Tripoli, the capital of North and second-largest Lebanese city, holds a strategic position on the map, but its current status does not live up to its great potential. Decades of neglection and mismanagement by local and national actors, intertwined with unfavorable historical developments and non-benign foreign involvement, certainly had a major role in leading to today’s predicament, especially from a socio-economic perspective.
The severe and long-lasting economic crisis has reached even more extreme heights in recent times, due to the overall meltdown of the Lebanese economy and the COVID-19 pandemic. The combined fallout of these two factors on an already tragic situation, caused the temporary or permanent closure of many business activities, and consequently a further increase of unemployment and poverty, which have skyrocketed respectively to 70 percent and 60 percent, out of a population of 400,000.
Daily life conditions have become harsher and harsher, and Tripoli’s citizens living in poorer areas are deprived of their most basic and simple rights. In this context, frustration and anger were harbored for a long time, and eventually escalated into the mass demonstrations of the “October Revolution”, fueling the popular unrest until these very days. What to do? To address the socio-economic predicament is of crucial importance both for the present and the future of Tripoli, even more so because that would have a positive impact also on other major challenges to be urgently met, such as violent extremism. In this respect, to bring about a greater welfare for the Tripolitans is not a mission impossible at all. Despite the many hurdles and difficulties, there are indeed many assets to rely upon for local, national, and international investments, starting with Tripoli’s Municipality.
Thanks to its proximity to Tripoli’s population, the Municipality is the best-placed actor for the implementation of economic development projects, targeting the most relevant sectors in the city. Alongside the Municipality, another asset is represented by the non-governmental organizations, which are already working hard in the humanitarian field to address basic needs and services, especially in the most deprived neighborhoods. However, to upgrade their role, the non-governmental organizations should focus more closely on the provision of job opportunities for the youth to tackle unemployment.
Tripoli’s young people are an asset themselves, and they should be enabled to initiate small sustainable businesses, in order for them not to leave their birthplace and go elsewhere in search for work. Sectors in which it is worth investing to promote youth entrepreneurship in Tripoli are food and beverage, since imports are becoming too expensive and out of reach for the majority of people; fashion and crafts, since all the necessary material can be found locally and at affordable prices; information and communications technology (ICT), which offers a large number of opportunities suitable for young graduates, such as designing, software engineering, and e-commerce (related to the expansion of local logistics and delivery companies as well).
Other valuable assets to relaunch Tripoli, and North Lebanon at large, as vital and attractive areas for economic development, are the city’s infrastructures, first and foremost the renown “Rashid Karami International Fair”. The fair is the largest state-owned property in Lebanon (almost 2 million square meters), but it remains closed after 35 years. The economic return of such a huge facility is nihil. Rather, it costs money for maintenance without being utilized, although it could offer up to 2,000 jobs.
Another vital asset is the marine port. However, its cargo section is now being operated only for 30 percent of its actual capacity, and the free zone has many empty or misused hangers. A proper management would instead enable the port to become a great attraction for the investments of local and foreign companies.
Tripoli has also the water refinery facility, which is ready to be launched but still inactive, due to the political and regional disputes. This refinery can provide up to 400 to 500 jobs. As for the “Klayaat” airport, it was designed for the civil aviation, but it continues to be employed just for military purposes. “Klayaat” has wider runways than Beirut’s airport, and thus can receive a larger number of aircrafts. If managed properly, the facility would be capable of providing up to 10-12,000 jobs, catalyzing development in the whole northern region (Akkar).
Among Tripoli’s valuable infrastructures, we can count the historic Citadel and the old Souk as well, which can be turned into a major touristic income. The Citadel features two museums holding relics from different eras, and the Souk’s significant and beautiful religious sites, both Churches and Mosques. Moreover, Tripoli holds a unique position has a seaside city, facing the so-called “Seven Islands”, and not far from Lebanon’s northern mountains.
Against this background, it is clear that there is no shortage of assets for Tripoli to revive its economy and social fabric. The will of Tripoli’s citizens, first and foremost the new generation, ensures that the energies needed to bring this process to fruition are not missing either. What is still missing, unfortunately, is the political will, but Tripolitans will keep advocating for change until the “Revolution” is accomplished.