Economy

Qatar a lifeline for many Lebanese as economy sinks

By Sultan al-Barei

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Workers at Qatar's al-Udeid air base on July 8 load packages of humanitarian aid being sent by Qatar to Lebanon aboard a Qatar Emiri Air Force Boeing C-17A Globemaster III military transport aircraft. [Anne Levasseur/AFP]

RIYADH -- As Lebanese nationals figure out how to survive amid the country's political, economic and financial collapse -- a state of affairs that many blame on Hizbullah -- thousands are searching for opportunities outside their country.

Many have found Qatar to be a welcoming port during the storm, with the Gulf state facilitating their travel procedures and extending job opportunities.

Meanwhile, Qatar also has been providing critical aid to some vital institutions in Lebanon to help the country weather the crisis.

"The collapse of Lebanese government institutions came as a natural result of a political situation that stemmed from the absence of state control and the shift to certain parties," said international affairs researcher Mahmoud Abdel Moneim.

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Lebanese and Qatari officials at Beirut airport pose for a photograph as Qatari aid is delivered to the Lebanese army in September. [Qatari Foreign Ministry]

Hizbullah and its allies now control the political decision-making process, he said, which has left Lebanon increasingly isolated from its Arab neighbours, its main pillar of support in the aftermath of the civil war.

In response to deteriorating economic conditions in Lebanon, Qatar affirmed its support for the Lebanese people "and dispatched aid to vital sectors to maintain the minimum capacity needed to continue functioning", he told Al-Mashareq.

"Qatar also sends monthly aid to the Lebanese army to enable it to preserve civil peace, seeing as the Lebanese army's... collapse would plunge Lebanon into chaos," Abdel Moneim said.

"This is in addition to providing medical aid periodically, and supporting the education sector and providing scholarships for Lebanese students," he said.

Longstanding support

Qatari support for Lebanon "is not an emergency response" to the crisis the country is now facing, Abdel Moneim said, as many of the Gulf state's humanitarian institutions already operate in a number of Lebanese regions.

Qatar has a long history of helping Lebanon and its people.

In September, Qatar announced it had taken actions against a major Hizbullah financial network based in the Gulf, in co-ordination with the United States.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the move as underscoring "our extensive bilateral co-operation on countering terrorism finance".

Abdel Moneim noted that in the humanitarian arena, Qatar was one of the first countries to set up an air bridge to provide medical and other aid to the Lebanese people in the wake of the Beirut port explosion of August 4, 2020.

The aid it provided was distributed to all parts of Lebanon, he said.

He noted that Qatar also helped to set up and equip numerous field hospitals in Lebanon during the coronavirus pandemic.

And he pointed to the Qatar-hosted Lebanese National Dialogue Conference of May 2008, which helped bring a peaceful resolution to an 18-month political crisis in Lebanon, with the signing of the Doha agreement.

At that time, he said, Qatar played a key role "in calming the situation and jumpstarting negotiations between the political parties... which led to a state of relative stability in Lebanon".

Opportunities outside Lebanon

Carla Saeed Mahfouz, a Lebanese national who works as a nurse in Qatar, told Al-Mashareq she quit her job at a private hospital in Lebanon because of the rapid depreciation of the Lebanese pound.

This slashed the value of the monthly salary she was receiving in Lebanese pounds and forced her to look for job opportunities outside Lebanon, she said.

On the advice of friends in Qatar, she went there on a tourist visa and soon found a job at a hospital, which enabled her to convert her visa to a work visa.

Though the situation in Lebanon has collapsed, she said, it had been deteriorating for years, "and reaching this stage was inevitable because of the almost total absence of the Lebanese state due to Hizbullah's control".

The party has exercised undue control over the levers of the state, she said, as well as undermined state authority by engaging in cross-border smuggling operations that funnel illegal goods into Lebanon, "especially Iranian medicines".

"Hizbullah's insistence on establishing a state within the state harmed all the Lebanese, who lost their ability to continue," she said.

She noted that hundreds and perhaps thousands of doctors and nurses have left Lebanon in the past two years in search of job opportunities to support themselves and family members who remained in Lebanon.

Lebanese welcomed in Qatar

The Lebanese are welcome in Qatar now, and they have been for years, according to Somaya Mohammed, who lectures at Doha Institute for Graduate Studies' faculty of conflict management and humanitarian action.

"Qatar has received Lebanese [professionals] of all specialisations over the years, and they currently number more than 30,000," she said.

There are signs that this number will rise significantly during the next stage due to the prevailing economic conditions in Lebanon, decline in purchasing power, market stagnation and the closure of many business establishments, she said.

"The sectors of health, tourism, hotels, marketing and trade draw Lebanese youth of both sexes" to Qatar, Mohammed said.

Even on the social level, she added, "the Lebanese are beloved by Qataris" and many occupy prominent positions in the institutions in which they work.

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