DUBAI: When the United Arab Emirates set to work planning Expo 2020 Dubai, organizers had one important goal in mind: to ensure that every country was represented, regardless of size, wealth or condition current social and political life. It is this commitment that allowed Lebanon in crisis to participate.
It was only in May 2021, following the decision of the 2018 Lebanese Council of Ministers to approve Lebanon’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai, that the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade signed an agreement with the Federation of Lebanese Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture. for the management and operation of the Lebanese exhibition pavilion.
The delay was partly the result of multiple overlapping crises. Beyond its political and financial difficulties, the country has also been hard hit by the global pandemic. These challenges were further compounded by the Beirut port explosion of August 4, 2020, which killed hundreds of people and caused widespread destruction in the country’s capital.
A recent national report by Arab Barometer, which surveyed around 3,000 Lebanese citizens, summed up the situation in grim terms. “The Lebanese are deeply worried about the future of their country and have dire ratings about their domestic conditions and government performance,” he said.
“Despite the continued challenges of COVID, which has hit Lebanon hard, economic concerns are the overriding concern for most people in the country. The Lebanese are the most pessimistic about their country’s economic future of all the countries surveyed in the sixth wave of the Arab Barometer.
Participation in Expo 2020 Dubai is nevertheless seen by many Lebanese business circles as an opportunity to attract investment in a country plagued by economic problems and facing regional isolation.
When Lebanon agreed to participate in the expo, the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture said: “Lebanon’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai is a real challenge and an unmissable opportunity for the community. of Lebanese business to network and extend its international influence.
It is in this context that the Lebanon Pavilion should be viewed – and even celebrated – since its very existence seems to be a testament to the strength and resilience of the Lebanese people themselves.
Given the financial and logistical support provided to pavilion planners by the UAE to enable them to participate, it is also a small monument to solidarity and inclusiveness – core values of the World Expo.
The Lebanon Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is located in the Opportunity District. The structure is an austere, relatively unadorned white box, contrasting sharply with some of the more lavish Arab pavilions dotted around the site. Interiors are also simple, with a minimalist and modern aesthetic.
Dubai hosts a large Lebanese diaspora, which supported the development and construction of the pavilion. Many more are eager to join them. About half of Lebanese citizens attempt to leave their homeland for better opportunities abroad, according to the Arab Barometer.
The theme of the Lebanese Pavilion is “Together We Walk” – an invitation for the world to join in the collective journey of the Lebanese people, tied to the spirit of Expo 2020’s main narrative, “Connecting Minds, Creating to come up”.
The pavilion places special emphasis on the principles of synergy, solidarity and on cultural encounters and connections that create change and opportunity. It celebrates Lebanon’s human capital, its vibrant and thriving art scene and its cultural diversity.
Young Lebanese artists, working in a variety of mediums, are exhibited in the pavilion’s gallery. Its content rotates on a monthly or fortnightly basis, with different themes each rotation.
Lebanese ceramics, in particular, is a medium that has flourished over the past decade. A new generation of artists has emerged from the country’s long history of pottery.
The focus on the younger generation is well captured by the interactive screens featured on the ground floor. In one such posting, the International Organization of La Francophonie, a global organization supporting cooperation between nations with large French-speaking communities, invites users to record a short phrase in French that will potentially be used in a personalized song that will be mixed by a renowned DJ.
Perhaps the newest and most enjoyable exhibit in the pavilion is an interactive space filled with swings. As they are normally found in playgrounds, their inclusion in the pavilion is another reference to Lebanon’s desire to showcase the ambitions of its youth. But more than that, swings are representative of movement, excitement, flexibility, and possibility.
Visitors then proceed to the concept store, which contains a selection of bold and unique Lebanese products available for purchase. The collection has been curated with a focus on reviving traditions, empowering youth, women and local crafts, all with a focus on sustainability.
One export that Lebanon is famous for is derived from its grapes. The exhibition pavilion has a bar offering more than 19 internationally renowned brands. Tastings and introductions to oenology – the science and study of the subject – are hosted by prominent Lebanese sommeliers and are hugely popular, often with standing room only.
The restaurant serves Lebanese specialties and celebrates culinary traditions, rural heritage and the natural environment. It is based on fresh products and encourages organic and environmentally friendly practices.
After visitors have eaten, they can step out into the pavilion’s open-air space, which is almost as large as the pavilion itself and provides a secret, quiet oasis for visitors weary of the exhibit. The space is equipped with tables, chairs and soft cushions as well as a stage and bleachers where parties, music, conferences and workshops take place.
Sitting in this outdoor space, reflecting on the eternal hope and pluralism on display in the pavilion, one can marvel at the fact that Lebanon has risen to the challenge of participating in such a competitive international event.
As a poetic display in the pavilion puts it: “From the deepest wounds, we wept in despair. We gave the world a leap of faith. Facing the sea, we let ourselves go. And now we see.
Lebanon’s participation in Expo 2020 is a demonstration of this act of faith. The pavilion is a small but important example of the famous resilience of the Lebanese people.