An open letter to the youth of Lebanon: Reclaim your country


Hagar Hajjar ChemaliBy Hagar Hajjar Chemali

I can imagine it’s tough to see your country change before your very eyes – trash piling up, no prospects for a President in the near future, and so many refugees that you barely understand the dialect being spoken next to you. It’s hard to envision your future in this country, let alone that of your children. I have a message of tough love for you: if you aren’t careful, then the Lebanese flag will become nothing more than something discussed in history books. As Lebanon’s youth, you have a unique opportunity to reclaim your country by participating in its democratic system – as flawed as it might be – to change the course of Lebanon’s future and consequentially your own.

Since its civil war, Lebanon has been dealt an unfair hand: it has been the playground for warlords and regional political power games, and its resources have often been seized through corruption. Indeed, Lebanon rests on some major tectonic plates – both figuratively and literally. Lebanon’s economy has been on the verge of collapse for years, surviving in large part due to global capital inflows, external aid, and debt relief. That’s hardly a recipe for economic or developmental sustainability, especially when Lebanon faces a heavy burden on its shoulders due to its neighbor’s sectarian chaos. To quote my friend and scholar Hussein Ibish, “Lebanon is not a failing state, but a fading state.”

But Lebanon has a significant amount of potential too, enough for its citizens not to give up on it. Albeit its flaws, Lebanon is a democracy – a dysfunctional one, but still a democracy – that was created to allow for the participation of its diverse people. And I think there’s one thing we can all agree on – the Lebanese succeed no matter where they are. Every year, I go to a gala event hosted in Washington, D.C. by the American Task Force for Lebanon that honors accomplished Lebanese-Americans. And every year I am increasingly proud of what I see – those that have contributed to medical and scientific discoveries, those who have built multi-million dollar companies, and the seven current Lebanese-American congressmen and senators. This is just a short list. You all have an incredible amount of potential but you shouldn’t have to leave your country to achieve success.

It’s easy to blame others…

I know what you’re thinking. It’s easy to blame the government or even the United States, Saudi Arabia, Syria, or others. But the onus is on you, Lebanon’s citizens and especially its youth. And I know you feel frustrated – you hate that your religion bars you from being promoted, that your government’s politics are poisoning you through the trash, or that you have to tip the customs guy at the port an exorbitant sum just to get your shipment on time. It feels as though Lebanon has inherent flaws or norms that make it impossible for things to change. However, the effort earlier this year by a diverse group of Lebanese to create a new political party and the traction that party gained reflects the kind of potential you all have and the potential opportunity that lies ahead. Change doesn’t come quickly (after all, Rome wasn’t built in a day, right?), but together you can change it and you should.

There a number of ways you can participate and fight for your country: try to run for office and get involved with your local municipality; write about your views and work to expose endemic corruption; create petitions and lobby your government to change policies to support increased investment and high-skilled job creation in Lebanon, to name a few examples. The Lebanese are resilient – it’s time to let that resilience translate into fighting for the future of your country and subsequently yours.

Hagar Chemali is CEO of Greenwich Media Strategies. She is former USUN Comms Director and Spokesperson and a former Treasury Spokesperson. She tweets @HagarHajjar