It really bothers me when people say things they don’t actually understand. “The economy is dead.” I’ve heard it over and over the past few years. Growth is low, fine, but it’s not completely absent. Let’s remember Economics 101. If a manaoushe shop sells 1,000 manaeesh in September and then sells 1,020 in October, that’s 2 percent growth. Granted, those extra 20 manaeesh won’t buy our shopowner a villa, but that shop owner is still selling more than 1,000 manaeesh. He’s not moving to the poorhouse.
There was an external shock to our economy when unrest in Syria broke out in 2011, quickly evolving into a full-blown civil war. We needed to adjust. Tourists from the Gulf were no longer coming, nor were they buying 500-square-meter luxury apartments in Beirut. Today, hotels outside the capital are near fully booked with locals discovering their own country, and developers are building housing for people who actually live here year-round. They’re building green, and they’re building architecturally pleasant structures respecting the four elements of life. This month we feature four megaprojects that, for the most part, will target Lebanese buyers. To the public, a large-scale project earns the mega moniker based on the area of land it covers. For developers, it’s probably more accurate to call them megaprofits than megaprojects. A large tract of land appreciates from the time the first road is paved until the last unit is sold (and the truly savvy keep a few plots outside the actual development to sell at a profit once the “neighborhood” created raises prices adjacent to it). A perfect opportunity for anyone with the cash to make it happen – and it certainly beats building in Beirut.
We adapt here in Lebanon, but that’s not always the most useful strategy. Sometimes, we need to be pre-emptive. This month we’re also reminded that accusations leveled by strong enough countries can stick. The Lebanese Canadian Bank is once again in the legal spotlight. Although this time, the motives are purely aimed at defamation, and a lazy press corps is falling for the tricks of a cheeky UK PR house. The newest case will likely not proceed very far. But the spurned minority shareholder behind the suit levelling charges against the central bank remind us how quickly the rug can get pulled out from beneath our feet. The West increasingly views this part of the world with suspicion. Correspondent banking is more problematic for Arab banks than others. We Lebanese will make the only choice we think we have: adapt. As these problems become bigger and bigger, hitting closer and closer to home, it’s time for the honest, hardworking people and corporates in this country to pre-empt.
It’s time to stop adapting. We need to stand up for our rights. Banking and the free flow of capital are rights we have to fight for. We play by the rules, we should be treated with fairness, dignity and respect. When a father’s attempt to send his son in Canada life support money is thwarted by some clown in New York who doesn’t even give a reason for refusing a transfer, we’re all in trouble. Remittances – inbound or outbound – are the oxygen of our country. We can’t let ourselves be suffocated.