Lebanon

The Fragile Dream of the Middle East’s Switzerland

Thirty years after the civil war, Lebanon is poised between economic crises and political instability

Thirty years ago Lebanon awoke from a nightmare. It was 1990 and the “Switzerland of the Middle East” was coming to grips with the results of a devastating civil war which had left 150,000 people dead and forced millions of Lebanese to leave their homeland. In three decades the country has slowly risen, once again becoming a model of religious pluralism with a growing civil consciousness and (relatively) high levels of female emancipation: for the first time in an Arab country a female Ministry of the Interior has been elected, the Sunni, Raya El Hassan. Of course, today in Beirut corruption is rampant and – even with an expanding real-estate market (one only has to cast a glance at all the construction sites) – the economy remains stagnant and public debt is one of the highest in the world; in addition, the war in Syria has flooded the country with refugees and tensions with neighbouring states make the future rather precarious.

Lebanon – in 2020 will be a hundred years after the first declaration of the State of Greater Lebanon under the French Mandate – remains a “pot of clay” stuck between aggressive and intrusive powers. And yet the fragile “country of cedars” continues to live day-to-day, in a dream artificially inflated by foreign investment (above all, from the Gulf states) and billions of dollars in remittances from Lebanese living abroad (more than ten million people). Society has learned to survive despite everything, nonchalantly shaking off conflicts and political crises. Fighting the ever-living trauma of civil war with ephemeral fun, ostentatious luxury, and cosmetic surgery that has become obsession. For those who can afford it, today more than ever, in Lebanon appearance is everything.

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