Disillusioned Generation, Lebanon

“I feel down. I finished university three years ago and I’m still unemployed since then. There’s no work. No future”, states Ziad, his eyes blurred in the smoke of his hookah. At the age of 27, Ziad is finding it hard to fid a fixed job in spite of his masters in business management. He would leave if he could. Far away. The Lebanese get quite easily attached to their country. But here, the economic situation is becoming more and more disastrous.

Like the majority of the young Lebanese, Ziad has often been obliged to accept temporary badly paid jobs or unpaid internships. Therefore, a little more than a third of young active people aged from 18 to 35 declare wanting to emigrate.

There are multiple causes: economic precariousness, high unemployment rates, extension of the period of studies, doubled by a delay in entering active life and a more and more difficult professional insertion, housing crisis, traditional parental authoritarianism…

Disillusioned Generation, Lebanon

Disturbing unemployment situation

To stay or not to stay. Existential concern that torments Lebanese youngsters left to themselves. “They are tired of the economic complexity. I see students fall asleep in class because they work at night to pay their studies. Youngsters invest themselves beyond their forces”, notes Mirna Abboud Mzawak, social sciences professor at the University Saint Esprit-Kaslik. “No one can blame them for what they are”.

Lebanese youth shares the same concerns as any Lebanese citizen: financial, economical issues and everyday problems. This situation weighs on Ziad’s heart. “Normally, a youngster who finishes his studies starts to build up his future. I have been postponing my marriage for two years, due to lack of means. At this point and with odd unstable jobs I cannot start a family”, he sighs.

According to unofficial estimations, young people represent 71,3% of the unemployed. Quite alarming rates to toll the bell. In spite of the magnitude of youth unemployment, the government has established no insertion and employment plan. Moreover, the national youth policy of the Ministry of Youth and Sport is still being elaborated.

On the one hand there is a vibrating multicultural society, an active private sector, a liberal and democratic political system. On the other hand, there is a country that has spent the last three decades between civil wars, regional wars and internal political conflicts. Young people have suffered from the meanders of this social paradox.

Youth emigration is growing exponentially and it has brought about a lot of socio-demographic changes.

According to the estimations of the United Nations Youth Unit for the year 2002, more than 16% of the population is aged between 15 and 24 years with an average age of 24,4 years. Over the years, the Lebanese population has changed; the number of young people has decreased while the number of elders has increased. The UNDP report on Arab human development shows that Lebanon has the highest rate of senior citizens. An aging population in a country that is emptied of its youth, day after day and of its vital active force for its economic recovery. The Lebanese government is currently pursuing a policy with the aim of limiting youth emigration and rejuvenating its population.

A youth in search of identity
Lebanese youth conveys many clichés. It’s a generation that has lived nothing but political upheavals and which has got used to get along. One can speak of a sparkling youth, an excessive youth but above all a post-traumatic youth that has not yet recovered from its sufferings. It’s a wandering society lacking identity. According to Professor Mzawak, there’s the family, the religious-confessional community, the political party, the district, the religious-academic political authority; as many social environments juggling with a youth in search of identity.

“I just want to live, I don’t want to hear about Hariri, Aoun, Geagea, Nasrallah anymore…” confirms this student, met in a bar in Gemmayzeh. Jessy is a young Lebanese living in Achrafieh, a district in the centre of Beirut. Her clothes, worthy of the biggest Hollywood stars nearly pass unnoticed in the crowd. In a certain way, this university student portrays Lebanese youth, which is full of paradoxes but full of life.

The nights spent in Gemmayzeh, famous area full of bars, are the occasion to relax, to dance, drink and meet friends. Talking politics is out of the question! People go there to party. Lebanese youth are party people par excellence. They expose their excesses during the nights out in Beirut. Very often these generous drinks nights and this way of life represent a high risk for health.

According to a study undertaken among the young members at the American University of Beirut in 1998, nearly 89% of the students behave in such a way as to put their health in danger. The most common behaviour: unhealthy diets, smoking and alcohol consumption. Moreover, car and traffic accidents are one of the major problems of public health in Lebanon. Above all, they concern youth.

However, if Lebanese youngsters love to party – at their own risks – they are very active in public life.

Recently, Lebanese youth has participated in an appreciable way to the internal political and social change of the country. The Parliament has been renewed as several young seats have been elected but also because mentalities evolve and taboos are transgressed.

Even if the Lebanese traditional society considers certain behaviour to be reprehensible, youngsters are going through a transition phase. They are looking for a new identity.

Today, girls and boys live their sexual and affective lifestyles freely. Even if only a minority declares openly or claim this sexual freedom, it doesn’t mean that they haven’t taken a big step.

Jessy is aware that her lifestyle gives “food for talk to the neighbours”. “My evening with friends is my only way out to breath some fresh air, to survive all these insecurity problems, that’s how it is.” But youngsters have not yet said their last word. “Things will change”, she concludes.


Janine Ayoub
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
February  2010

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