It’s Saturday night at White, the rooftop bar on the edge of the beleaguered Beirut Central District. The affluent 30-something crowd, many of whom live and work in the GCC, dance to the beat pulsating from the huge speakers. At the refrain “This is Beirut! Not Dubai!
” they cheer loudly. They are on holiday and nothing is going to stop the fun.
The tourists have stayed away and the political storm clouds may be gathering. The country threatens to be torn apart by internal divisions but the vitality of the Lebanese remains undimmed. The country simmers on the hot plate of chaos but we can still get on down.
It’s a well worn cliché, but on paper Lebanon should never work. And yet in the midst of all the turmoil, the key sectors still perform. Property development marches on, luxury cars still roll out of the showrooms, banks still show healthy balance sheets, the port of Beirut is ranked in the world’s top 100 and the nightlife still throbs to Lebanon’s uniquely sweaty beat. Lebanon is a country that should not make sense, and yet, in its own weird way, it works.
Dubai, on the other hand, totally makes sense. It is organized and stable, its mega-developments tower into the azure Gulf sky. Dubai is wealth central, a Las-Vegas-eque pleasure dome predicated on a master plan and fuelled by blue chip entertainment, premiere sporting events, vibrant capital market and a real estate revolution with global ripples. All that glitters is gold and its there for the taking. The state-owned enterprises led the way — especially in real estate and private equity — and showed the obedient citizenry how it’s done.
In Lebanon, the opposite is true. It is shambolic, divisive and anarchic, but its hunger to work, to trade, to sell and to build is unstoppable. Whenever and wherever there is an opportunity the Lebanese entrepreneur will take it. Lebanon is a nation driven by its private sector initiative and strong merchant class. With this glorious and indomitable DNA, how can we not celebrate Beirut?