0.3% of Lebanese Own 50% of Lebanon

Lebanon isn’t a country where population studies are omnipresent. However, given the data that the country has, Credit Suisse, in their yearly report on Global Wealth, has managed to paint a picture on how things in this country actually are.

The report dates back to October 2014, and frankly I am surprised that these numbers did not cause a stir and were not discussed. The report, at 160 pages, can be found here. Perhaps no one noticed the info, so here they are:

At an estimated population of 4.37 million, Lebanon’s wealth is estimated at $91 billion. That actually constitutes 0% of global wealth. How anticlimactic.

When it comes to the Middle East, and despite the reputation we get of being oil-rich, things are similar: Saudi Arabia has an estimated wealth of $653 billion, which ends up as roughly 0.2% of global wealth. Qatar, and all our shoukrans, has $200 billion, which is 0.1% of global wealth. The UAE is at $461 billion, and 0.2%. Meanwhile, Israel has an estimated wealth of $843 billion, translating to 0.3% of global wealth.

All of these numbers look flimsy compared to the United States’ $83708 billion, constituting 31.6% of world wealth.

Keep in mind that – with the exception of Israel and the United States – Credit Suisse considers the data for Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries to be poor in quality. However, I highly doubt that any estimations are overly erroneous in any way or that the margin of error they are admitting to will change the findings considerably.

But this isn’t the story. We all know the country has money. Recent leaks out of Switzerland placed the country at #11 in total customers at their banks and #12 in total deposits within the few months whose data was actually leaked. We’re 10452 km2. That’s a lot (link).

The story is in how that money is actually divided on the 4.3 million Lebanese living here.

Out of all those $91 billion, 0.3% or approximately 8000 people of the estimated workforce according the study own about half (48% to be exact), which is approximately $44.6 billion. Meanwhile, 99.7% of Lebanese own slightly more than half at $46.4 billion.

To put those numbers in perspective, Credit Suisse employed a criteria called the Gini score. The score, according to Wikipedia, is essentially a “measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income distribution of a nation’s residents, and is the most commonly used measure of inequality.”

Lebanon’s Gini score is 85.6. a score of 85.6 places Lebanon 6th worldwide in terms of wealth inequality behind Ukraine, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Seychelles and Russia.

The story doesn’t end here. Even among those 0.3%, there are disparities. That 0.3% basically any Lebanese who has an estimated wealth above $1million. But who actually owns most of the country? The answer is two families: The Hariri and the Miqatis.

Forbes Lebanese Billionaires Miqati Hariri

According to the Forbes latest list of billionaires, there are 6 Lebanese on the list whose ranking ranges from 530 worldwide to 1478. Two of those 6 are the Miqati brothers. The other 4 are the Hariri brothers, including former PM Saad Hariri. Their cumulative wealth is estimated, according to Forbes, at $12.6 billion. This is 30% of the total wealth owned by those 0.3% of Lebanese – except it’s owned by just 6 men.

This isn’t to say that the Hariris and Miqatis do not deserve their wealth. The Miqatis started and ran a telecom empire. The Hariris started and ran a major contracting company in Saudi Arabia. Good for them.

The problem with these numbers is the other side that they portray. About two thirds of the Lebanese population (64.6%) have an estimated wealth of less than $10,000. Such numbers indicate massive poverty in the country, and yet I was unable to find substantial studies apart from one that was recently done by the UN about Tripoli.

In numbers, (link) the UN found that 57% of Tripoli’s families struggle to reach an acceptable standard of living, while 26% are considered extremely deprived. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that things are similar in other regions beyond Beirut.

To the background of this massive poverty is the 0.3% who owns 50% of the country’s wealth, and those 0.3% happen to include most (if not all) of our politicians. Aoun is in it. Geagea is in it. Our MPs and ministers are probably part of those 8000 people too. There are no estimates of the wealths of Lebanese politicians if their last name isn’t Hariri or Miqati, but one assumes they are not middle class folk who are going by paycheck to paycheck.

Of course, it only makes sense that money brings influence, and then influence brings power. A politician’s job in Lebanon isn’t only to legislate but to “provide” for the voters. This is how democracy works here.

The problem with those 0.3% (not all of them obviously) being those running the country is that the country’s policies over the years have not served to close the gap or make those 64.6% with little to no wealth slightly better off. The Gini coefficient clearly shows as much. The country’s policies have not aimed at improving education, providing economic opportunities (for instance, a 1 million m2 zone in Tripoli to bring in international technology has been on hold over sectarian causes for the past 6 years) or making living standards better. Those 0.3% do not get how things are for the 64.6%, the people they’re in contact with once every 4 years for that pre-electoral paycheck. And honestly, there’s no reason for them to get it. And yet our MPs and ministers wanted to increase their salaries?

Meanwhile, the Lebanese population who happens to be of the third that has wealth above $10,000 is pre-occupied with selfies, porn stars, bananas and Kardashian-like reality TV shows because those are what matters.

Lebanon To Have Its Very Own High-Tech “Silicon Valley” Soon?

Batroun hollywood sign

Back in 2012, I wrote about an economical boom coming my home district Batroun’s way (link). It promised great things for the caza and North Lebanon. Now, more than 2 years later, that project is going through the bureaucratic motions of Lebanese governance on its (hopeful) way for fulfillment.

A parliamentary committee consisting of MPs Ibrahim Kanaan (Metn), Nadim el Jesr (Tripoli), Hekmat Dib (Baabda), Jean Ogassapian (Beirut), Neamtalah Abi Nasr (Keserwan), along with a representative of the Minister of Economy Alain Hakim, is studying the law required in order to make the zone a reality.

The zone will be spread over an area of 200,000 m², donated by the Maronite Church in Batroun. The project was championed mainly two years ago by the Maronite League (الرابطة المارونية).

The purpose of the Maronite League behind the project is to improve the economy of that region in order to prevent its people from moving to Beirut and its youth from emigrating. Certainly, even if unknowingly by the League, such a project’s benefits will not be exclusive to the people of Batroun or Maronites for that matter. Let’s hope they don’t mind.

The feasibility study of Batroun’s economic zone indicates that there’s a possibility to generate over 5000 jobs. The companies that will operate in said area won’t be those of heavy industries akin to the ones present in nearby Shekka or Selaata; they will be high-tech industries similar to the ones operating in California’s Silicon Valley, which is where many Lebanese youth today are heading as career choices.

In order to bring in such high-caliber investors, the law that is being studied by parliament will give investors and their companies many advantages:

  1. The zone will not be run by the Lebanese government, but by a separate appointed committee whose members are, in theory, not chosen based on sectarian distribution but on qualifications,
  2. They will have their products exempt from custom fees, which would make their prices competitive,
  3. They will have their mode of business not constricted by Lebanese bureaucracy, which means they won’t have to face months of legal paperwork to finish anything that’s remotely crucial for business,
  4. Permits will be issued by the committee in charge of the zone and would therefore be more easily obtained,
  5. Taxes will be reduced on companies to make their business more profitable.

As is always the case in Lebanon, there’s big fat “HOWEVER” lurking in the background. It is not all awesome news. Is it ever?

Tripoli's "Tall" Area

Tripoli’s “Tall” Area

Batroun’s Silicon Valley-like area isn’t Lebanon’s first to be suggested. Back in 2004, late PM Rafic Hariri came up with an idea for a similar zone in Tripoli, and in August 2008 Lebanese parliament actually passed the law required to set such a zone in action. This is a copy of the law (link) if you’re interested.

For the first time in years, Tripoli – and North Lebanon – were to have major development coming their way. Keep in mind that in 2008, Tripoli was not the war-torn city you all love to criticize today. It was, at the very least, much stabler than Beirut.

In numbers, Tripoli’s zone was more impressive than Batroun’s. Its area was to be spread on 1,000,000 m² of reclaimed land facing the city’s port, of which 350,000 m² has already been done.

At poverty rates ranging between 57 and 63%, Tripoli would have witnessed a tangible and drastic improvement in its economical state as well as the living standards of its people. The study of the area indicated the possibility of generating more than 6000 jobs.

Couple that with Batroun’s numbers and North Lebanon, the country’s poorest and most forgotten mouhafazats, gets more than 11,000 new jobs for its market.When has it ever had such development take place? Never.

Soon enough, the situation in Tripoli decompensated miserably into what things are today. The situation in the country as well wasn’t better. Tripoli was Lebanon’s battleground for the subsequent years. However, those two broad headlines weren’t the only reasons why Tripoli’s zone came to a standstill. Our government couldn’t appoint the committee that would oversee the project. As such, that massive economical development has been sitting on shelves for the past 7 years.

Why wasn’t our government able to appoint the required committee? Because they haven’t found the appropriately backed people of appropriate sectarian backgrounds. Even getting decent jobs to the poor and unemployed in this country is a matter of religious calculations.

Today, here’s what’s at stake. The country can remain as it is, with our youth leaving the country and ending up on best end-of-year lists (link) for doing things abroad that they could have done here. The status quo can remain. Excuses such as “Tripoli is too unstable” and “Batroun is too far” can be used to kill such projects in order to keep all the money flowing to Beirut and Mount Lebanon because only those matter. Tripoli can be kept poor, Batroun can be kept underdeveloped and North Lebanon can also easily be kept needy. The people can be kept jobless and uneducated. Let them stay hungry, let them stay foolish, let them forever remain prone to political manipulation.

Or, infrastructure-issues notwithstanding, we can realize that such projects are a solution, not a symptom, and that it’s high time to realize that Lebanon is 10452 km², not only confined to Beirut, and that sectarian balances are second-rate when it comes to being part of a 20 trillion dollars economy (this is the number in zeros for magnitude: 20,000,000,000,000). Let’s hope those in charge realize the latter, and don’t succumb to the former.

 

#SwissLeaks: Lebanon Is #11 and #12 In Countries With The Most Money In Swiss Banks

We often hear that the Lebanese diaspora has a lot of money and is quite well off. That is the impression that we leave abroad. When I was in France, the stereotype that many seem to attribute with Lebanese is being rich. As my grandma would say: a reputation of richness is better than that of poverty.

But how rich are the Lebanese abroad? How much money do they have in foreign banks? Well, how about we discover the situation in the banking capital of the world: Switzerland. After all, aren’t we the Switzerland of the Middle East?

A fascinating report has surfaced online yesterday  detailing information that was “stolen” by Hervé Falciani, a former employee at HSBC Switzerland’s HQ in Geneva. The information dates back from 2007. It encompasses a timeframe of a few months’ worth of transactions across HSBC in Geneva: between November 9th, 2006 and March 31st, 2007.

The information was recently uncovered by French newspaper “Le Monde.” Going over the hundreds of thousands of info has allowed investigative journalists to compile a list of top countries when it comes to clients at HSBC in Switzerland as well as top countries by deposited amounts.

This small country of 10452 squared kilometers and of about than 4 million people has the #11 highest number of clients in the world, ahead of places like Germany, Spain and Canada. Moreover, when it comes to the amount of money that those Lebanese have deposited, Lebanon ranks at #12 with a staggering amount of $4.8 billion of transactions in those 4 months alone. That amount puts Lebanon ahead of countries such as Germany, the Netherlands and Cayman Islands.

To assess how big the $4.8 billion amount is, I made a quick search to see the situation of deposits in Lebanese banks. According to this report by the Audi Group Lebanese banks saw a total of $5.8 billion in growth in transactions during 2014.

Sure, the comparison is not entirely sensical, but it still serves to assess exactly how gargantuan an amount Lebanese citizens had at a foreign bank.

Why would Lebanese want that much money in Swiss banks? Well, for starters Swiss banks are known for their secrecy, although that’s ironic at a time like this. The situation in Switzerland, with its stability and neutrality from international conflicts, also permits ease of mind when it comes to such massive amounts as opposed to the volatility of the Lebanese side. Moreover, having such deposits at Swiss banks enables easier access to the European market for possible investments. The date of the information being 2006-2007, however, could have skewed numbers post the July 2006 war although I’d assume the recent situation isn’t exactly much better for investors.

Who are some of the names with money at HSBC in Switzerland? The leaked information has some of those too according to L’Orient Le Jour.

Elias el Murr, son of Metn powerhouse Michel el Murr and former minister of defense, had a staggering amount of $42 million, in accounts which he says date back to before his birth. Mohammad Safadi, the Tripoli MP and former minister has $75 million deposited at HSBC in Switzerland. Meanwhile, former Keserwan MP Georges Frem has about $3.3 million in deposits.

Good for them! Hopefully many of us have that kind of money one day.

Meanwhile, for some food for thought, it’s worth looking at the situation in Lebanon that is scaring away both foreign and Lebanese investors alike. Between detrimental security, poor governance, terrible infrastructure, a non-manageable refugee crisis, wars all around us that always manage to seep in and dead on arrival civil movements, the extent of such news becomes even more important.

What’s sad is that apart from L’Orient Le Jour, no Lebanese newspaper or media outlet has discussed this information or what it could mean. Obviously, because there are no porn stars, no banana songs and no traitorous selfie with no possibility for a “بالصور ” or ” بالفيديو ” headline, this becomes irrelevant.

 

When Lebanese People Cannot Afford Hospitals

Hospitals have a way of desensitizing you. They overwhelm you so much that shutting off that part of you that is forced to care all the time is the only way possible at coping. And no, I’m not talking about medicine.

There’s a lot to be said about the state of healthcare in Lebanon. I’ve seen some aspects of it. The numbers behind it are all over the place. But no matter how those numbers are shuffled, you are left with almost 1 million or so Lebanese, in a best case scenario, that are not covered in any way or another and are forced to withstand the pressure of Lebanon’s increasingly costly medicine on their own.

Many crumble under that pressure and figure that dying is simply better than getting overwhelmed with debts or simply getting a hospital’s door slammed in your face.

There are a lot of stories to tell. They happen at a lot of the country’s hospitals. I’ve heard of a well-known hospital that wouldn’t take in a 2 month old patient because his parents couldn’t afford to pay down the required deposit for his surgery. I’ve seen old people who have no one left and nothing left to pay for the simplest of blood tests. I’ve seen exorbitant prices for surgeries, some of them possibly warranted given their complexity, that cannot be afforded by 99% of the Lebanese population.

Perhaps Lebanese hospitals focus on the business part of their affairs much more than they should. But are they to blame? They need to run their facilities, pay their employees and still make enough profit to constantly improve their brand of medicine seeing as Lebanese medicine is so specified that not having the latest it-machine at your facility means you’ve fallen behind the times. The people who can pay simply hospital-shop and go to the one with the newest toy, newest hotshot doctor….

Should they provide such highly costly services for free and then not be able to run themselves anymore?

A lot of patients cannot afford healthcare in Lebanon. Insurance companies make sure to screw you whenever they can. The Lebanese ministry of health has a limited budget that is allocated in an even more limited way and benefits mostly those who know someone who knows the minister more than those who actually need something. Many of the people who can afford insurance, for instance, simply do not buy it because they have good enough connections not to pay while those who cannot afford insurance rot at hospital doors.
The national social security fund is not really national and hospitals find themselves in financial problems because of it more often than not and decide to relegate patients who present with that form of coverage into the “we don’t have a place for you bin.”

What does a Lebanese person have to do to receive one of his fundamental human rights? I guess they can just die in a state that couldn’t care less. Many of you probably don’t give this a second thought but it’s time you do. If you can afford insurance, go and buy one as soon as you can. If you can get enrolled in the National Social Security Fund, make sure you do so as well. If you can find any possible means of coverage for you and your loved ones, seek it. There’s no better investment.

After all, we live in a place that is so behind the times that talk about universal healthcare is light years from becoming mainstream enough and where our grandparents’ fate is to get people to feel sorry enough for them to raise money for them to do their blood tests.

I wish I could tell all the stories that I have to tell. Maybe someday.

How The New 50,000 Summarizes Lebanon

20131115-184534.jpgCome on people, is there anything more suitable than that 50,000 to describe the state of Lebanon lately? If anything, we should look at this positively: it might be the first time ever that those in charge of running things are aware of how dismal they have made things to be, even if only with a representative bill. And they have decided to describe things. Here’s an attempt to explain what went on with their brains.

All Those Festivities:

I really don’t know what’s special about the number 70 for it to warrant an honorary bill. Why not 71? Even better, why not 69? I’m positive that number means much more to so many Lebanese than simply 70. Zeros are so overrated if you ask me. Yet again, our currency has so many of them.

I guess we have always been a country to celebrate whenever we had the opportunity. Oh, look – can we turn this into a festivity? Sure, why not, let’s do it!

Identity Crisis:

One look at that bill and the entirety of our Lebanese existence is summarized in front of you with the monetary version of our infamous “hi, kifak, ca va.” Arabic, French and even a word of English thrown in there by mistake is the perfect summary of how this country is: lost in translation, unaware of what it wants to be or what it is.

Let’s stick to our frenchiness would say the people who only know the ca va to every kifak. Except we barely know how to speak French lately as is evident by that hilariously shameful typo on the bill. Side note, is there any other country with a typo on their bills, regardless of what that typo is?

No, let’s move on to English man. That is where the future is. Never. We are Arabs. Mutliple personality disorder, perhaps? Who cares, it’s unique.

Inefficiency:

Let’s leave the fact that the new 50,000 will still be big enough for you to use as a picnic mattress. Shouldn’t they resize all our money into something that fits in normal wallets before redesigning the bills at every possible opportunity?

Anyway, I’d hate to think our bills can get less efficient than they are. There are just so many zeros there and they’re as useless as they come. That 50,000 bill is so inefficient that it cannot afford you a burger at Roadster’s anymore.

Inefficient… I like it.

Blame others:

Our central bank head decided to blame the British company that printed the bill for the fiasco. Typical, I guess. Let’s always blame others for our mistake, as long as it makes us feel better about ourselves and about the messes we keep finding ourselves in. We get into a war, we blame some mysterious entity. Our economy goes to the trash, we blame some other mysterious entity. Our 50,000 gets a tasteless makeover? Let’s blame the company that printed it, not the Lebanese who must have overseen the design (or lack thereof) process, the Lebanese who did not notice the mistakes and the people with a horrendous taste who OK’ed it.

Intact Joie de Vivre:

But no worries, ladies and gentlemen, our Joie de Vivre is still well-represented in that bill. Our love of life, love for drinks and parties and getting high is well defined within those mutliple colors that fill that monetary canvas. Pretty nifty, eh?

Lebanon, summarized:

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you can’t but notice that Lebanon has been on a downward spiral lately. Culture is dying, sometimes at the hands of the ministry of culture. Fundamentalism is rising across the board. The country is losing whatever it has of itself with each passing day. Looking at all of that, our new bill cannot but stand and shout that infamous line: shou we2fet 3laye?

Our country is the gift that keeps on giving. Can you imagine living somewhere where life was boring? What would we blog about? When it comes to that 50,000 bill I have to ask: why not use it as our national flag instead?

Are We Seriously Getting Another Mall in Dbayyeh?

Future waterfront city beirut

Waterfront City is breaking ground. Parks are being built. New complexes have their plans set in motion. Previous projects are being continued.

That mass of “new” land bordering the Dbayyeh highway will turn into a whole new town in the coming few years, apartment buildings and all. Great news for Lebanon’s real estate market, definitely. Sad news for those who take the marine road to escape the insurmountable traffic during their commute.

Waterfront City is also getting its bonafide mall with City Centre, whose first branch opened up next to Beirut recently, beginning its constructions plans as per Gino’s Blog.

Of course, such a project wouldn’t be happening hadn’t malls been possibly the only thing, apart from restaurants, taking off in the country lately. They get business. People like to go to them. They open up and cater to the demand. Al Futtaim’s earlier Beirut City Centre, despite it being almost a carbon copy of an Emirati mall, is taking off well. Or at least that’s what the constant crowds in it suggest.

The question to ask, though, is when’s the time to say enough is enough, that malls taking off isn’t the only argument behind them springing up whenever, wherever, sporadically and without any form of organization and regulation?

Dbayyeh has reached a point that can be called: extreme mall saturation. Just look at that place. Next to future Dbayyeh City Centre, you can find LeMall, ABC Dbayyeh and Blueberry Square, which is basically a big food court. There’s also a huge Spinneys next to them. And they all exist in an area which is quite tiny. Stretching the scope just one bit reveals yet another huge mall, at one point Lebanon’s biggest.

All of these malls share access through the same highway. They serve a city and its suburbs which already have enough malls, clearly another example of the economic centralization the country has and which I’ve previously written about here.

With the advent of Waterfront City and all the new tenants that will inhabit it, as well as the “attractions” that will be available there, the bottleneck effect of the Lebanese infrastructure, especially when it comes to the Dbayyeh area, will become even tighter.  Waterfront City may be advertised as a futuristic approach to what Lebanon can offer, and perhaps it is, but – like much of those “futuristic” areas – the non-futirstic parts often have a reality to face. That reality is that of unbelievable traffic in and out of Beirut and I’m sure no studies will be done about how to work with the traffic that another addition to that area will bring. It’s a reality of poor infrastructure to support such projects – looking at a turned off ABC due to the electricity cut is proof enough. It’s a reality of shops that are closing down because they are being spread way too thin in a country whose economical situation isn’t that efficient. And this reality is the one at the top of my head.

The fact that malls take off in Lebanon is no longer a good enough argument to have them pop up so often in an area that is so restricted. Of course malls are going to take off it they’re the only thing being built to provide people with what they might need. Of course they will take off if all the country’s decent and new cinemas are in them. Of course they will take off if all new restaurants are opening in them. Of course they will take off when their advent kills all the other options that you can do.

People will take in what is given to them – why don’t investments in the country turn into elements that are more sustainable such as technology, industry, education, healthcare? Oh never mind – those are not as cool as a brand new flashy mall with an American food chain moving in next door.

We are slowly but surely morphing the Lebanese lifestyle into something that is pure khaleeji. Perhaps it’s high time we stop making fun of their habits because we won’t be much different soon enough. I’m not an anti-mall person. But we’re at a point where some contractor who gets the chance to do so will actually turn the area in Dbayyeh between ABC and LeMall into another mall while the entire country North of that is as dead as a brick.

I played a little game with my colleagues and friends today. I told them a new City Centre was being built and asked them to guess the area. They named Tripoli, Saida, Beirut, Batroun, Jbeil. When I told them it’s Dbayyeh, the unanimous response was: are they freaking kidding me?

I guess that’s that.

 

Lebanon, Now RefugeeStan: Enough With The Humanity Talk?

Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

Joseph Eid/AFP/Getty Images

I was going from my hometown to Batroun a while back when I saw two hitchhikers asking for a ride. I’m not the type to worry about such things – transportation between my hometown and Batroun, if you don’t have a car, happens through that method. So I picked them up and off to Batroun we went.

They were both men. The one sitting in the back was very quiet. The one sitting in front was pretty chatty. We were talking in Lebanese. I would have never thought there was anything odd about his dialect until I asked him where he was from and he replied: Homs.

He was worried about his reply so I tried to defuse the tension by saying that I visited his city back when it actually existed and it’s a nice place. The Syrian man, however, felt it was adamant to tell me that they were both Christians who want nothing to do with the war in Syria and who think everyone is at fault.

As I dropped them both off and went about to finish my errands, I started thinking: how bad must it have been for that Syrian for him to decide that telling random people that he was Christian whilst giving them the most diplomatic version of any person’s stance over what’s going in Syria is what everyone wanted to hear? I figured he must have gone to hell and back with him being Syrian in Lebanon lately. And I felt terribly sorry for him back then.

I’ve spoken about the issue of Lebanon’s Syrian refugees before. They’ve become so many that they turned into a source of jokes, though those have also become extremely redundant as well.  However, the issue of those refugees has never really been tackled. Municipalities and some Lebanese ministers spew racist speech that only works to boost their popular basis. The government is as comatose as it has ever been. I guess they’re more worried about the potential ramifications of Ania Lisewska’s sexual escapades. Moreover, the entire rhetoric has been about how we simply couldn’t humanely stop those refugees from seeking help here while acknowledging that the problem was slipping out of control.

The question today is the following: is it the time to draw the humanitarian line on the issue of Lebanon’s refugees as our country quickly but surely turns into some form of refugeeland for the troubled people of the region?

Recent economic studies have revealed the following data about the Syrian refugee situation in the country:

  • Our GDP will decrease by 2.85% per year between 2012 and 2014,
  • Our debt will increase by $2.6 billion,
  • Unemployment will double,
  • By 2014, the number of Syrian refugees in the country would equal about 40% of the country’s pre-Syrian war population,
  • Lebanon’s cumulative loss because of the refugee crisis will be approximately $7.5 billion,
  • More than half of students enrolling at our public schools will be Syrian refugees,
  • More than 40% of primary healthcare visits are of Syrian refugees,
  • Another 170,000 Lebanese will be pushed into poverty because of the immediate ramifications of the refugee crisis. By definition, that is living under $4 per day.

Our refugee problems are not only Syrian. We keep forgetting about Palestinians because their problem is more universally acknowledged, but they have their share of woes that they are bringing on our communities:

  • The number of Palestinian refugees in the country has increased by 16% lately, according to UNRWA,
  • Lebanon already has over 400,000 Palestinian refugees residing in it,
  • Most of those refugees live in refugee camps,
  • Those camps are outside state control and have a self-security system going on,
  • Their self-security system has caused security trouble with Lebanese for a long time, the most recent of which is the altercation with Hezbollah.

Lebanon, the smallest of Syria’s neighbors, is taking the biggest load because:

  1. Many of us believe that the problems of those refugees are not as severe as the numbers say they are,
  2. Many Lebanese refuse to address the issue of the refugees due to political reasons or because they see no problem in those refugees being here,
  3. Some Lebanese parties had decided once upon a time that there was nothing happening in Syria and that those people are here for tourism, while parties on the other side of the spectrum stood by as they waited for ways to use those “tourists” politically,
  4. Our country is simply not capable, neither financially nor logistically nor influentially, of handling such a load – but is the solution simply letting the load pile up while we stand idly looking around?

Most Lebanese were more worried about the situation of the refugees with the most recent rainstorm to hit the country than of other Lebanese who are living in similar, if not worse, conditions. During a recent session with Medecins Sans Frontières, I asked: how does the living situation of people in Bab el Tebbaneh, Jabal Mohsen or Akkar compare to what you’ve seen of Syrian refugees? The spokesperson answered: it’s worse.

But their effect on our lives, even though many refuse to see it, is not only related to the way they live.

For the Lebanese who don’t need to seek out an apartment for rent, the housing market is the same it has always been. But renting fees have risen sharply over the past year or so. Even shabby apartments in my hometown, which many would say are not that well-equipped, are going for rates that might rival Beirut due to the extremely high demand imposed by the refugees. If one can’t pay, they get kicked out and the other refugee on the waiting list takes his place. Lebanese people, living off our country’s dismal salaries, have to abide with landlord demands that come out of the blue and blindside them into eviction. A friend of mine will soon leave her Achrafieh apartment because her landlord decided, just as the new school year was starting, to ask for a rent increase. Lebanese are anything but lousy traders.

Another friend of mine lost his job recently. He never figured he’d still be out of a job almost 5 months later  – he worked in architecture. How rare could those jobs be in the country? It turns out the job market has also drastically changed since he last tried his luck in it. His former job was taken by a well-qualified Syrian who’s getting paid half his salary. Can that Syrian complain? Of course not. Employers now prefer to hire Syrians over Lebanese because they’ll do a similar job for much, much less salaries. How are we supposed to compete with that? Is it plausible for a Lebanese with an engineering degree to accept a $900 per month salary in order to say they’re not unemployed?

You’d think that with this influx of people into the country, business would somehow either stay the same or improve. Well, guess again. Even though goods prices have not drastically increased lately, as they somehow find their way to do whenever something happens in Lebanon, the growingly terrible security situation in Lebanon is deterring people from doing what Lebanese do best: joie de vivre and all. A well known Lebanese restaurant has witnessed a 20% decrease of business per year, over the past two years with this number reaching 40% at some of its branches. Weekend walks around some of Lebanon’s bar streets reveal a drastically different scene from the one that was present a while back: how many times have you seen Gemmayzé near-empty on a Friday night? Many food chains around the country are closing due to the recent instability: Hard Rock, Krispy Kreme, etc…. And I’m sure common sense dictates that smaller businesses are taking it harder. At one point, I’d have said the refugees had nothing to do with this. But the aforementioned World Bank study seems to indicate that they are playing a major role in the stagnation this country has reached, harsh as that realization might be.

What To Do With All Those Refugees?

I’m not turning into a Gebran Bassil-esque character who bashes the refugees one day, calls to get them kicked out of the country, but would have no problem bringing in the people from Maaloula just because they’re Christian and can be milked politically over here. I don’t think what municipalities are doing is acceptable in the context with which it’s being carried out but they are legally free to do whatever they want. What I can do regarding those regulations is not vote for the people who enforced them come next election time, which in my hometown should be soon. But what we also cannot do – and Angelina Jolie would certainly not approve – is stand by while the country is over-run.

How are we supposed to deal with the refugees? Well, for starters regulations that ban any Lebanese employer from hiring them in select jobs where our country has a surplus of people who are willing to work but can’t find the opportunity to should be enforced. Instead of municipalities settling for curfews on the foreigners they don’t like, they should start up regulations that lead to the organization of the refugees in their jurisdiction instead of limiting their liberties. Instead of panicking about an increasing number of refugees in the country, we should enforce regulations on how many refugees we can accept through border regulation. Instead of letting the refugees roam around the country, sleeping under bridges and whatnot, we should set up refugee camps in the Bekaa that can agglomerate them somewhere where their basic necessities can be addressed.

The humanitarian thing to do is not to make it harder for our parents to get by, it’s not to leave ourselves without jobs and it’s not to get our businesses out of business. The humanitarian thing to do is not to call for humanity just because it pleases our conscience while the country burns and we sit by blindly, not seeing the effect of our humanitarian action-less actions. It’s difficult sure. They don’t want to be here, definitely. But it’s time we think about the country that we want to have for ourselves because, by the looks of it, nobody cares about us.