Lebanese youth caught between a rock and a hard place

Lebanese born during the civil war are now living an invisible war.
Sunday 03/02/2019
Young Lebanese men on skateboards pass by a police officer and a soldier securing a street they have closed off in Beirut. (Reuters)
A future in the balance. Young Lebanese men on skateboards pass by a police officer and a soldier securing a street they have closed off in Beirut. (Reuters)

Most young Lebanese are living in a state of contradiction. Although they attack politicians and community leaders and blame them for Lebanon’s crises, they are politically aligned with and often follow the leader of their community.

A study by the Levant Institute indicated that young Lebanese tend to echo the views of their political leaders and even defend their mistakes. They readily attack those who have different political and electoral interests.

Elections in Lebanon are a season for harvesting personal and partisan benefits. It is often not the best-qualified candidates who win elections in Lebanon but the ones who can buy votes, which very often is through vote-trading deals.

The recent municipal elections in Lebanon were rife with violations all over the country.

Very often there are cultural and ideological gaps between young people living in adjacent areas in Lebanon. These gaps are almost always reinforced by the sectarian and communal divide as well as by deteriorating economic conditions.

The media in Lebanon play a major role in mobilising young people along partisan and communal lines. Civil society is free in Lebanon. The political reality in the country, however, is governed by strict sectarian rules based on a quota system and it does not look like this new generation of Lebanese is ready to change the system.

In 2011, a small portion of Lebanon’s youth tried to ride the wave of the Arab uprisings and called for demonstrations and protests to bring down the system of sectarian quotas but the political and sectarian alliances in Lebanon stifled those attempts.

A survey of 1,000 young Lebanese who voted for the first time in 2017 indicated that most respondents voted along sectarian lines but only half of them admitted that sectarian affiliation decided their political choices. In other words, they readily accuse others of sectarianism but deny the charge when it comes to themselves.

The survey also revealed that 70.1% of respondents said they rejected a law restricting a voter to vote for a candidate from his or her community. Only 35.3% of the respondents said that they would vote for a particular list to support a specific political party while 57.9% said that they make their choice based on the candidate’s competence.

However, 46.1% of respondents said they agreed with the statement that a representative from a given sect is better suited to represent the interests of voters from the same sect and 73.7% of respondents said they considered Lebanese overall to be sectarian.

All signs indicate that Lebanon’s accumulated problems have changed only in appearance. Lebanese born during the civil war and who grew up during the days of the deep rift between East Beirut and West Beirut, surrounded by daily kidnappings and assassinations based on sectarian identity, are now living an invisible war, in which survival, access to job opportunities, housing, educational services and decent living have replaced bullets and guns.

Young people in Lebanon — 28% of the population — are faced with a tough choice in which both alternatives are equally painful: accept their harsh reality or migrate. Their biggest foe is unemployment. Young people make up a large component of the unemployed population in Lebanon.

An International Labour Organisation report on challenges facing youth employment in Lebanon said there was a significant gender disparity in unemployment figures.

The unemployment rate for females aged 15-19 was 41.6% while the rate for males in the same age bracket was 18.3%. Similar disparities are also found among the 20-24 age group (24.2% for females; 12.9% for males) and the 25-29 age group (10.5% for females; 6.2% for males).

Another hurdle facing all Lebanese is the housing crisis. Real estate prices have skyrocketed, especially in urban areas, and acquiring an apartment in the suburbs has become an unlikely achieved dream of young people.