Lacking opportunities, Lebanese youth are growing disillusioned and desperate
As I was strolling one morning in the bazaar of the peaceful city of Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, I heard a young man say: “Go on, laugh. It’s good to laugh. No shame there.”
I thought he was speaking on the phone but discovered that he was loudly talking to himself. He had no phone in his hands and no earphones in his ears. I continued my stroll while the guy talked in a loud voice until he passed me and disappeared into the crowd.
It really wasn’t strange to see a young person in Lebanon talk to himself out loud. You see many of them these days. Young people in Lebanon are under many pressures, which are growing by the day: social pressure, economic pressure and psychological pressure that drive them to this kind of behaviour and even suicide.
During the first half of 2018, there were 200 suicides in Lebanon. It is a grave phenomenon but the authorities did not seem to pay attention. Two hundred cases of suicide may not sound enormous for a populous country but it is for one with a small population, such as Lebanon. The sad part is that for those young people who refuse even the idea of suicide, life is not any less frustrating or hopeless.
It does not seem that we in Lebanon are at the end of our crisis; we should expect worse to come. It’s going to get even tougher for young people: no jobs, lower salaries and rising costs of living. The future looks bleak for them. Every day, the unemployment rate sets a record. Employment opportunities have shrunk to a few positions in public administration, the military and the police force. Even those low-paying jobs are handed out based on political affiliation and loyalty.
Most young Lebanese want to migrate to anywhere else in the world. They are confident that life elsewhere will open new horizons for them and perhaps provide a better future. Alas, for most of them, the prospect of securing an entry visa remains null.
The sad part is that most of these desperate young people blame the huge number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon for unemployment and deteriorating living conditions. Their thinking is baseless and is the result of an intentional fallacy that must be exposed.
A Syrian labour force has existed in Lebanon for decades and in good numbers. At no time in Lebanon’s modern history did the number of Syrian workers in Lebanon drop below 400,000, except for the two years following the withdrawal of Syrian armed forces from Lebanon after former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s assassination. The Syrian workers then were harassed by the same forces that are now claiming that the Syrian refugees are making it tougher for the Lebanese to have decent living conditions.
Syrian workers in Lebanon have always accepted modest wages that Lebanese workers would turn down. They were denied all manner of social security or labour rights and they have made millions for business owners in all sectors, especially in agriculture and construction.
As to those Syrians who set up their own private businesses in Lebanon, such as restaurants and coffee shops, they are not refugees but are supporters of the Assad regime in Syria. They enjoy political cover and are safe from harassment by the authorities particularly now that Hezbollah and its allies have the upper hand in Lebanon.
Blaming the Syrian refugees for Lebanon’s social and economic woes is an attempt to cover the real reasons behind them: the very profit-oriented nature of the Lebanese economy, which is encouraged by the coalition in power. The Lebanese economy is based on revenue-generating banking, real estate development for renting purposes, speculation and all other kinds of brokerage services, financial corruption and embezzlement of public funds. With operations of this nature, you don’t need to hire a lot of white-collar and blue-collar labour.
In these circumstances, the Lebanese youth would not give a lousy dime for the frequent appearances in the media of Lebanon’s Central Bank governor to reassure the Lebanese that the country’s financial health is excellent and that the Lebanese lira is stable given the high reserves of hard currency at the Central Bank. No, they could not care less about the phenomenal profits of the banking sector or about Lebanon’s excellent credit ratings internationally.
None of that ensures reliable electricity, clean water or good health services to the Lebanese citizen. It can’t even solve the waste problem. So, how can one expect it to ensure employment opportunities for tens of thousands of Lebanese youth, to relieve the pressure of soaring prices and to provide workers with decent wages for a decent life?
Today in Lebanon, young people are walking down the streets talking loudly to themselves. Very soon, however, they will find out who should be hearing their voices. To those who are closing their eyes and ears to what’s happening in the street, the street will not take long to surprise them tomorrow.