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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Glimmers of Hope in the Middle East: Lebanese Returning Home with Money and Ambition

It's been awhile since we've had what might be thought of as hopeful signs cropping up in the Middle East. An article on by Farah Halime is thus refreshing. She notes that although there are currently only about 5 million people living in Lebanon (actually, the Population Reference Bureau estimates a bit over 6 million, but that's not the point of this story), there are an estimated 15 Lebanese origin people living elsewhere in the world. Proportionately, that's a pretty large diaspora. Most importantly, they are doing pretty well for themselves.
Among the approximately 15 million people of Lebanese descent who live outside of Lebanon, that doer attitude seems ubiquitous, if we are to judge by the success of the business community. (Carlos Slim, the telecoms tycoon and the richest man in the world, is Lebanese-Mexican. Ely Calil, whose father, George, founded an oil empire in Nigeria, is one of the richest men in Britain. Carlos Ghosn, who is French-Lebanese-Brazilian, is the chief executive of French carmaker Renault and Japanese carmaker Nissan.) But increasingly, a slice of this highly successful community is turning back toward their place of ancestry. It’s good news for the motherland, which is home to fewer than 5 million people, ancient infrastructure, shaky internet connections, and, these days, increasing startup activity.
This is a case, then, where the volume of return migration is less important in terms of numbers of people than in terms of dollars to be invested at home in Lebanon. That helps to create jobs and infrastructure that will move the region forward:
For 34 days in the summer of 2006, the world’s attention turned to Lebanon, where a bloody war erupted between the country’s militant group Hezbollah and longtime enemy Israel. But for Habib Haddad, who was hundreds of miles away from family at the University of Southern California, searching for local-language updates was almost impossible because he did not have access to an Arabic keyboard. Enter Yamli, the online transliteration service he invented that allows searches in Arabic using phonetic English.
When, in 2012, Yahoo acquired the company’s licensing rights, Haddad joined the ranks of an impressive group of industrious Lebanese entrepreneurs who have dominated multiple global companies across industries — telecoms, logistics, automobiles. In total, the 35-year-old Haddad has been involved as an engineer, angel investor or founder in no fewer than 10 companies in the Middle East. “Things that don’t work excite me,” says Haddad, speaking over the phone from Beirut. “It’s the same reason I live in Lebanon. A lot of things are broken in this country.”
I suppose these returning migrants could very easily live by the slogan: "Let's Make Lebanon Great Again!" 

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