Oil Was Discovered in Lebanon Back in 1953

I recently stumbled over this newspaper clip from 1953 that talks about the discovery of an oil field in the Bekaa valley as well as the launching of a digging site to extract the oil present at the field in question. You can see former president Camille Chamoun heading towards the site’s opening:

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I’m sure that place wasn’t the only site where oil was discovered through some geologic research done prior to the civil war. My hometown and neighboring regions in the Batroun caza were also hotspots for oil interest. Or so I’ve been told for years.

I wonder, are we using that research today to search for oil in our soil? Or are we considering it obsolete due to time passing?

Moreover, how is it that the notion of Lebanon potentially being an oil-rich country got erased so drastically from the nation’s collective memory only to resurface in 2009? It can’t all be due to the civil war.

I guess Lebanon wasn’t “allowed” by higher powers to tap into its natural resources back then. Why’s that? Because it would have strengthened the country to a point where those powers wouldn’t have been able to use it for all sorts of regional bargaining, which begets the question: will our current foray into the world of oil and gas be smooth or will hurdles beyond those caused by the country’s sectarian calculations pop up at each bend in the road?

After all, we’re already terribly late (link).

Comparing Beirut To Dubai

An American writer for the Huffington Post wrote an article today titled: “Thank you, Beirut. Your Friend, Dubai” in which she basically paralleled the rise of Dubai to the gradual decline and possible near-demise (never ever?) of Beirut.

The writer’s opinion of the Lebanese capital was favorable – even favorable of the go-to Lebanese scarecrow for Americans Hezbollah, trying to explain its popularity among many Lebanese and the reason for its increasing political strength.

In typical fashion, Lebanese across the internet have been sharing the article fervently. It’s about Lebanon. It’s about Beirut. It’s by a very prominent publication. Click, click away.

However, the question I want to ask is the following: is comparing and contrasting Beirut to Dubai warranted?

I, for one, think drawing similarities between the two cities is comparing apples to oranges for the following reasons:

1) Beirut was never made out of money. When you talk about Beirut, you don’t talk about an economical hub for a region or a city made entirely because they discovered oil beneath its soils. You talk about a city which made itself by itself and who, when the factors leading to its prosperity are affected, undoes itself by itself.

2) Beirut has never had poured into it the same amount of money going into Dubai daily. The Lebanese economy – even in its heyday – has never been as strong as the Emirati economy is (or was if we’re accounting for the recession). Up until a few years ago, we didn’t have oil. We won’t see any benefits from that oil until 2018 at the most optimistic expectations (link) and I’m sure the economy driving Beirut won’t be nowhere near comparable to that of Dubai anytime soon.

3) Beirut and Dubai have two entirely different experiences to give their visitors. The joke goes “I’ve never been to Dubai but I’ve been to Zaytounay Bay.” Many moguls are sure trying to turn Beirut into a new Dubai. But I believe their attempts will end up futile. They can build as much malls as they want and spend copious amounts of money into flashy projects that pale in comparison to any developments in more developed countries. They can build the fanciest hotels and the most hedonic of night clubs. But the fact of the matter remains, and it shows in the point the article’s author tried to make: Dubai is for show and Beirut is for heart, however tacky that might be. Can you compare both?

4) By comparing Beirut to Dubai, the comparison can be extended to the countries holding the two cities. Is the “Lebanon” experience of tourism compared to the “UAE” experience? I highly doubt it.

5) The governing bodies behind Beirut and Dubai are highly different. On one hand, you have an iron-first ruling with a twist of enough liberalism not to step on bigger political toes. On the other hand, you have a state barely keeping it politically together as everyone fights for a piece of the Lebanese cake.

Beirut is a city with woes. There’s political instability at every turn. Civil strife can erupt at any moment. The city is that of 18 sects trying to live together while working for their communitarian benefits, some of which are mutually exclusive with those of others. But don’t you think that for a city as chaotic, with a serious lack of infrastructure and urban design, to be compared to Dubai at every point is poignant enough to tell which city has more promise? And If Dubai’s oil reserves ran out tomorrow and its economy started going down the drain and the expats in it decided their futures better be spent elsewhere, would it still be the mega-brilliant city everyone makes it out to be today?

The Lebanon-Israel Battle We’re Losing

We have oil… we will strengthen our army.

We have oil… we will upgrade our transportation system.

We have oil… we will have universal healthcare, retirement systems, etc…

Our highway is flooded with pictures from Lebanon’s ministry of energy to “celebrate” the presence of copious amounts of natural gas and oil under Lebanese waters. Of course, any talk about potential economic benefits for such wealth is still purely theoretical because we won’t know the extent of our reserves until we start digging.

The best and most optimistic estimates as to when Lebanon starts capitalizing on its natural reserves is 2017-2018. Such estimates assume the following:

  1. A smooth security situation,
  2. No bureaucratic hassle that would pose delays,
  3. A decent political environment with no dead-locks on the matter
  4. International cooperation with the upcoming venture,
  5. No drastic governmental changes that could affect the bidding process which is essential in early stages.

I don’t know about you but those 2017-2018 hopes are looking to be more and more far-fetched to me. The government already collapsed. We need to wait on a new one to form in order to proceed with the bidding on whoever’s going to get drilling rights in our waters. That’s not to mention any near-certain precipitations of the Syrian war over here or, as usual, political blocks that lead to a handful of laws being passed in any parliament’s given lifetime or even the sectarian calculations that have to go in with every single oil-related decision. You can call that the “Orthodox Oil Law.”

These oil reserves were discovered back in 2009 across three countries in the region: Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel. I don’t know about Cyprus – they might be too busy with their credit problems at the moment – but when it comes to Lebanon and Israel, we are at the losing end of this economic battle in our ongoing conflict with our most hated enemy.

From 2009 till 2013, we managed to ratify one law and form a committee regarding the oil matter. The committee took a long time to be formed because we had to find the proper sectarian balance. The law took an almost equally long time as well to be ratified by parliament.

Meanwhile, our neighbor to the South had started drilling and as of March 31st, 2013 has actually started storing the natural gas being extracted in its quest to reach energy independence. It has already started making billions off its reserves with deals surpassing $20 billion.

Many seem to disregard the fact that there are more aspects to our conflict with Israel than military gains or losses here and there. The economical aspect of the conflict, which is one of the main motives behind certain Israeli policies, is more dangerous and far more reaching.

The economic aspect of these natural reserves isn’t restricted to who gets there first. As of now, Lebanon doesn’t have a strategy to how our oil money will be used: are we going to use it to lessen the national debt? Are we going to use it for some much-needed developments that go beyond Beirut? How will we use the fund that will be set up for profits from these sources?

Our politicians believe it’s too early to discuss such things. We, as a nation, never plan ahead. We rarely try to build towards the future as opposed to things that bring profit here and now because it’s always too early for us to plan. Instead of forming a road-map to clearly illustrate how the benefits from Lebanon’s natural resources will be used, we go by the common Lebanese saying “bass neje 3laya, mensalle 3laya.” (We’ll see once we get there) .The problem is that we will eventually “neje 3laya” and history has taught us that dead-ends is all we’ll manage to build.

Instead of being one of the more pressing matters facing this country, Lebanon’s oil reserves have been dropped down to something second-rate. Our political class is keeping its head firmly stuck in sand, with hopes of a better future years from now, ignoring how an economically-growing Israel with clear plans for its development and sustainability will negatively affect any Lebanese attempt at growth of an economy that is in dire need of any form of extra income it can find.

But doesn’t that train look absolutely beautiful on those billboards?