Don’t invest in Lebanon, ‘it’s a Ponzi scheme’

What is the motivation behind the  recent ‘family reunion’ in the Lebanese embassy in Paris, when Jews were invited to ‘save Lebanon’? Tony Badran writing in Tablet says it is just the latest in a series of scams:

Jews of Lebanese heritage meeting the Lebanese ambassador in Paris

The Lebanese ambassador to France made news last week when he invited a number of Jews of Lebanese heritage, who had long since fled that country, for a “family reunion” at the embassy in Paris. A bewildered and wisely suspicious 70-year-old woman, who left Lebanon decades ago, asked the ambassador, “Why now?”

Lebanon is “in danger,” the ambassador replied. “All its citizens who belong to different religious sects must come together to save it.”

Allow me to translate: What we have here is known as the Lebanese swindle.

You might have heard about the country’s two-year-long economic and financial crisis, the result of a Ponzi scheme that went bust in late 2019, exposing the bankrupt, dysfunctional country that always lay beneath the glitzy façade of the Travel + Leisure version of Beirut. This nationally managed scam can be traced back to the end of the country’s civil war in 1990, when the warlords and oligarchs launched a campaign to attract the capital of Lebanese expats. These expats were enticed with a glorified tourism ad campaign promising that they could take ownership of their country and rebuild it, a fallacy perfectly calibrated to tug at their heart strings, appeal to their vanity, and suspend their disbelief. Oh yes, yes: This country run by the Assad crime family, whose “statesmen” are the very same warlords from the civil war, and where a terrorist organization continues to wage war against its southern neighbor—this country is now, at last, a real, normal state. Bring your money, children of Lebanon, park it in our banks, move your families home, and start businesses here.

The expats bought the dream, and once they’d invested their entire lives in it, they became accomplices in the perpetuation of the lie. Even non-Lebanese foreigners followed suit and moved their dollars and euros, even their families, to Beirut. They all became instrumental in expanding the national Ponzi scheme from mere false advertising into policy advocacy in Washington, D.C., and capitals across Europe. And boy did U.S. and European officials buy into the scam, too. In fact, much of what passes for policymaking on Lebanon in the United States and Europe is premised on the same emotional and sociological impulses leveraged by the tourism ad.

Take, for example, comments from the French and British ambassadors in 2018—a year before the Ponzi scheme was exposed and Lebanon went belly up. French Ambassador Bruno Foucher reassured the Lebanese that President Emmanuel Macron would never allow Lebanon to be destabilized, describing the country as a “model of savoir-vivre.” For his part, the outgoing British ambassador, Hugo Shorter, using the hashtag #beautifullebanon on Twitter, offered his own contribution: “Lebanon … is an exceptional country. There’s no other country like it in the world that I’m aware of.” Between skiing in the morning and swimming in the Mediterranean in the afternoon, you see, you don’t even notice the garbage overflowing in the streets. “There is a complexity here, which is, from a professional point of view, very stimulating,” Shorter went on. Just make sure you bring U.S. dollars and deposit them in Lebanon’s exceptional, stimulating banks.

Shorter’s tourism ad testimony went on, reflecting the Lewis Carroll-like, smoke and mirrors, mind-altering and reality-warping nature of his host country: “When I first arrived, I felt it was a bit like looking at a kaleidoscope that was constantly changing … its complexity is such that there are many different levels of reality and dynamics that are overlapping.”

One Comment

  • Yeah. I remember how people I knew on University would gush over and talk about their trips to Beirut like it´s the most normal thing in the world – like travelling to Mallorca – and then they would look at me like I´m out of my mind for travelling to Israel.

    Reply

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