A HELLISH LIMBO, A DARKER FU­TURE

Executive Magazine - - Editorial - Yasser Akkaoui Editor-in-chief

There’s noth­ing like en­tre­pre­neur­ial energy — if it’s there, you feel it as soon as you walk in the room. That’s what I felt when I re­cently ad­dressed the Start Up Le­banon con­fer­ence in New York. The room was buzzing with cre­ative tal­ent — our tal­ent — ready to storm the Amer­i­can startup scene. Why were our kids do­ing this in New York in­stead of Beirut? The most glar­ing rea­son: US of­fi­cials and ex­ec­u­tives re­ally be­lieve in young en­trepreneurs. They lis­tened in­tently to these fresh voices — which made the pre­sen­ters even more se­ri­ous and more de­ter­mined to re­al­ize their ideas. Who does that here in Le­banon? I can think of just one per­son, our cen­tral banker. Ev­ery other of­fi­cial is too wor­ried about shoring up their own per­sonal fief­dom to see the ex­tra­or­di­nary po­ten­tial in our youth. So our youth leave — for Dubai, Paris, San Fran­cisco and New York — and build the fu­ture there, for the Emi­rates, France and Amer­ica.

This egre­gious neg­li­gence is not a par­ti­san or sec­tar­ian is­sue. It doesn’t mat­ter if they’re named Aoun or Berri or Geagea or Hariri or Jum­blatt — they’re all guilty of let­ting our na­tion waste away as they plot to gain more power for them­selves and their fam­i­lies. And this tug of war has had far reach­ing eco­nomic con­se­quences. In ad­di­tion to sac­ri­fic­ing our best and bright­est to other coun­tries, our so-called lead­ers — a mis­nomer if ever there was one — have sad­dled our coun­try with a hy­brid eco­nomic sys­tem that sim­ply can­not work.

With the col­lapse of gov­er­nance and de­val­u­a­tion of the lira in the 1980s, our his­tor­i­cal French model be­came un­ten­able. Post­war, most lead­ers rec­og­nized this, and Rafik Hariri set our coun­try on the path to­wards the Amer­i­can model of an econ­omy driven by a vi­brant pri­vate sec­tor. But re­form stalled. State owned en­ter­prises were not pri­va­tized. Gov­ern­ment min­is­ters be­gan to view their port­fo­lios as be­long­ing to them — not the peo­ple. The re­sult? A strange, hy­brid eco­nomic model whereby we ex­pect pri­vate en­ter­prise to drive the econ­omy, but keep it so heav­ily bur­dened with bu­reau­cracy that this be­comes im­pos­si­ble.

We must choose one model or the other: ei­ther com­plete the re­forms be­gun in the 1990s, or re­vert back to a French style sys­tem, com­plete with in­de­pen­dent, ac­tivist unions. Our cur­rent eco­nomic dys­func­tion is not just un­ten­able, it’s mor­bid. The longer we con­tinue ig­nor­ing this prob­lem, the more young tal­ent will leave our shores for brighter fu­tures abroad.

That means a darker fu­ture for Le­banon. And that’s pre­cisely where our ‘lead­ers’ are tak­ing us.

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