The Lebanese passport is not the best one to have. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my country. Yes, I am proud. Proud of being able to ‘ski and swim on the same day’, proud of our hummus, proud of our multi-lingual upbringing, proud of the Lebanese success stories on the international scene keeping in mind Lebanon is a tiny-teeny country, proud of our family values, of our strong educational institutions, of our sophisticated banking system, of our ability to (kind of) cohabitate when we are 18 officially recognized religious groups, proud of our ability to survive (and somehow forget) a painful – and recurrent – history, of our persistence to make it happen on our land despite all odds, of the fun in our clubs… Being Lebanese has however a lot of downsides. Holding the Lebanese passport is one of many.
I was 22 when I first realized how precarious my living in London was. I graduated – in the midst of the subprime crisis – with distinction, from a top ranked London university, with an LLM in Commercial Law, ready to kick-start my career, to join an international corporation, when I realized a small – but malicious – detail: I had no legal right to stay further. To convince a potential employer I was worth the fight was another story. Why me? A Lebanese girl, kind of unsure, kind of hesitant, with a perfect French? – maybe – but an English…that could be worked on. Why me when the economy was suffering, when the unemployment rate was rising by the day, when there were plenty of young, ambitious, qualified British people out there, seeking a job, with equal and sometimes better qualifications? ‘Your English is not sizzling’ was one of the causes of rejections I got. ‘You are not tough enough to survive this environment’, was another. And the list goes on. The situation was hopeless. I packed my bags and my dreams, ready to return to my home country to the joy of my parents. But I prayed. Oh my god did I pray (like the song). Until, finally, six months later, a bank sponsored my visa and I was offered the chance to stay. Woop Woop Yippee.
My visa issues did not end here. My friends always planned a last-minute weekend getaway. I was never able to go. I needed to plan in advance, book an appointment with the relevant embassy, gather the documents (insurance papers, bank statements -current, original, NOT printed online statements, two recent photographs, flight booking, hotel booking, copy of the passport, original renewed passport, letter from my employer, take a day off, queue, sit for hours in a dirty, smelly, noisy embassy waiting area, deprived from my phone and bag (for security reasons- because I look like a TERRORIST!) and sit. And wait. And panic.
It gets worse. When I got married last year – that is to a British citizen – I had to obtain a spouse visa to be allowed to live and work in the UK. I applied from Beirut whilst my husband was in London. The process took, in total, 7 months. We spent the first 7 months of our married life separated, my relationship and career both on hold. I will spare you the details but allow me to pinpoint it was a question of documents not presented in the ‘required format’.
What really makes me upset is that Lebanon has put itself – and as a result its people – in this situation. I do not like the fact our French and British friends for example do not need a pre-approved visa to enter our country but we need one to enter theirs. Of course, we do not have the luxury to complicate their visits. We need their visits. We need that rare, occasional, exceptional, God-sent visit of a European who heard of Sky Bar and decided to be ‘adventurous’ and check it out.
Lebanon must change the conditions of its people. We should be allowed to travel freely. Lebanon must enhance the value of its official document. Its stature amongst the international players depends on how much power it has. One way it can do so is by holding on – tightly- to their object of desire
The equation can change, if Lebanon’s energy reserves are confirmed, on the condition that they are managed and administrated in an efficient, transparent, honest manner. Recent explorations indicated the strong likelihood of large amounts of gas in our waters. Spectrum Geo estimates the deposit at about 25 tcf. Discoveries in neighboring countries also encourage that fact. Lebanon has been trying to catch up, well behind in the race for gas. It has appointed its Petroleum Administration Authority and approved the Decree on the Pre-qualification of Companies to participate in the Petroleum Activities Licensing Round. Over 100 companies have so far requested application documents in the pre-qualifying bid round.
Lebanon should take advantage of the considerable amount of international interest in its potential hydrocarbons to improve its conditions. The example of neighboring debt-crippled Cyprus proves my point. It has not hesitated in using the potential revenues from future gas discoveries as a bargaining power in an attempt to obtain a loan from the EU/IMF or Russia. Rumor also has it that even Russian Gazprom has offered to bail out the Bank of Cyprus in return for exclusive control of the gas reserves off the coast of the island.
Energy means power. Lebanon must use what it potentially – and most likely has – to its advantage. It must employ all its efforts to wisely and strategically reinvent Lebanon’s existence in the international arena. Energy diplomacy, regionally and internationally, is key. Lebanon should get itself together and set its standards high now that for the first time, we stand the chance to be… PICKY!
I also tweet @karenayat
The views and opinions expressed in this article are my own.