Patriotic young Lebanese say the battle to stay is lost

Fri Mar 28, 2014 11:46am EDT
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By Oliver Holmes

BEIRUT (Reuters) - In both war and peace, Lebanon has always seen many of its ambitious youth leave for better opportunities. More Lebanese live outside Lebanon than in it.

But neighboring Syria's civil war, bombs in Lebanon and an economic slowdown have eroded confidence in the country's future and now even loyal patriots are scrambling to get out.

Olga Hawwa, a 29-year-old working in advertising, says she has given up. Graduating in 2008, she has seen her peers leave Lebanon one by one. "But I didn't want to leave because I tried to make it here," she said, sitting at a cafe in Beirut's Hamra shopping district near her office.

"I love Beirut. I love staying here; my family is here, my neighborhood, my friends. I think it's a beautiful country and has a lot of potential."

Hawwa graduated at the right time, a lull in Lebanon's rollercoaster ride of conflict and quasi-peace.

From 2007 to 2010, the economy averaged yearly growth of 8 percent as the country saw relative stability. She progressed in her career and became an senior account manager for an advertising firm.

Then came the war in neighboring Syria. A million Syrian refugees have entered the country of only four million and rebels have moved into border regions to take refuge from forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Several graduates and young professionals told Reuters they were planning to leave because of the fallout from the war and that their circles of friends were shrinking by the month as their acquaintances abandoned Lebanon.   Continued...

A couple, who said they are leaving Lebanon for good, push their luggage at Beirut's international airport March 28, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir