Lebanon’s plea for skeptical expats: visit us and bring some cash

With Beirut Airport partially reopening after a three-month virus shutdown, the government is hoping thousands of Lebanese expatriates will return for the summer – bringing with them dollars badly needed to prop up the collapsing economy.

But Lebanon’s far-flung diaspora, known as entrepreneurs who have sent their money home for years, may no longer be ready to do so.

Many stay away, appalled by the way the ruling elite has dealt with Lebanon’s unprecedented economic and financial collapse and outraged that local banks are holding their dollar deposits hostage. Some have stopped sending money, except for small amounts, to support their families. Others are considering cutting ties entirely with a corrupt country that they say has robbed them of their future.

“As a Lebanese, if you are considering visiting this summer, remember to bring only what you have to spend there, not a penny,” said Hasan Fadlallah, who has lived in Dubai since 1997, where he founded a consultancy Agency, brand lounge.

“I doubt anyone thinks about investing in the economy, especially when you know the recipient doesn’t deserve that help,” he said.

Once a beacon of free market growth and the good life, Lebanon is suffering from the worst economic crisis in its modern history. The local currency has lost around 80% of its value against the dollar on the black market since October and continues to plummet every day. Banks have taken massive precautions against withdrawals and transfers of US dollars. Food prices have skyrocketed, businesses and households are in disarray, salaries and savings are rapidly disappearing, and unemployment has risen.

The crisis can be traced back to decades of systematic corruption and mismanagement. In October, public frustration exploded in street protests demanding all leadership to leave. Now, in the midst of increasing poverty and sectarian tensions, a slide into violence is feared.

Yet the political leaders seem unwilling to act, but rather argue and exchange the blame. Talks with the International Monetary Fund about a rescue package have stalled because the commitments to fight corruption and reforms cannot be implemented.

For years, millions of Lebanese overseas helped keep their homeland afloat by sending remittances that once represented 12.5% ​​of GDP.

Lebanese politicians beg them to come to the rescue again. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called on them on Tuesday to “come with dollars”. Christian party leader Samir Geagea suggested that every family living abroad should “adopt” a family in Lebanon for $ 200 a month to stave off hunger. A lawmaker sparked outrage when he said Lebanon was now “cheap” to attract expatriates and tourists after the currency collapse.

Home visits are a summer tradition for Lebanon’s expats. The airport, which has been closed since mid-March, will start operations on Monday with a capacity of 10% and receive around 2,000 passengers a day.

Nabil Bou Monsef, deputy editor-in-chief of Lebanese newspaper An-Nahar, said he expected very few Lebanese people to visit and any dollars they bring would be kept by relatives like “gold” instead of going to the economy .

“The Lebanese people are exposed to systematic and organized theft from the ruling oligarchy and banks on a daily basis,” he said. “Nobody wants to contribute to this cycle anymore.”

Lebanon, a country of 5 million people, takes great pride in its expatriate community – including the many successful business people and celebrities of Lebanese origins. Well-known names among them are the Mexican business tycoon Carlos Slim, the Colombian singer Shakira, the Mexican-American actress Salma Hayek, the Lebanese-British lawyer Amal Clooney and the fashion designers Elie Saab and Reem Accra. This includes the disgraced former Nissan-Renault boss Carlos Ghosn, who fled Japan to Lebanon last year.

The diaspora is estimated to be about three times the population at home. There are large communities everywhere, from Australia and Africa to Canada, Latin America and Europe. Around 400,000 Lebanese work in the oil-rich Gulf states.
Your billions have helped keep the local economy liquid. The central bank has kept the pound stable at 1,507 the dollar since 1997 thanks to extensive borrowing at high interest rates. That encouraged expats to send money home, buy real estate, and deposit into local banks.

Now the currency on the black market has risen to around $ 9,000 per dollar. Capital controls have locked dollars in bank accounts, which unites rich and poor in anger.

Many in the diaspora have struggled on social media about how to send money to relatives without going through remittance shops and local banks.
“I am definitely not giving our corrupt government my hard-earned money on a silver platter so that it can perpetuate its corruption,” wrote Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor from Philadelphia.

In a Twitter thread, he lamented how his parents, who lived in Lebanon all their lives, are now dependent on their expat son.

“I recently spoke to my parents on the phone. My mother hasn’t seen me for over a year and just kept saying, ‘Thank God, you left, there is no future here.’ It breaks my heart when their voices break. ”

Many now fear a new wave of emigration by the Lebanese middle class as soon as the global pandemic has subsided and the global economy picks up.

TV host Ricardo Karam, who made his profession out of interviews with successful expats, said Lebanon’s talented youth and business elite are being prevented from doing well in their own country.

“In the midst of this meltdown … I am saddened by the lack of any vision to benefit from this elite,” he wrote. “Instead of steering the ship, the helm has been left to those who will one day go to the trash can in history.”

Fadlallah, the CEO of the Dubai consultancy firm, said he was still considering making his family visit to Lebanon this summer. He considers himself lucky – in September, shortly before the outbreak of the crisis, he managed to transfer his savings from Lebanon.
He says that under a true Ponzi scheme, it will take years for people to regain trust, if any, in Lebanese banks and institutions.

“It takes faith, credibility and trust for the country to recover,” he said. “They don’t exist.”

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