Friday, August 26, 2005

Episode II: The Common Man And The Nature Of Opportunity

This is a series of episodes on my interactions with the Lebanese Common Man while I was back home.

He's wearing a decent black suit; he's quiet and composed. He's in his twenties, for sure. Me, a northerner; him, a southerner...meeting in Bhamdoun El-Mhatta. What is the likelihood of such a meeting in the everyday life of a Lebanese?

He, in fact, is working as a supervisor in a hotel, a summer stint before he starts looking elsewhere for a job on the coast at the end of vacation season. He is also a student, studying for a degree in Hotel Management but is doing it on a credit-by-credit basis—the option that many students who work to pay for their courses seek. So, of course, he probably is enrolled in one of those affordable, American-curriculum-based, non-accredited colleges that have mushroomed lately around the country, but that have indeed been a blessing for many ambitious youth who found in the Lebanese University an obsolete educational option and are unfortunate enough to attend the high-end private universities.

I asked him for his age; he's 23. He's younger than me! His life story is different than mine; the signs of a self-made man are on his face and looks like he's a 28-year old. But even if he was different, he still, like many Lebanese youth, values education so much that he would rather earn a degree in seven years, than simply seek the path of least resistance.

And like many Lebanese youth, he dropped the famous line: "I'm looking to go to America!" He wants to continue his education there. His uncle has been there forever, but he doesn't want to be a burden. He simply needs him as a sponsor and from then on, he can figure his way out in life. I smiled, because I live in America and my uncle has been there forever...Haven't we heard that famous line a thousand times before?...But again, at least this person is productive while he waits...for Godot!....

He lives in Dahieh, south of Beirut. He told me that he visits his village in the south perhaps every 3 years. He thinks there is nothing to do there, no prospects. Many well-to-do southerners have returned from abroad, mostly Africa, with great ideas up their sleeve for investment in their area, only to find out that each politician/party wants a sort of "tax" on the profits. Those ambitious businessmen would lock their dreams back in their hearts and return to estrangement. The South: many lost opportunities. He thinks it's a closed society, not open for change or prospects.

We talked more about the economy, the crazy driving, and tourism. We're from the same world, creatures of the same generation, yet what divides us is simply the differing nature of opportunity...nothing more, nothing less!


"Nobody knows how many rebellions, besides political rebellions, ferment in the masses of life which people earth."

11 comments:

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Good luck to him. The only place where the governments should invest is education for poorer people. Everything else can be handled by the private sector.

Raja said...

Very touching entry, Doha. On a certain level we really are all the same. You pointed to that phenomena extremely well.

Vox, markets can't exist without states or governments that have well-functioning court systems and ensure that every one is on a level playing field that is governed by one code of laws. Did you notice what Doha said about each political entity in the South taxing businessmen who are willing to invest and improve the well-being of hundreds, if not thousands! The same kind of practice exists all over the country. I've heard that Jumblatt gets his share of investments in his neighborhood. We've all heard about the Keserwan "zu3ama" filling their pockets from the Casino....

Will this problem be solved by less government? I doubt that! In fact, it would be solved by more effective government. Government that is determined to make the political commitment of creating the institution of the market!

Lazarus said...

interesting. I just have a correction. Lebanon: many lost opportunities. Not just the south.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

Raja, of course - there are certain functions that can only be applied by the state (judicial, police, security army, foreign affairs etc), 'fonctions régaliennes' in French or 'royal functions'.

What I meant is that the state shouldn't be involved in the country's economy except for control and regulation. Involvement of the state in the economy in Lebanon only means corruption and nepotism. Our politician do not need to be tempted.

carine said...

the problem isn't so much state involvement in the economy as the lack of a strong, independent judiciary. politicians/zuama/whoever else shouldn't be able to "tax" people whenever they feel so inclined.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

carine,
it's true that we could have - but let's be realistic: between privatization and converting our politicians to ethical governance, privatization is by far easier to achieve.

Anyway, historically, Lebanese propserity is due to the private sector. A lot of arab countries decided to go for an etatist economy and it harmed the economy- just look at the result in Syria or Egypt.

Maze said...

It is interesting to be able to see how things are going on the everyday level in Lebanon. Thank you, I put a small article on my blog about this, so people will be able to see through your eyes. See Mideast Views

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Anonymous said...

Doha,
Thanks for your informative and touching posts on "the common man". I did not know local politicians taxed investment in the South. Taxes are necessary of course, as long as taxpayers get something in return. People from the South must have seen many investment opportunities after the liberation. It would be much more efficient if the state worked in the same direction as the people, rather than at counter-flow. Without having a big-brother state, I think it is important to have an overarching strategy. Many comments were about liberalisation of the economy. It is a very powerful instrument, and as shown in many cases, it can yield significant results quickly, depending of course on how far the starting point is from the objective. The notion of timing is also essential. Many of the success-stories cited in the development literature carried out most of their reforms at a time when the wind was blowing in their backs. And actually the state was generally a key actor in those transition phases. A strong economy would no doubt help Lebanon move forward on all fronts, including the political one -nevertheless, many changes needed to improve the economy require a stronger state...When I think of your common man Doha, along with all young Lebanese living abroad (including us), I worry that the only thing really drawing us back (or capable of drawing us back)to Lebanon are our emotional ties - not the opportunities, not the rewards, not the prospects, because they are too few...

khaled said...

The problem in Lebanon that exists nowadays is due to so many leaving the country, it is almost impossible to find qualified personnel...
This is really sad, as I guess now we will start importing high caliber employees from India or Philippine...

khaled said...

and guys thanks for putting a link to my blog...
will put a link to yours and others very soon..
appreciate that so much,,