A recent Gallup World Poll indicates that more than six in 10 (63%) Lebanese say they want to leave Lebanon permanently. This coincides with the findings of a Zogby Research Services poll sponsored by ATFL which recorded the same percentage. It is no surprise, then, that the two highest concerns driving these numbers are the economy and corruption, as people noted that they no longer have enough money for food, transportation, energy, education, or healthcare.
According to Information International, based in Beirut and cited in a story covered by Al-Monitor, 17,720 emigrated in 2020. After the first 10 months of 2021, “we recorded an increase of about 65,000 people.” Based on official data, Shams al-Din, a researcher at Information International, “expected this number to double in 2022, especially since there has been a 150% increase in passport renewal requests as the Lebanese wish to flee Lebanon before more crises hit.”
The demand for passport services has been so great that Lebanese General Security has had to issue new guidelines on renewals, unable to keep up with the demand. This has prompted some to board various types of sea vessels and head to Cyprus and Greece while others try to steal into Jordan, Israel, and Turkey via Syria.
Recent figures from Gallup World Poll data in Lebanon “represent one of the deepest and most sudden declines in any country’s economic and humanitarian fortunes since data collection began in 2005.” The economic backstory is compelling enough with social and psychological costs driving the disappearing middle class to shrink even more.
In the past, especially after the civil war in Lebanon, there have been noticeable rises in emigration, which were not all bad as they both accelerated the brain drain and simultaneously built a pool of expatriates which provide some $7 billion in annual remittances generally directed to families left behind. In those days as in the previous decades, “Western European countries, the United States, Australia and Gulf states have been Lebanese’s top migration destinations in the past.” Of course emigration waves varied, depending on the security, political, and economic situation in Lebanon as well as the countries that received them.
As stated in the Al-Monitor article, “In the last couple of years, Lebanese youth have started exploring new countries, such as Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, and most recently Serbia.” Although the numbers are still in the tens of thousands, they represent a shift that may create other new nodes of the Lebanese diaspora. Currently, most go into businesses such as tourism and the restaurant sector, or are professionals working in medical or educational centers.
What is different about the latest waves of emigration are the low levels of those wanting to leave who say they are not interested in returning. It will be illuminating to break down this data by sectarian affiliation as the number of Sunni wanting to leave is increasing which may ultimately change their demographic in Lebanon. According to the Gallup World Poll cited earlier, “The desire to leave Lebanon cuts across major Lebanese communities. Notably, more Muslims than Christians in Lebanon tell Gallup they would like to leave the country (67% vs. 57%). The exodus of Middle Eastern Christians from the historical cradle of Christianity has accelerated in recent decades because of conflict and instability in countries that held significant Christian populations in the not-distant past.”
So what does this portend for Lebanon in 2050? The answers begin with the spring municipal and parliamentary elections. As of now, with 85% saying that they are finding it difficult or very difficult to get by, it is a fair question to ask if voters will seek remedies in their traditional leaders or opt for new faces. Of that 85%, 62% say getting by is “very difficult,” nearly double the figure (32%) in 2019.
Gallup results go on to point out that “Nearly three in four people (74%) now say they experienced stress “a lot of the day.” At least half of people in Lebanon also say they experienced a lot of sadness (56%) and anger (49%) as well. All three are new highs in Gallup’s 16-year trend in the country.”
Whether or not this depressing profile improves may well be impacted by how the election results create opportunities for positive and sustainable change. Lebanon can head in a new direction based on reforms that cleanse the economy of its most egregious corruption and on the restoration of its productive elements. Lebanon can also become another stunning case study of how political leaders dodge responsibility, allowing their country to fail on their watch. It is time for the Lebanese to keep watch over their own heritage and future, and not that of their leaders.
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.