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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 February, 2005, 16:58 GMT
Young in the Arab World: Lebanon
More than half the 250 million people in the Arab world today are under the age of 25 - but many Arab countries offer their young people little in the way of jobs and involvement in politics.

The BBC Arabic Service's Mounira Chaieb visited four contrasting Arab countries to find out what it means to be young in the Arab world today. This is the first in her series of articles.


Young people in southern Lebanon
Many of Lebanon's young want to leave the country
My first stop, in a region that extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, is the Lebanese capital, Beirut.

It is one of the most modern capitals in the Arab world.

However, many of the young people I met wanted to leave the country.

With just over four million people on the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, this small country is full of complex issues.

On the surface, things look very encouraging, Beirut has changed beyond recognition since the last time I visited five years ago, when war damage and destruction were visible everywhere.

Between 1975 and 1990, the city was devastated by a bloody, factional civil war that tore the country apart and killed more than 100,000 people.

Today, there is relative peace in Lebanon and most of the infrastructure has been rebuilt.

Emigrating youth

Many buildings have been renovated with investment from the Gulf, shopping malls sell the latest products, the streets are very clean and the roads excellent.

The security situation in the country is generally stable and there is a functioning government.

Modernising Beirut's buildings
Most of Lebanon's infrastructure has been rebuilt
But there is a real sense of frustration amongst the young Lebanese.

"Most of my friends are abroad, I have no friends left here," said DJ Cesar K.

"Emigration is in the culture of Lebanon it has always been there since the 19th Century, but now it has grown out of proportion."

The number of those who have actually left in the last 10 years has reached almost 300,000 - most of them young and educated. But why are so many leaving?

Rampant corruption and cronyism were recurring themes in my conversations with young Lebanese.

"It's really frustrating to live in such a country," said 27-year-old TV presenter, Ghada Oueiss.

"You can't build your own future. You can't be safe. You can't have your own dreams and go for it. You must travel."

Lebanon's government has a foreign debt of over US$30bn - a direct result of 15 years of war.

High unemployment

Many young Lebanese people I spoke to strongly feel that a huge proportion of the country's wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few.

The gap between the upper and lower classes is rapidly increasing.

With unemployment high, there are not enough job opportunities to go round for university graduates.

Politically, many young people in Lebanon detest the Syrian influence in their country.

"There is a picture of the Syrian President and his father who isn't alive - why do I have to see a picture of them in my country?" is one question I heard.

Since 1976, Syria has maintained a strong military presence in Lebanon.

Once the conflict ended, Syrian soldiers were to stay on temporarily to keep the peace.

A man fishing at Beirut's corniche
Many university graduates are finding it hard to find a job
Today 14,000 Syrian troops remain and many of the most serious political questions are decided in Damascus.

But it was Syria's interference in Lebanon's presidential elections last September that was too much for the young of Lebanon to take.

Instead of letting Lebanese lawmakers pick a new president, Syrian President Bashar Assad and his advisors apparently decided they preferred the man already in power.

Lebanon's lawmakers amended the constitution to give President Emil Lahoud, whose term expired in November, three more years in office.

Identity

Young Lebanese also think that Syria isn't the only country that's interested in Lebanon.

They name the USA, France and Israel among others.

A young journalist described Lebanon as "an attractive young woman" and the other countries as "men who all want a bit of her".

I can't help feeling how different Lebanon is from the rest of the Arab world.

How Arab do Lebanon's young people feel?

"There are so many definitions of being an Arab - if it means riding a camel in the desert then I'm not an Arab," said Cesar.

"If an Arab means being Muslim or being a terrorist, then I'm not an Arab.

"Some people tend to think we are denying our Arabic roots. We are very aware of our roots and we are very proud of them. Let's just find a fixed definition for being an Arab."

Ghada on the other hand "prefers to be Lebanese and not an Arab citizen or an Arab woman, I'm not proud of the Arab world".

On the whole, the young in Lebanon are fiercely proud of their country. Even those who are desperate to leave are in no doubt that they will eventually return because they see their future bound up with Lebanon.

The first in a four-part series, "Young in the Arab World" - will be broadcast on the BBC World Service on 9 February.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Lebanon
20 Oct 04 |  Country profiles
More Syria troops move in Lebanon
18 Dec 04 |  Middle East
UN urges Syria to leave Lebanon
19 Oct 04 |  Middle East
Lebanese groups unite over Syria
13 Dec 04 |  Middle East
Lebanon march for Syrians to stay
30 Nov 04 |  Middle East



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