Lebanese society is very modern and similar to certain cultures of Southern Europe as the country is linked ideologically and culturally to Europe through France, and its uniquely diverse religious composition create a rare environment that is at once Arab and European. It is often considered as Europe’s gateway to Western Asia as well as Asia’s gateway to the Western World.
However, in recent years, Lebanon has been through a tough time. The government has resigned amid growing public anger following the devastating explosion in Beirut in 2020 that killed at least 200 people. Currently, Lebanon is facing a difficult time not only trying to stop the spread of the coronavirus but also dealing with an unprecedented economic crisis. So, what’s people’s hope for the future?
As part of our ongoing Illume Guide featured blog posts, we interviewed our Lebanese Guide Faten to help us understand more about Lebanese culture and what’s happening now and next in the society.
I’m Faten, 39 years old, from Beirut, Lebanon.
After finishing my degree in biochemistry, I spent 12 years with Qatar airway as flight attendant, flight manager, and instructor. I love traveling and exploring different cultures, so working with the airline allowed me to fly all over the world and explore interesting places. I came back to Lebanon in 2016 and started working in hospitality. I managed different restaurants and I worked as a brand ambassador for an alcohol distribution company. I love the energetic vibe in the hospitality industry, and my work also allowed me to interact with many interesting people.
Outside my main profession, I’ve always been interested in psychology and wanted to be a psychiatrist. Two years ago, I became a certified life coach and NLP practitioner, and I started my coaching career as well. From my perspective, love is the most important thing in life. I enjoy helping people and want to bring positivity to others.
Lebanese culture is highly diverse with regards to lifestyle, religion and fashion. Though the main Arabic culture is conservative and has a great deal of respect for traditions, the Islamic and Christian traditions also deeply ingrained in the society. Many practices and lifestyles reflect European influences, partly due to our coastline’s proximity to Europe, as well as French occupation in the 20th century. It is common to see both Lebanese and modern European cultures within the Lebanese community.
Due to the diversity and mixed culture, our society is more relaxed compared to other middle eastern countries regarding religion, social life, dress code and alcohol rules. Before covid, Lebanon used to be a party county. We have the best clubs in middle east area and it’s common for people to party until 7am. Famous DJs from all over the world gathered here for events and festivals. You can easily find a nice bar in the city for a drink. Whereas I remember when I was in Qatar, alcohol was only served in 5 star hotels. Socialising has always been a big part for Lebanese life.
Family is the basic of our society. Children typically live in their parents’ house until they are married or ready to have children of their own. In some mentalities, family can define our reputation, status and honour, and the act of an individual can impact the perception of the entire family by others. Wealthy people are expected to financially assist less fortunate family members by providing job opportunities or sharing assets.
Lebanese people in general are very friendly and helpful. We live for the present and enjoy the moment. Because most people have been through a lot of toughness and uncertainties in life, the future is uncertain so we try our best to have fun and enjoy life for now.
Millennials in Lebanon are in the middle of digital savvies and traditional values. Compared to younger generation, some millennials still hold on to many traditional values and customs, but they are more open minded compared to our parents’ generation. They are more aware of what’s going on internationally and have a stronger desire for freedom.
However, the current situation in Lebanon is not that positive for us. After the economic crisis last year, local currency has lost 90% of its value while we can take only a limited amount of money outside the bank. Around 40% of the population are unemployed; therefore, most millennials like myself are looking for opportunities to move to other countries where we can find more security and opportunities.
There are many Lebanese millennials who are very creative, but now most of them are trying to find better opportunities in the international world.
Discontent among people has always been there for years in terms of the government, economy and security. From my perspective, one of the biggest problems is that our top leaders are divided in different religions and looking after their own interests. The three main political offices – president, speaker of parliament and prime minister – are divided among the three biggest communities (Maronite Christian; Shia Muslim; and Sunni Muslim).
In 2019, a plan to tax WhatsApp calls spilled over into mass protests against economic turmoil and corruption, which led to the government’s resignation. The misconduct of the government had triggered the protests, the financial situation continued to worsen, and many people think the explosion in 2020 was the deadly result of years of corruption and mismanagement of the government.
Many businesses were forced to lay off staff or put them on furlough without pay; the gap between the Lebanese pound’s value on the official and black-market exchange rates widened a lot; and banks tightened capital controls. So I would say the economy actually hit the country more than the virus.
Feminism trend is growing in Lebanon. Women’s rights have become quite progressive over last few years. However, it is still common in some Lebanese culture that women need submit to their husbands, many salient rights are given to the husband/father first before the mother. In recent years, women in Lebanon have been organising and demanding change through protest and events. In fact, women are becoming more perseverant, powerful and vocal in support of their political and socio-economic demands.
Another trend is about vegetarian and veganism. People are becoming more aware of sustainability due to the cruelty for animals. We now have many local vegan-friendly products as well as restaurants spread vastly across the country. Hayek Hospital in Beirut even became the first hospital in the world to serve vegan only meals this year. Hayek Hospital is offering a variety of plant-based meals such as a fajita sandwich, vegan burgers, pizzas, and croissants, along with vegan versions of traditional Middle Eastern dishes such as shawarma platters, shish barak, and labneh sandwiches.
Our main concern now is the stability of economy and security of life. People never feel secured enough with the changing governments and conflicts in the society. The main hope is to have a secular society where there is a fair law applied for every individual, a government functions without religion.
I hope there will be more opportunities and freedom for people in the future.