Emigrant Coming Back Home



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Seven years later his Sept winery launched its first commercial vintage and is now looking to export as a number of European countries take an interest.

The 36-year-old is part of an expanding wine industry which is bringing life back to land abandoned during Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war and waves of economic migration. It is also bringing Lebanese - and their money - back home.


“Giving up a career in Europe... is very hard; it is all because of how much we love this land and how much Lebanon deserves this,” said Harb, speaking in the hills above the coastal town of Batroun.

And as Lebanon wrestles with stagnant economic growth, heavy debts and political inertia, the industry’s success could serve as a model for other sectors looking to export.

Lebanon, where winemaking dates back to the ancient Phoenicians, lies further south than most northern hemisphere wine-producing nations. But the mountains that rise up from its hot, humid Mediterranean coast provide the cooler, drier altitudes grapes need.

Since Lebanon’s civil war ended, a handful of wineries has expanded to around 45 commercial enterprises and a number of small-scale producers.

Grapes are pictured in a farm at Taanayel Monastery, in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, September 15, 2018. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi
Global interest in Lebanon’s wines is growing, but output is low - a mere 8-9 million bottles annually compared to 5-6 billion bottles from the world’s largest producer Italy - and production costs are high.

So producers are striving to create a distinct, marketable identity for Lebanese wine based on quality, not quantity.

“Lebanese wine is already good quality, but it still lacks uniqueness,” said Harb.

Producers are seeking that identity in the diversity of Lebanon’s terrain, creating wines which carry the unique taste of the small patch of soil and air in which the grape is grown.

“If you want to be competitive you have to have a signature and to show some form of your tradition... You cannot impress a guy who had the best wines on the planet with another Chardonnay,” said Eid Azar, a U.S.-trained doctor and co-founder of Vertical 33, which grows grapes across the Bekaa valley and sold its first commercial wine in 2017.

“Each winery should have a story to tell,” he said from his tasting room in a hip Beirut street, next to a wall display of soil samples and grape names.

The wine industry’s success means the agriculture ministry wants it to be a model for improving the olive oil and arak sectors. Arak is a traditional aniseed-flavored liquor.

Slideshow (26 Images)
Producers are also looking to indigenous grapes for a Lebanese identity, moving away from imported, well-known French vines.

“People used to ask me: You in Lebanon have been making wine for more than 4,000 years, why do you use foreign grapes?” said Joe Assaad Touma of family-run Chateau St Thomas in the Bekaa, which is celebrating 20 years of wine-making.

Touma’s family had been making arak from local Obeidy grapes for 130 years and proved through genetic testing it was indeed indigenous.

Chateau St Thomas made its first all-Obeidy wine in 2012. Both Sept and Vertical 33 also market an all-Obeidy wine.

Although the industry’s size is estimated by Lebanon’s wine production association UVL to be only around $500 million a year, the local impact of new wineries can be transformative in a country with poor regional development and job prospects.

Almost 20 years ago Naji Boutros gave up a finance career in New York and London and returned to his birth village of Bhamdoun to raise his family and grow wine. The village, a former summer tourism hotspot near the capital Beirut, had been decimated in the war which drove him and many others abroad.

“When we returned to Bhamdoun there was nobody here,” said Boutros. “The school used to have 30 students and now it has above 200, the town is full.”

He started with three plots of inherited land. Other expatriates began offering their unused land for planting and the Chateau Belle-Vue winery, restaurant and guesthouse developed, bringing life back to the hills and attracting tourists.

Although Lebanon’s wine industry often uses cheap Syrian labourers for harvesting, the workers picking grapes in the cool September dawn air were all local.

“We are proud... that the sons of Bhamdoun are on their land,” said Boutros.

Lebanon wines bring villages back to life and emigrants home | Reuters

Nice story. nchalla all emigrants return back home.
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  • Aoune32!


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    BEIRUT: There has been lot of speculation and theories put forward to explain the surge of private deposits in Lebanese banks, despite the near-zero GDP growth and astronomical rise of the budget deficit. According to recent figures, private deposits grew by $4.6 billion in the first eight months of 2018 $3.3 billion of which were in U.S. dollar currency.

    This brought the total customer deposits to nearly $175 billion.

    But the question many have asked is: Is this growth in private deposits mainly due to new money coming in from overseas, or is it the result of accumulated interest on these deposits?

    The growth in deposits has become a key element in financing both the private and public sectors.

    The Lebanese government, which is burdened by an $82 billion public debt, has been counting on the steady growth of bank deposits in order that it can borrow again from the lenders to finance its growing needs.

    Bankers interviewed by The Daily Star agreed that it was very difficult to say if all or part of the growth in deposits can be attributed to accumulated interest on customer deposits. One banker stressed that there is nothing wrong if part of the deposit growth is down to accumulated interest.

    “Let’s say if someone has $100 million in a bank and the interest on them is $5 million, and he didn’t touch the $5 million, than naturally this additional sum will be added to the bank’s balance sheet,” said Marwan Marwan Kheireddin, the chairman of Al Mawared Bank.

    However, Kheireddin said in practice many of the depositors collect the interest on their deposits and don’t usually keep them for any significant length of time.

    In recent months, many banks have offered high interest on Lebanese pound deposits, but on the condition the maturity should be at least six months to one year.

    Some of these banks are even offering 15 percent interest on five-year deposits in Lebanese pounds.

    One of the conditions for receiving this offer is to convert the dollar deposits to pound deposits.

    The idea behind the move was to increase banks’ dollar deposits.

    Kheireddin insisted that the remittances from Lebanese expatriates may also play a part in the growth of deposits, although he admitted there is no clear breakdown of the origin of these deposits.

    “There is no country in the world that measures growth in deposits while taking out the interest paid on these deposits,” he explained.

    Another banker insisted that it was natural that banks include the accumulated interest to the balance sheets of the banks.

    “Interest rates are an income. But to make things more clear the inflow is bigger than the outflow.

    “Many of the depositors are collecting the interest on their deposits and are not keeping [them] for a long period,” the banker said.

    He added that it is difficult to calculate the net growth in deposits.

    The banker estimated that the capital inflow to Lebanon is around $7 billion a year, while the outflow is $4.5 billion leaving a net inflow of $2.5 billion.

    Banks witnessed the biggest growth in customer deposits in 2008 and 2009, with an average growth of $1.5 billion each month.

    Most of this new money came from the Lebanese expatiates, and to a lesser extent, Gulf nationals.

    But this trend ended abruptly after the outbreak of the Syrian war and the sharp fall of oil prices.

    To make matters worse, the slow GDP growth and the failure to form a national unity government has increased the pressure on the banks which have seen net profits fall this year.

    According to the unaudited consolidated net profits of the Alpha Group of banks, profits reached $1.08 billion in the first half of 2018, constituting a decrease of 8.1 percent from net earnings of $1.17 billion in the same period of 2017. The group consists of 15 banks with deposits in excess of $2 billion each.

    Faced with this reality, many banks have resorted to increasing the interest rates in a bid to attract more deposits and reduce spending in general.

    Private deposits surge due to expats, interest

    Eventhough some think that this is a good sign it actually isn't. Most of the money is due to interest which people are getting but the original sum is just sitting there it is not doing anything. The economy is not benefiting from it. There is no country in the world that offers 15% Interests on its local currency. That is just outrageous. We are nearly hitting 200 billion in deposits. The government needs to have a plan to reduce its debt. The debt should be reduced by 2-3 billion every year for at least 15-20 years. The banks should be giving the local government this money for little or no interest. It won't actually affect the banks as such.


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    BEIRUT: A Lebanese-born surgeon based in the United States is pioneering groundbreaking robot technology to operate on patients with prostate, bladder and kidney cancer. Collaborating with robotic engineers, Dr. Jihad Kaouk recently came up with the SP Robot, which is capable of conducting complex operations with a single incision, he told The Daily Star. Operating at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, he has successfully used the technology in nine operations so far.
    A graduate of the American University of Beirut’s medical school, Kaouk began his career as a researcher in the U.S. in 1999.
    Soon after joining Cleveland Clinic as a fellow, Kaouk started his own practice and pioneered robot-operated surgeries on organs in the abdomen. He describes himself as a “first-generation robotic surgeon.”
    The goal of the new SP Robot, according to Kaouk, was to minimize the number of cuts made to the patient’s body, making the medical procedure less painful for the patient. The innovative technology, produced by SP Robotic Works, requires “slim instruments,” which “branch out inside the patient’s body,” allowing Kaouk to operate through narrow areas between the legs, rather than making cuts to the belly. This technique renders the entire procedure easier and the recovery quicker.
    Kaouk is the director of the Center for Robotic and Image Guided Surgery at Cleveland Clinic, which has been the first medical institution “to acquire the robot and do the surgery successfully.” But because the robot is also commercially available, Kaouk is confident that many institutions will soon follow suit. He says medicine will find usages for the robot in other fields of surgery, such as bone marrow transplantation, even though for now the prospect is “futuristic.”
    None of the cancer patients Kaouk has operated on have had complications so far, and the clinic is continuing to monitor their health. The surgeon says that following a successful debut, he is now relying on the new robotics to operate on several patients a week.
    As a doctor and an academic who has collaborated with robotics centers in Lebanon, Kaouk believes that the technology will one day arrive in his home country. “Lebanon likes to be on the pioneering edge of medicine,” he said.

    excellent work!!