequence of Lebanon’s inherent struggle for freedom. Every Lebanese has inherent in him/her this determination for success and victory. This struggle for freedom inherited from their ancestors may be perceived in the way the Lebanese diaspora glows across the globe.
Lebanon has come a long way. From hundreds of years of occupation, this country is trying to stand on its own two feet once again. Lebanon counts a lot on its diaspora for support; however, aid from abroad is not enough.
Change, progress, evolution and prosperity have to come from within.

Erik Chiniara
Erik Chiniara is a student at the Institute of Political Affairs in Paris, he is in the editorial team of L’Echo du Cèdre, a monthly electronic newspaper, featuring economic, social, cultural, and political information from Lebanon.
Funded by two Lebanese students who had moved to Paris to pursue their studies, L’Echo du Cèdre targets those students living overseas who are proud of their ancestry and who are willing to contribute time and effort in building a new and modern state. Its main objective is to bring together the NextGen Lebanese diaspora and provide them with an interactive platform where they can share their vision and exchange their views freely.