DUBAI: When the UAE set about planning Expo 2020 Dubai, the organizers had one important goal in mind – to ensure that every country is represented, regardless of its size, wealth or current social and political situation. This commitment made it possible for crisis-ridden Lebanon to take part.
It was only in May 2021, following the 2018 decision of the Lebanese Council of Ministers to authorize Lebanon’s participation in Expo 2020 Dubai, that the Lebanese Ministry of Economy and Trade signed an agreement with the Association of Lebanese Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture for the Administration and operation of the Lebanese exhibition pavilion.
The delay was in part the result of multiple overlapping crises. Aside from its political and financial woes, the country has also been hit hard by the global pandemic. These challenges were further exacerbated by the Beirut port explosion on August 4, 2020, which killed hundreds and caused widespread destruction of the country’s capital.
A recent Arab Barometer country report, which surveyed around 3,000 Lebanese citizens, summed up the situation grimly. “The Lebanese are deeply concerned about the future of their country and have miserable assessments of their domestic conditions and government performance,” it said.
“Despite ongoing challenges posed by COVID, which has hit Lebanon hard, economic concerns are the dominant concern for most in the country. The Lebanese are the most pessimistic about their country’s economic future of any country surveyed in the sixth wave of the Arab Barometer.”
Attending Expo 2020 Dubai is nonetheless seen by many in the Lebanese business community as an opportunity to attract investment to a country beset by economic woes 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 represents a real challenge and an unmissable opportunity for the Lebanese business community to network and expand their… expand international reach.”
It is against this background that the Lebanese Pavilion should be viewed – and even celebrated – as its very existence seems like a testament to the strength and resilience of the Lebanese people themselves.
Given the financial and logistical support that the UAE provided to the pavilion designers to enable them to participate, it is also a small monument to solidarity and inclusivity – core values of the World Expo.
The Lebanon Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai is located in Opportunity District. The structure is an austere and relatively unadorned white box, in marked contrast to some of the more lavish Arabic pavilions dotted around the grounds. Interiors are also simple, with a minimalist, modern aesthetic.
Dubai is home to a large Lebanese diaspora who have supported the development and construction of the pavilion. Many more want to join them. According to the Arab Barometer, around half of Lebanese citizens are trying to leave their homeland in order to have better opportunities abroad.
The theme of the Lebanese Pavilion is “Together We Walk” – an invitation to the world to join the collective journey of the Lebanese people, connected to the spirit of Expo 2020’s master narrative “Connect Minds, Shape the Future”.
The pavilion emphasizes the principles of synergy, solidarity and the cultural encounters and connections that create change and opportunity. It celebrates Lebanon’s human capital, its vibrant and thriving arts scene and cultural diversity.
Young Lebanese artists working with different media will be exhibited in the pavilion’s gallery. Content rotates monthly or bi-monthly with different themes in each rotation.
Lebanese ceramic art, in particular, is a medium that has flourished in the last decade. A new generation of artists has emerged from the country’s long tradition of pottery.
The emphasis on the younger generation is well captured by the interactive displays on the ground floor. In one such exhibition, L’Organization Internationale de la Francophonie, a global organization that supports collaboration between nations with large Francophone communities, invites users to record a short phrase in French that might be used in a custom song written by a to be mixed prominent DJ.
Perhaps the most novel and entertaining exhibit in the pavilion is an interactive room full of swings. Usually found in playgrounds, their inclusion in the pavilion is another indication of Lebanon’s desire to highlight the aspirations of its young people. But beyond that, swings represent movement, excitement, flexibility and possibility.
Visitors then proceed to the concept store, which offers a selection of bold and unique Lebanese products for purchase. The collection has been curated with an emphasis on revitalizing traditions, empowering youth, women and local craftsmanship, all with a focus on sustainability.
One export that Lebanon is famous for comes from its grapes. The exhibition pavilion has a bar with more than 19 internationally renowned brands on offer. Tastings and introductions to oenology – the science and study of the subject – are hosted by prominent Lebanese sommeliers and are very 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 produce and promotes organic, eco-friendly practices.
After visitors have eaten, they can step outside into the pavilion’s open-air area, which is almost as large as the pavilion itself and provides a quiet, secret oasis for weary trade show-goers. The space is furnished with tables, chairs and soft cushions, as well as a stage and grandstands where evening performances, music, lectures and workshops take place.
Sitting in this outdoor space and contemplating the eternal hope and pluralism displayed in the pavilion, one can admire the fact that Lebanon has accepted the challenge of participating in such a competitive international event.
As a poetic representation in the pavilion muses: “We wept from our deepest wounds in despair. We gave the world a leap of faith. With a view of the sea we let go. And now we see.”
Lebanon’s participation in Expo 2020 is a testament to that leap of faith. The pavilion is a small but important example of the famous resilience of the Lebanese people.