Cablegate: Engaging the Lebanese Diaspora


DE RUEHLB #1041/01 2661429
R 231429Z SEP 09



E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: STATE 86401


1. The Lebanese diaspora is a large and diverse global
community with an estimated population of at least twelve
million, three times that of Lebanon itself. The bulk of the
diaspora is centered in the Western hemisphere, with the
largest population in Latin America. The remittances from
this successful community provide some six billion dollars
per year to the Lebanese economy and have been key to
rebuilding a nation frequently shattered by strife. In
addition to foreign direct investment and business ties,
diaspora charitable organizations are directly involved in

reconstruction, de-mining and aid programs. Lebanese living
overseas also often maintain connections to their religious
sect and political affiliation, and these ties are most
pronounced among those residing in the Middle East and North
Africa. Embassy Beirut is currently involved in several
projects that mobilize and engage this successful community.
End summary.


2. Since the early migrations of the Phoenicians, Lebanon
has sent a steady stream of emigrants into the diaspora.
Although modern Lebanese society contains significant
populations of Christians, Sunnis and Shias, in addition to
other smaller communities, emigration patterns have not
affected all communities equally. Today, the Lebanese
diaspora may be broadly characterized by the two waves of
emigration that formed it: forced migration of Christians
during the Ottoman era and more recent waves of Muslim
emigrants, who tend to be "earn and return" migrants.

3. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, religious and economic
persecution led to massive emigration, predominantly by
Christians, most of whom settled in the United States, Latin
America, the Caribbean and Africa. This first wave of
emigration formed the basis for the prominent Lebanese
diaspora in the Western hemisphere. Descendants of Lebanese
immigrants have served as presidents and prime ministers in
Latin America and members of Congress in the United States.
Numerous successful businessmen, entrepreneurs and
entertainers are also descendants of this generation, and
they are marked by their full assimilation within their host
culture. Using the most conservative estimates and
definitions for Lebanese diaspora, regional breakdowns are as
follows: some 8.5 million in Latin America and the Caribbean,
with nearly 6 million in Brazil alone; another 2.5 million in
the United States; 300,000 more in Canada; 500,000 in each of
Europe and Australia/New Zealand; 300,000 in the MENA region;
100,000 in Africa; and perhaps 10,000 more across all of

4. In the wake of the civil war that wracked Lebanon from
1975-89, a new wave of emigrants left Lebanon to seek work in
the MENA region. These emigrants tend to be "earn and
return" workers who regularly move across borders as
opportunities shift. Skilled Lebanese, including doctors,
scientists, dentists, lawyers and accountants, are in high
demand in the Arab world and command much higher salaries
abroad than at home. The resulting brain drain undermines
the local economy as these professionals flee Lebanon's
corrupt and inept government and limited economic opportunity.

--------------------------------------------- ----

5. The Lebanese diaspora represents significant wealth,
vital remittances, and a potentially invaluable resource for
financial and political involvement. Even into the second
and third generations, Lebanese maintain their ties to their
homeland through business, political and social
organizations, as well as through on-line forums.
Remittances, which total some $6 billion annually, contribute
a staggering 20% of GDP and pass directly into local
communities and businesses through kinship ties.
Contributions by wealthy expatriate Lebanese to charities,
universities, and foreign direct investment are also vital to
the health of the economy. Thousands returned to Lebanon to
vote in the June 2009 parliamentary elections thanks to the
financial support of local political parties or their
overseas branches.

6. Several private organizations try to harness the energy
and resources of Lebanese expatriates to develop Lebanon.
For example, the Lebanese International Business
Associations, Network (LIBAN), established in 2000, focuses
on enabling Lebanese entrepreneurs to succeed in Lebanon.
The network sponsors programs aimed shoring up Lebanon's
entrepreneurial base by urging young expatriate Lebanese to
return home to work in start-up and technology ventures. The
Lebanese Emigration Research Center (LERC), an academic
initiative of Notre Dame University (NDU) Beirut, does
research and reporting on the diaspora as well as conducting
outreach programs. The center is the direct result of NDU,s
desire to attract Lebanese emigrants, contributions and
foster research in global identity, ancestral roots and
genealogical heritage.

7. The Lebanese diaspora also contributes substantially to
charities involved in social welfare, many of which sprang up
in the aftermath of the 2006 war. One example is the
Lebanese American Alliance, which provides scholarship funds
for needy Lebanese students to attend the American University
of Beirut and the University of Balamand. The alliance also
donated funds to clinics and hospitals in Lebanon and has
sent medical supplies valuing more than $5 million.
Similarly, the Lebanese Information Center provided
assistance to families in Lebanon facing hardship. Another
organization is the American Task Force for Lebanon, which
raises funds for de-mining and other humanitarian issues.
Lebanese expatriates also contribute significant funds to
charities related to their church or mosque.


8. The Lebanese government's initiatives toward the
diaspora, headed by the foreign ministry, have been sorely
lacking. There is no organized government campaign or
outreach to interface with members of the diaspora, and
Lebanese expatriates are hindered from obtaining basic
consular services abroad because Lebanese diplomatic posts
are seriously underfunded and understaffed. The government
has nonetheless made some efforts. In late December 2008 the
telecommunications ministry sponsored a conference entitled
"Telecom for Lebanon - Tapping the Diaspora." The conference
attracted about 30 expatriate Lebanese telecommunications
experts who shared their knowledge on telecommunications
liberalization and discussed the ministry,s policy paper for
medium and long-term development of the sector. A committee
of local and expatriate experts was established to follow up
on the conference recommendations and to organize similar
gatherings in the future. The MEPI-supported Youth Shadow
Government also has a diaspora outreach office.


9. Embassy Beirut has initiated several projects aimed at
tapping the potential of the diaspora. For example, the
USAID-funded project "Profiling Expatriate Prospects for
Local Development Partnership" empowers Lebanese
municipalities by creating a database of Lebanese living
abroad who are interested in establishing economic
partnerships with their home villages. Over 150 emigrants
have already contributed or are willing to contribute to
their villages, economic development. The project will
spread to cover an additional 115 villages in addition to the
initial 15 communities supported to date. Another
MEPI-assisted program, Teach for Lebanon (TFL), is an
initiative that aims to keep the country's top graduates at
home while improving educational levels. The project
recruits university graduates to serve as teachers in
disadvantaged primary schools, thus giving them an
opportunity to support the disadvantaged while becoming more
vested in their home communities. The American non-profit
Act for Lebanon has also provided funding to TFL.


10. The Lebanese diaspora, while enormous and varied,
reflects the tribal and sectarian nature of Lebanese society.
While ties to it, both economic and social, are essential to
Lebanon's future, the Lebanese government has failed to take
the initiative in harnessing the diaspora's resources. While
the embassy does not have the necessary staff or facilities
to launch a major outreach to the diaspora, we will continue
to seek out projects for MEPI and USAID that can leverage the
potential of the diaspora to develop Lebanon. With the
approximately 3-to-1 ratio of Lebanese expatriates to
resident Lebanese citizens, the potential for foreign direct
investment, micro-enterprise finance and civil society work
is enormous. End comment.

11. In response to reftel request, our point of contact for
diaspora issues is Derrin R. Smith (Political Section).

© Scoop Media

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