“Sometimes I think it would be better if the Middle East didn’t exist; just burn it and the world would be a better place,” said Amir as we sipped our iced mint lemonades. I protested but he interrupted, explaining that all the terrorists come from this region. He said he that while he didn’t like Hitler he didn’t think his idea about demolishing the Middle East was such a bad one. I balked- I have never heard anyone laud such a horrific idea. What must this kind and gentle 25 year old Syrian have lived through to take such a fatalistic view of his homeland, the region from which so much civilization and history had originated?
The love-hate relationship that so many people seem to have with this region has led to a crisis of identity. On the one hand they love Beirut, bound on one side by the cerulean blue Mediterranean and on the other by mountains home to the cedar tree, the Lebanese national symbol. A city that is both the gateway to the Middle East from Europe and to Europe from the Middle East; an odd combination of European joie de vivre and Middle Eastern intrigue. On the other hand Beirut, and Lebanon, hold little opportunity for this ambitious younger generation. Unemployment is rampant and the typical male graduate receives a salary of only $300 to $400 per month in a city that costs as much to live in as the capitals of the Western world.
Amir is in the process of looking for a job and hopes to go to Montreal. He says he would prefer to be in Canada than America, where he fears he would be subject to racism and suspicion. He’s better off than most, though, since engineers have an easier time getting visas to the West. My landlady’s husband left for a year to Saudi Arabia since he could not find work in Lebanon. They will not see each other during this time.
The GDP per person in Lebanon is $50,000, but the average income of most people is about $24,000. There is no middle class and a few very rich Lebanese. My colleague at MER put it this way: in a country where most people make less than $2000 a month, how can the country have sold 39 $150,000 cars; the population is only about 3 million.” If, as some scholars argue, lack of economic opportunity breeds extremism and terrorism, perhaps Amir’s despairing comments should be a caveat for economic development that focuses on tourism and projects that regular Lebanese cannot afford to benefit from.
Posted By Courtney Radsch (Lebanon)
Posted Jun 9th, 2003