US PRESENCE IS BACK IN BEIRUT.

Author:Albrecht, Kirk
 
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Kirk Albrecht reports from Beirut on the obvious and fast growing American influence pervading the city.

The American legacy in Lebanon is a painful one for the US government. The bombing of its embassy in 1983, the 240 Marines killed in another suicide bomber's immolation, the kidnapping of Americans like journalist Terry Anderson, and the deaths of others like former American University of Beirut (AUB) president Malcolm Kerr, all gnaw at America's collective consciousness. For many Americans, Lebanon is another word for terrorism, and beginning in 1987, US citizens were banned by the State Department from even travelling there.

But things began to change last August when that travel ban was lifted and, for the first time in almost 10 years, Americans could legally visit Lebanon. More importantly, American businessmen could, once again, strike deals in a country ripe for foreign investment.

Without a doubt, the Americans are back. From banks to restaurants to consumer goods, American presence in Lebanon is greater now than at any time since the Marines pulled out in 1984.

For American business the timing of an end to the travel ban could not have been better. Lebanon still has many infrastructural projects on the drawing board and the economy is starved of investment. In addition, the vast majority of Lebanese under-30 year olds seem to possess an insatiable appetite for all things American.

Since the travel ban was lifted, dozens of American businesses have established offices in Beirut, some as regional headquarters for their operations in the Middle East. Bechtel, Tellabs, Medtronic and Parsons Brickerhof have all set up shop in the hope of getting a foothold in the rebuilding of Lebanon.

Early reports indicate they are making heady gains. For example, Medtronic, a world leader in medical equipment such as pacemakers, is cornering the market for its products in Lebanon. Medtronic was a bit ahead of other US companies, though: regional director of the Gulf & Mediterranean, Alex El Tibi, convinced sceptical managers to open an office back in 1995, anticipating the growth of the market and the lifting of the travel restrictions.

It was a good bet: Tibi, a Lebanese-American, has seen Medtronic sales jump from $1 million to $12 million in less than three years. "Lebanon makes sense for American companies," says Tibi. "The culture is very western, and so many Lebanese are educated in an American system, either in the States or at the American...

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