Decrypting Lebanon: My Time with the Tripoli Special Economic Zone(TSEZ)

By: Shounak Mukherjee

While swimming towards the highest point on the horizon, I took a quick glance at the dusky sky and the alluring turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea, and it struck me at that moment that I was finally in Lebanon, the melting pot of spectacular history & culture in the heart of the Middle East. A land of paradoxes, where no generality in principle or action exists.

I was fascinated by the richness of the country’s heritage, which is clearly illustrated within every facet of its society. The music, food, and most importantly human interaction were where Lebanese history and values came alive. There is also a large amount of evolving intellectual capital that exists among the youth and the significant expat population. Various literary giants have stated that Lebanon enables its visitors a tailored experience depending on the explorer’s intent and their approach to unravel the labyrinth of its maze. It is extremely hard, if not impossible, to codify or rationalize the fabric of this unique state. It is a country where chaos meets beauty and this has enabled the nation’s youth to tackle its existing and future challenges by utilizing local entrepreneurship. In Lebanon, entrepreneurs are the primary drivers of the momentum of successful startups, which are fueling economic development and leading to peace and prosperity.

Upon arriving, I quickly dived into my work for the Tripoli Special Economic Zone(TSEZ). This public-private partnership with the Lebanese government was a visionary endeavor to build a knowledge & innovation hub at the Rashid Karame fair grounds in Tripoli, located at the northern tip of the country. As a started to delve deeper into my interviews, I quickly realized that the revitalization of the city of Tripoli was a complex systemic challenge, which depended upon the critical components of socio-economic advancement, socio-cultural progress, and civic engagement. Unlike many other projects I had worked on before, the use of traditional business methodologies within this system would need to be reworked for clear adaptation. The internship experience gave me the opportunity to observe the inner workings of the political economy within the region and interact with a diverse group of stakeholders across each of the different sectors. Despite the differences in their respective incentivized approaches, there were several commonalities between the narratives of the participants in my research. As Lebanese citizens started transforming into disruptive actors in absence of an efficient system, I began to witness a underground movement to lead change by taking charge of the existing situation, the current one having failed repeatedly.

Most importantly, there was a rallying force which was causing the youth to lay the foundation for a knowledge economy that had the potential to evolve organically. I observed themes of technology leapfrogging that permeated Lebanon’s present environment, drawing upon the focus of its growing middle class, which could be the backbone of the economy going ahead. I remember one of my hostel friends remarking that Lebanon attracts a specific personality that can be comfortable with its singular nature. I, personally cannot wait to go back!

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