BEIRUT: As Beirut’s airport reopened on Wednesday after a four-month virus shutdown, Lebanese expatriates were urged to come home for the summer — and bring dollars.
The Lebanese pound has lost 80 percent of its value this year, plunging to nearly 9,000 to the US dollar on the black market compared with the official rate of 1,507. Food prices have soared, businesses have closed, salaries and savings disappear fast and unemployment has surged.
The country desperately needs hard currency, and Prime Minister Hassan Diab knows where he can find it. “Travelers are allowed to bring as many dollars as they want, and no one will prevent them,” he told a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday. “We invite Lebanese expatriates who will come to Lebanon to carry dollars with them to help their families and communities.”
The Lebanese diaspora is thought to be about three times the size of Lebanon’s 5 million population, and there are thriving Lebanese communities throughout the world.
About 400,000 work in the Gulf states alone. Visits home are a summer tradition, and many send home cash remittances every month. Now, some Lebanese expats are considering cutting ties with a country they say is corrupt and has robbed them of a future.
“If you’re a Lebanese considering visiting this summer, you will think about bringing only what you need to spend while there, not a single penny more,” said Hasan Fadlallah, who has lived in Dubai since 1997 and runs a brand consultancy.
“I doubt anyone is thinking about investing in the economy, especially when you know the recipient is not worthy of this help.”
Elie Fares, a Lebanese doctor in Philadelphia in the US, said: “I am definitely not handing my hard-earned money to our corrupt government on a silver platter so they can perpetuate their corruption.”
Inside Lebanon, already impoverished areas are the worst affected by the collapsing economy. “Tripoli is suffering from a catastrophic social reality, we are sitting on a volcano that could explode at any time,” said Omar Hallab of the Lebanese Association of Industrialists.
“In the north, 28,000 businesses are heading for closure, including 10,000 in Tripoli, which will throw 60,000 employees on the street.
“The challenges are becoming more significant than we can afford, poverty will expand to new neighborhoods and the revolution will intensify while politicians sit on their chairs with only theories and no solutions.”