The Lebanese Diaspora: From Passive to Retaliatory

Mohammad Al-Abbas
Research Affiliate, IMS



Diasporas are often depicted to have a positive impact on their homeland, country of residence, and the relations between the two. A growing body of literature credits the diaspora as a facilitator of trade, knowledge transfer, investments, and a focal point of migration networks. In fact, diasporas have been shown to have a structural effect on migration networks, as the presence of a migrant group lowers the migration cost for the next group and this effect continues as long as the benefits outweigh the costs. The family reunification program is, perhaps, the most utilized program that allows diaspora to ease kin-migration. Even in Canada, one of the most selective countries, 40% of immigrants entered under the family reunification and refugee programs, rather than selective employment programs. The family reunification program is one example of a slew of policies born from a diaspora’ sphere of influence within their country of residence. Diasporas’ financial, social, or educational success has enabled them to leverage their country of residence in favor of their homeland.

The implicit assumption of such optimistic literature is that diasporas want to improve their homeland. While generally, diasporas feel positively towards their homeland, negative experiences can distort their perception and feelings. It is important to note, that a diaspora is constituted of individuals who chose or were forced to migrate out of the country. Whether they were dissatisfied with their standard of living, or had to find opportunities abroad, such experiences can muddy and bias the diaspora against their homeland. Therefore, imposing a positive role on the diasporas without factoring in their emotional and sentimental view of their homeland is counter- productive. It becomes imperative to study the circumstances that led to a diaspora’s migration and subsequent formation, before analyzing its effect on migrant networks or homeland.

Recognizing a diaspora’s conditional support of its homeland provides new insight on migration networks and the diaspora itself. Although diasporas are not homogenous, as individual migrants come from different socio-economic backgrounds, educational backgrounds, and religions, they are often acting as an entity to present a united front for both their homeland and country of residence. Diasporas are, functionally, their own invisible nations with independent push/pull dynamic. This autonomy allows the diaspora to impede or facilitate migration networks, direct migrant flow from their homeland, and influence both their countries’ push and pull factors.

This theoretical understanding of diasporas can be validated through a meso-level investigation of the Lebanese diaspora. The investigation is carried out with two temporal distinctions in mind: (1) the diaspora’s behavior prior to October 17th, 2019, and (2) the diaspora’s behavior post-October 17th, 2019. The importance of this temporal division is to illustrate diasporas’ behavioral changes in the wake of their homelands’ economic downfall, mass protests, and political turmoil. Throughout both temporal divisions, this piece comments on the diaspora’s influence on migration networks, migration destinations, and the context of the push/pull factors from the diaspora’s perspective. Finally, this analysis ends in answering whether the Lebanese diaspora aims to support, abandon, or cut-off their homeland.

Pre-October 2019

The Lebanese diaspora has shown a heightened desire to remain connected with the homeland. This desire spurred a wave of investments in hopes of reconciling the country’s civil war and aiding the reconstruction efforts. As time went by, diasporic organizations began to substitute state activity, such as building infrastructure and renovating schools. The gaps created by local national actors and political groups were filled by the diaspora. However, these gaps proved to be debilitating to the diaspora itself, as they became unable to act outside the constraints of the fragmented political system in Lebanon. Evidently, their nation-building and reconciliation agenda diverted as diasporic organizations were fully integrated into the sectarian political system. More often than not, these organizations behaved similarly to their political party counterparts – even intentionally or unintentionally reinforcing the divisive power dynamics of the country’s ruling class.

As diasporic organizations reflected the fragmented social society within Lebanon, networks and easements were made available to those within the reach of their diasporic organizations and sphere of influence. Migration networks became inadvertently sectarian, and by extension migratory destinations. Yet, the diasporas remained passive in Lebanese public affairs, with only 47,000 expats voting in the 2018 parliamentary elections. The diaspora’s lack of nation-building initiatives can be explained from their own push and pull perspectives. They benefited economically from the favorable interest rates that Lebanese banks provided, were able to support their family until a time family reunification could be attempted, and for most members of the diaspora Lebanon was a favorite summer destination. As such there were very few push factors that could prompt the diaspora to invest in political change, but rather the political system acted in their favor. During this era, the Lebanese diaspora’s relations with their homeland can be perfectly summarized with a quote from [Professors Jennifer Skulte-Ouaiss and Paul Tabar]: “Most often, the Lebanese diaspora intentionally and unintentionally participates in preventing the building of a national state by unquestionably supporting the major political parties in Lebanon whose ultimate aim is to serve their respective communal interests.”

Post-October 2019

In the aftermath of the October 2019 protests and economic downfall of Lebanon, the diaspora’s behavior and relationship with their homeland has profoundly changed. From a push and pull dynamic perspective, Lebanon has lost almost all of the pull factors that enticed its diaspora. Deposits in banks have been completed frozen with unofficial capital control measures in place. Their families in the homeland are completely reliant on direct remittances to survive. The once vibrant summer vacation destination has been rendered into an economically precarious and dangerous failed state.  While the intent is often not quantifiable, the diaspora has shown increased engagement with Lebanese public affairs. The number of expats registered for the upcoming 2022 elections has increased seven-fold. Diasporic organizations have begun to break away from the fragmented political system by getting involved with local civil society actors.

The diaspora’s sentiment towards Lebanon has drastically changed. They have begun liquidating their assets, moving their money from banks, and according to the most recent world bank data remittances dropped sharply from 7.4 billion in 2019 to 6.3 billion in 2020. The decline in investments and remittances is the economic manifestation of a disappointed diaspora. Furthermore, even migration networks have seen segregation and gatekeeping. What was once a diaspora that facilitated migration has become a selective gauge that is biased against those they deem responsible or complicit with the situation in Lebanon. The growing sentiment among the diaspora is that Lebanon is a failed state and investing in it would be akin to ‘throwing money away’.


The Lebanese diaspora’s relationship with their homeland is complicated to say the least. On one hand, political parties were enabled by direct donations from the diaspora, while on the other hand, the same diaspora is revolting against the political parties using their own tactics. The diaspora’s constraining of migration networks, remittances, and sentiment towards Lebanon depicts a new era of diasporic relations that while different in form than that of the previous era, is still atypical. With the diaspora leaning more towards supporting their families, civil society NGOs, and individuals in need, bypassing governmental and banking institutions has become an enduring trend. Lebanon’s diaspora aims to support the citizen, abandon the structural institutions, and cut-off the government.