On August 4th, at approximately 6:09 PM, Beirut, a treasured city in the Middle East, was ripped apart by a pair of explosions at the city’s port. Since then, young Lebanese citizens have been risking their lives to help put their country back together again, but many have also wondered if all their work and fervent hope is futile. The question on everyone’s mind is: can Lebanon ever be whole again?
Some argue that Lebanon has never truly been whole and that the explosion is an opportunity to rectify that, while others see the explosion as the final straw after decades of governmental mismanagement. Opposing sides in this debate both point to Lebanon’s fragmented history as playing a large role.
In 1943, Lebanon received its independence from the French mandate and established an independent government under the guidelines of the Lebanese National Pact. In an effort to mediate the various religious sects, the pact stipulated that the president would always be Marountie Christian, the prime minister Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the national assembly Shia Muslim. Although they believed this would enable the government to operate smoothly without the sectarian strife many of their Middle Eastern neighbors have suffered through, the Lebanese government has never been fully operational. Elections have only ever been partly free, and there have been many periods where lack of political consensus has left Lebanon without a president for years on end.
Fast forward seventy-seven years from independence, and the consequences of these issues are clear. Present day Lebanon has been experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades, leaving hundreds of previously well-off citizens penniless. In addition, massive protests against the government have been ongoing since October 17th, 2019, and the global pandemic has left its weak healthcare infrastructure struggling to provide for its citizens.
To say that the explosion hit Lebanese people when they were already down is an understatement.
Despite the catastrophic climate, thousands of young Lebanese citizens descended to the streets in the days after the explosion to help the approximately 300,000 displaced people rebuild their homes from shambles.
The financial turmoil that Lebanon began to face in January of this year has played an enormous supporting role in catalyzing a new wave of Lebanese emigration. The crisis occurred when the state-sponsored central bank began borrowing U.S. dollars from commercial banks under the guise of paying back the government’s massive debt. As a result, one-third of the population is currently living below the poverty line, with unemployment rates rising to over 30% of the population. Compounding this, banks are no longer allowing their clients to retrieve their money in U.S. dollars. Under these circumstances, many young Lebanese citizens had already begun to grow weary with their government. But, on August 4th, when they learned that their leaders had allowed deadly explosives to remain in the heart of their capital city for seven years, weariness grew to fury.
And so, with brooms in hand and rage in their hearts, Lebanese citizens have organized, fundraised, and protested to fill the gaps in their communities, despite not receiving any state support. However, as Lebanon’s youth work to help their neighbors rehabilitate their homes, they have also begun to question whether the country has the potential to provide them with opportunities for growth. As such, many young adults are torn between believing that their government can change and not wanting to reap the consequences if it doesn’t.
And for most, the consequences aren’t too hard to imagine.
Right now, almost two months after the explosion, the state has fallen into even deeper turmoil. Most shops have been permanently closed, electricity is incredibly scarce, imported goods are all but nonexistent, and the government has failed to provide its citizens with any of their basic needs.
Contrary to Western portrayal, Lebanon’s youth tends to be highly educated and yet, underemployed in their country. This has, over time, prompted thousands of youth to immigrate to more developed countries such as Canada, France, and the U.S., creating a massive diaspora of approximately 15.4 million people (more than twice of Lebanon’s total population).
Older adults that have grown up experiencing Lebanon’s devastating wars have been less invigorated by the explosion because, in many ways, explosions feel familiar to them— less threatening. So, they are comfortable staying put for the time being. Even in its darkest days, Lebanon will still feel more like home to them than any other place. But these same adults are now pushing their kids and grandkids, who have never endured the toll of war, to leave. They know all too well that their country has little to offer their bright youth, and they don’t want to see them waste their lives trying to change that.
And their kids are starting to listen to them.
Thousands of young folks are beginning the emmigration process. Those that are lucky to have dual citizenship have already booked their flight out, and others are applying for graduate programs, green cards, and visas so that they too can find refuge in other countries.
According to Information International, a Beirut-based research consultancy firm, the average number of people leaving the country per day has increased from 3,100 travelers to 4,100 travelers after the blast. The managing partner of the firm, Jawad Adra, stated that, “There are no accurate statistics on the effect of the blast yet, but the number of people leaving Lebanon will definitely increase over the next few months as a result of it.”
If a mass exodus of young people is inevitable, it’s unlikely that Lebanon’s darkest days are over. As they exit the country, whether it be on student visas or through newly obtained green cards, these young adults will not only be packing their bags but also their expertise, hope, and most importantly their essential contributions to an already fragile economy.
So for now, the question remains: can Lebanon ever be whole again?