The crisis of the system

Publish date 03-04-2021

by Anna Galvagno

The exodus from Lebanon: the future of a brain drain country.
When I think of my conversations with young Lebanese, it is difficult not to associate them with the desire to go abroad, and with the shared feeling of frustration with the economic, political and social situation. I felt close to their ideas, because after all we are all a bit of "economic migrants": you don't need to be in a country at war to want to look elsewhere for a better quality of life, better basic services, or simply better career. But for Lebanon the question is more complex. To address it, a group of Lebanese intellectuals met on December 17 in a debate organized by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung Foundation in Beirut.
Behind the largest brain drain from Lebanon since the civil war, the individual dimension emerges first. Neuroscientist Albert Moukheiber introduces a concept called "learned helplessness", or "behavior exhibited by a subject after enduring repeated adverse stimuli beyond his control". People are so used to thinking that they cannot control or change things, that even when real opportunities arise, they respond with expressions of surrender and passivity like "this is Lebanon", "it's a bigger situation than us", "it could get worse "or" change takes generations ". Consequently, the individual in times of repeated crises begins to act only with their own motivations, without thinking about the motivations of the community. Learned helplessness leads to a lack of collective action, and a thinning out of social and community interaction.
Then there is the political dimension. Especially the most educated and talented feel governed by people without vision, with stale and outdated ideas, anchored to the old patronage, religious and sectarian dynamics typical of the civil war. "The obstacle to our future is our past," says illustrator and cartoonist Bernard Hage. There has not been, after the war, a real reconciliation of the parties and a secularization of political and economic initiatives.
A general dysfunction of the Lebanon system is perceived due, on the one hand, to the lack of vertical communication: people who can offer solutions do not have access to the decision-making table. This is intrinsic to a paternalistic political system (the president of Lebanon in fact considers himself "the father of all Lebanese") and to the widespread clientelism in the allocation of public office, which does not reward merit. The other dysfunction is in the horizontal coordination of civil society: the result of the many actions that start from the bottom is marginal because there is no solid structure that allows the benefits to spread to the whole system.
To imagine a future, the gap between intention and action must be reduced. "The resilience and patience, of which we Lebanese are so proud," said former MP Elias Hankhash, "are destroying us. We must no longer accept to bear the consequences of a bad government and we must be more courageous in our choices. When we vote, we must focus on merit and capacity rather than party, religious and sectarian affiliation ". But in addition to politics, it is important to give young people concrete economic means: the Konrad Adenauer foundation has created a small academy of entrepreneurship, where young people can network, study and specialize especially in the digital field. Initiatives to streamline and digitize bureaucracy could incentivize the creation of new start-ups and innovation. If the opportunities, especially in the third sector, are better explored, perhaps the young Lebanese will return to choose their country.
Anna Galvagno
NP January 2021

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