Lebanon hosts some 1.5 million Syrian refugees, more refugees per capita than anywhere in the world. International support is needed to keep this fragile country from reaching the breaking point.
President Aoun visited Saudi Arabia 9 Jan and Qatar 11 Jan; relations with Gulf states have been strained since Jan 2016 Cairo summit when Lebanese FM refused to sign Arab League statement condemning Iran and Hizbollah. Hizbollah rejected Syria ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey late Dec over demand for withdrawal of all foreign fighters from Syria; together with regime forces 26 Dec launched attack on main Damascus water source Wadi Barada (see Syria). Senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader 3 Jan denied Hizbollah withdrawal from Syria. Security forces 21 Jan reported foiled suicide bombing at Beirut café.
The fate of the border town Arsal mirrors Lebanon’s many policy failures. The government applies heavy-handed security at the expense of basic services and fair economic opportunities. It should change its policies to become more flexible, accountable and supportive of Syrian refugees – and receive more international help in return.
Lebanon is surviving internal and regional strains remarkably well, but this resilience has become an excuse for tolerating political dysfunction. If the Lebanese political class does not take immediate steps like holding long-overdue elections, fighting corruption and promoting the rule of law, its complacency will only make an eventual fall harder and costlier.
Hizbollah’s intervention in Syria strengthens the Assad regime but transforms the Shiite movement as it redefines the enemy and itself within the confines of an increasingly sectarian struggle.
As the Syrian conflict increasingly implicates and spills over into Lebanon, a priority for its government and international partners must be to tackle the refugee crisis, lest it ignite domestic conflict that a weak state and volatile region can ill afford.
Syria’s civil war is spilling beyond its borders and threatening Lebanon’s stability. More than ever, it is crucial that Lebanon’s leaders address the fundamental shortfalls of their governing structure, which exacerbate factionalism and leave the country vulnerable to the chaos next door.
Although attention naturally is focused on possible ripple effects on Lebanon from Syria’s conflict, it would be wrong to ignore the unresolved legacy of the battle that shook the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp five years ago. The risk of renewed flare-up, already significant, is now compounded by the regional crisis.
After [Hezbollah] had completely entered the fight in Syria, the group was able to convince Shia, but also other communities ... that this is an existential fight and that you have to go all the way.
Aoun's election [as president of Lebanon] is not a magic wand. Certainly the presidential vacancy will end, but it doesn't solve the political crisis, or the stagnant political institutions or the major divisions over domestic and foreign issues, particularly the war in Syria.
Originally published in Al Araby
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Crisis Group Lebanon Senior Analyst Sahar Atrache discusses how Lebanon remains resilient in the face of Syria’s violent collapse – at least for now.
Originally published in Huffington Post