Virtual Borders: A Perpetuation of Lebanese Quandary?

Hussein Kobeissy
Research Affiliate, IMS


Ever since the onset of the October 17th uprising, Lebanon has been in a free-fall on political, economic and social levels. Amidst the plunge into the nadirs of uncertainty, many Lebanese have found themselves under the manacles of not only physical boundaries and restrictions, but also virtual ones. Despite their veracity, virtual borders have been rarely addressed in the Lebanese narrative and the media. As such, this short contribution seeks to contest that the amalgamation of layered and intersectional crises has infringed upon the virtual realm – essentially augmenting corporeal misfortunes that plague the lives of every individual who resides in Lebanon. It will do so by first exploring the domains of virtual borders within the cyberspace, and will then present a few cases that are very much pertinent for the elucidation of the Lebanese experience.  

Virtual Reality and Borders

The notion of borders is a rather antiquated phenomenon rooted in historical, spatial-cultural, ideological, normative, economic and agential spaces that span across the limited physical world and infinite virtual realm. Borders within the cyberspace are best illustrated as often clandestine measures that are taken by certain actors (macro-, meso- or micro-levels) to control the informational flow of a form of capital. Virtual borders have mainly arisen due to the existence of virtual property and the respective rights that have been allocated to it, whether by law or consent. As such, in light of the iterative nature of the flow of capital between the physical and virtual worlds, a constellational relationship that is governed by humans can be noticed across both domains. As for the case of Lebanon, state intent and ineptitude amidst the crises will be considered to demonstrate the subject matter. The subsequent section will address the former, whereas the final section will predominantly tackle the latter. An intersection between the two is very much likely, but will be briefly covered and left for future scholarship to address. 

Passport Restrictions and Virtual Borders

At the time of writing, media outlet Al-Monitor reported that in reaction to the mass exodus that Lebanon is currently experiencing, the country’s General Security has initiated passport restrictions to not only curb emigration requests, but also to allocate “limited” resources as deemed apt. These restrictions on issuing or renewing passports encompass presenting proof of valid visas, plane tickets and hotel reservations within the country of destination. Evidently, on the pretense that the state acknowledges resource insufficiency, these e-conditions further exacerbate the situation by requiring hard-earned currency and multiple transactions to reach fruition. The dwindling value of the Lebanese Pound against the US Dollar makes things even worse for a Lebanese individual to secure a passport.

Consequently, because of the crises that Lebanon is undergoing, this state initiative further erects virtual borders in which a pivotal right of citizenship has now become less accessible to the average Lebanese, and exclusive to a selected few. Furthermore, it also exemplifies how the physical issuance or renewal of a passport now infringes upon and rests on the virtual fulfillment of pre-set conditions that are intentionally placed by the state to hinder migration. In essence, this is speculated to raise irregular patterns of migration among those who are unable to meet the ever-restrictive criteria.

Infrastructure and Virtual Borders

Issues of infrastructure and the ineptitude of the Lebanese state to enact structural reforms have left an insurmountable toll on virtual communities within Lebanon. Alongside the online transition due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the scarcity of governmental electricity and internet coverage have proven detrimental to both online services and learning.

Driven by the remnants of the ongoing economic crisis, a perpetuation of capital control can be noted across the virtual realm through severe restrictions on international e-transactions. Basic services and online subscriptions have been rendered a privilege that many Lebanese cannot afford – let alone gain access to should they secure the needed currency. In addition to such a constraint, Lebanese game streamers have been recently complaining that unprecedented power outages have eradicated their virtual escapism from a harsh reality and even their income through engaging in gaming.

As students shifted to online learning during the past year, one cannot but condone the bumpy virtual transition due to issues of infrastructure. Many students have suffered from power or internet outages; thereby, depriving them of attending class. Others have been faced with inadequate internet quota to simply be heard while presenting. The situation has been dire to an extent that many instructors have utilized the 6 PM electricity changeover as a bane to break or engage in an ironic icebreaker pertaining to appeasing the Lebanese reality. Locally, people would relate to these infrastructure issues. Thus, this short contribution has attempted to contextualize the link between the multifaceted Lebanese crises and the rise of relevant virtual borders. By doing so, it has also sought to offer a unique twist on the subject matter by deviating away from merely physical borders of existence.