Lebanon News

Economic anxieties take toll on Lebanese people

A woman pass by a 70% discount sign in Hamra, Beirut. (The Daily Star/Mohmad Azakir)

BEIRUT: Events over the past week highlighting the country’s precarious economic and financial situation have sparked anxiety among many Lebanese people.

Following Sunday’s protests, fears of a dollar shortage and a brief gas station strike last week, The Daily Star took to the streets of Beirut to get a better sense of how events are affecting people in the country.

Ahmad Takee, who for 20 years has owned a business that sells jewelry in Barbir, said, “This is the worst year financially I’ve ever seen.”

His business has suffered because people see gold as a luxury they can no longer afford. But this does not seem to upset Takee as much as “the general state of the country.”

“I’m paying the government everything they need. What are they giving me in return?” he said.

Takee is trying to obtain a visa so that he can build a life elsewhere with his family. For now, he says that the only solution is for Lebanon to take to the streets to protest.

“We left things for too long. If we were people who cared, things would have been different. We would have demanded electricity and water,” he said.

Claudette Mhanna, a 59-year-old designer who owns a clothing-repair shop in Gemmayzeh, has noticed she has been receiving fewer work orders, “especially in the last three months.”

But Mhanna said that protesting is not the solution. “Things take time. We’ve been through so much war already. We need to give a small chance for things to improve slowly,” she said.

Garro Russyalian, a 69-year-old gallery owner in Mar Mikhael, said that his business has taken a bigger hit this year than in the past.

“This country is a disaster ... There’s no water, there’s no electricity, garbage in the streets, no laws,” he said.

But unlike Takee, Russyalian sees small protests as fruitless.

Speaking about Sunday’s protests, he said that “500 to 1,000 people won’t do anything. But if the whole country decides to protest, I’ll go protest with them.”

Russyalian, who has owned his business for 55 years, has two sons, ages 25 and 27. “One graduated from [the American University of Science and Technology]. There was no work here so he left to America, did his master’s there. He doesn’t want to come back. What does he have to come back for?” Russyalian said.

While there are no official unemployment figures in Lebanon, unofficial estimates place the number at around 25 percent, with youth unemployment much higher. This makes many young people face a highly uncertain future. Many who have the option choose to leave the country in search of opportunities abroad.

“We’re kind of screwed. I’m definitely going to leave after I graduate. I don’t think it’s going to get better,” said 23-year-old Nada, a graphic design student at the American University of Beirut.

“It’s kind of exhausting to live here ... Education, financially speaking, is often not an option because it’s too expensive. We’re here putting ourselves in debt to get a degree, and then we can’t even get a job to pay off those debts,” she said.

Thirty-three-year-old Nathalie from south Lebanon, who works in media, also says she’s not optimistic about her future in the country.

“I have not seen any indication or plans by the government that better things are coming or that things will be fixed. They try to reassure us, but it’s all empty words,” she said.

Nathalie said that she withdrew all her dollars in a panic from her bank account in mid-August after “months of rumors.”

But Houssam, 32, from Tripoli, sees this action as harmful to the country and holds the Lebanese people responsible for the crisis. “Withdrawing your money like this makes the Lebanese pound worse. It affects your country,” he said.

“There is corruption, but people are equally responsible. When we feel this kind of pressure, we should try to make the crisis better, not add to it by destroying the pound and taking out our money from banks or changing it to dollars.”

“As long as we are ruled by sects and we have no unity, these protests are meaningless. You want protests? We all need to agree not to go to work, to stop paying bills,” he said. “This is what will create change.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 04, 2019, on page 2.

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