Lebanon is a wreck at the moment; put aside the overbooked beaches, clubs, and cafés in the time of COVID-19. Economically speaking, the country is crawling at its lowest level — not far from its devaluated currency.
Recently, acclaimed pop singer Dua Lipa shared a post by the Slow Factory Foundation on her Instagram Story to draw attention to Lebanon's economic crisis while asking people to show support. But are the residents of the country concerned as much? In general, they are, and it's translated in weekly protests and social media campaigns. In particular, most of them are hopeless with not much time on their hands to wait for the country to be mediocrely salvaged.
The situation has gone from worse to worst in less than a year.
A car piece that once required a portion of your salary to be fixed now demands a full, one-month middle-class wage (if that holds the same value it did a year prior.) And that's us talking solely about car owners who make up 33.8 percent of the entire population, a number that positions Lebanon at noticeable ranks on international lists. Thank you, lack of reliable public transportation.
Now, tackling everyone at once - with a specific light shed on those who still receive the same salary in Lebanese lira irrespective of the ever-changing U.S. dollar rate - we can say Lebanon is going on a mandatory vegetarian diet since meat has become a luxurious addition to meals.
So in conclusion, and to only focus on two general examples, your homemade meals are dictated by the fluctuating prices at the supermarkets and your commute by whether or not your car needs repair.
The social media promotion Lebanon gets from international public figures like Dua Lipa is heartwarming but only to the young generation who knows who the singer is. Other than that, it's another rich person attempting to shed light on another unfortunate country, with no funds or aid guaranteed.
The Lebanese have almost always had enough on their plate, a situation that's been fostering a sense of partial selfishness over patriotism. Why stay in a country that's never offered you anything valuable in return?
"No level of support can change anything in Lebanon unless structural, deep-rooted reforms take place. These reforms will not be undertaken by the same people who ran Lebanon into the ground. [...] This political class cannot even manage negotiations with a loan shark (the IMF), let alone solve the crisis. The only support that matters at the moment is making sure no one dies of hunger, poverty, homelessness, or despair," Khaled, a 27-year-old Lebanese man currently residing in Turkey, explained to us.
"If Dua Lipa or anyone else wants to truly help the Lebanese people, they should sponsor and employ Lebanese immigrants, so more people can leave and help their families and loved ones. I realize how unpopular of an opinion this is, and how pessimistic it sounds... But hope can sometimes be the enabler of abuse. A bruised and battered wife should not hope her spouse will change. Escaping and making sure the abuser ends up in prison is the way to approach this crisis," he continued.
His unpopular opinion is shared by many others, even if not publicly.
If a young, skilled person can offer their family or themselves a better future by emigrating, they will pack their bags, no questions asked. And that's precisely what's been happening to the Lebanese youth — and what's even more emphasized now.
"I lost hope in this country a long time ago, ever since I kept on hearing my parents and entourage boasting about the beauty and boom of Lebanon 'back in the days.' In reality, not once in my 28 years have I seen my county stable, it only goes backwards while every other country is moving forward. We're begging for our salaries now, which lost over 60% of their value, and we work day and night for this basic right," lamented a 28-year-old Lebanese woman in the process of requesting immigration to Canada.
In a country like Lebanon, corruption doesn't situate itself amid the government alone. Millionaire and billionaire politicians did not gain their fortunes by working hard to build and sustain the country; they enriched themselves on the backs of people and foreign funds. The majority of them are shareholders in local banks, telecom companies, and various other businesses.
If we are to focus on the banking sector, we will find that 18 out of the top 20 banks in Lebanon have politically affiliated shareholders. A 2016 paper by Dr. Jad Chaaban, a Lebanese economist and associate professor at the American University of Beirut, reveals that 43 percent of assets in Lebanon's commercial banking sector is linked to politicians. To better use our magnifying glass, eight families in specific control 29 percent of the total assets of this sector, a number that can translate to $7.3 billion in equity.
So to add to our innate selfishness and adaptability - since there's no situation the Lebanese don't get used to - trust issues are our daily bread.
For Khaled, seeking a Turkish residency late October, 2019, was the fastest solution for him to safeguard his money. "I had a feeling the protests would not lead to immediate or lasting change, and Lebanon's banking system was starting to crumble. Since I receive my salary through international transfers, my livelihood and savings were under threat," he said.
"I would've gladly sacrificed my savings and life if this threat was caused by an external attack on the country. But losing my hard-earned, little savings to grow the fortunes of bank shareholders and politicians felt far too unfair to fathom," he continued.
The more you converse with the country's residents (Lebanese or not), the more melancholic their voices become. In every sentence uttered, a sound of desperation is muffled by the seemingly positive or sarcastic facial expressions you're seeing.
Let Dua Lipa attempt to raise global awareness, we'd all be grateful for it... we're already appreciative of this simple move. She's visited refugee camps in Lebanon last April, so her sudden interest in the country does not come without a background. At the end of the day and in the words of a Lebanese Twitter user, ". @DUALIPA is trying to Help Lebanon while most of our artists are just posting seflies [sic] with our corrupted politicians."
Unfortunately, though, what artists do or don't do will not rejuvenate the sense of hope in the hearts of Lebanon's 20-somethings. "[F]eelings alone cannot build a future," Khaled said, emphasizing how his return home - or anyone else's for that matter - relies on the government meeting its people's simple, basic rights.
For now, Lebanon will keep on exporting its talented youth, free of charge, to any other country that knows what being human is about.