Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
Originally published in Middle East Eye
Dire economic conditions continued to worsen amid COVID-19 outbreak despite govt efforts to soften impact; anti-govt protests mid-April resumed in Tripoli city and capital Beirut. Govt 1 April announced emergency support of 400,000 Lira for particularly hard-hit families; Central Bank next day instructed banks to pay out small depositors at rate near real value of Lebanese Lira, raising concerns about further devaluation of currency; Lebanese Lira continued to depreciate throughout month, 27 April reaching 4,200 to the dollar on black market. Leaked govt economic reform proposal early April sparked controversy over plans to use large deposits to cover banking losses. Meanwhile, Hizbollah announced plan to rely on 20,000 volunteers, 4,500 doctors and nurses, and 32 health centres across country to help counter COVID-19 spread. Reports 22 April of first COVID-19 case in al-Jalil Palestinian refugee camp, which hosts 9,400 people, in Bekaa Valley raised fear of wider spread among vulnerable population. Govt 9 April extended nationwide state of emergency until 26 April, thereafter announced five-phase plan to end lockdown with 27 April opening of some businesses. Six months after mass rallies first erupted over corruption and economic hardship, several hundred anti-govt protesters 17 April returned to streets in Tripoli in defiance of lockdown to demonstrate against soaring food prices leading to death of one protester on 27 April. Protesters 21 April drove around Beirut in cars to express discontent with political leadership; protestors 24-28 April launched wave of firebomb attacks on banks in Sidon, Tyre and Tripoli reportedly in response to currency deterioration.
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
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.
[The Trump administration] is content allowing Israel to take the lead in pushing back against Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria.
The real risk [for Israel and Lebanon] is that of a miscommunication or accident being a trigger of a conflict across their border.
[The return of Assad’s forces to the border] has the potential of creating a more united front of resistance between Lebanon and Syria against Israel.
Hezbollah thrives on its position of being a state within a state, an alternative provider for all kinds of things [when Lebanon's political institutions are weakened].
Hariri as [Lebanon's] Prime Minister created the impression that coexistence with Hezbollah and by extension with Iran was possible; his departure is designed to erase any doubt.
For months now, [Israel] has been sounding alarm bells about Hezbollah’s and Iran’s growing footprint in Syria, and about the Lebanese capacity to produce precision-guided missiles.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
The Israel-Lebanon border has been relatively quiet for the past 13 years. The latest tit-for-tat threatens the balance.
Originally published in The American Prospect
Lebanon’s elections yielded few surprises, says Crisis Group’s Lebanon, Syria and Iraq Project Director Heiko Wimmen in this Q&A. Hizbollah is slightly stronger and its main rival weaker. But the polls do represent a return to normalcy.
With the U.S. threatening a retaliatory response to apparent chemical attacks in Syria and escalating tensions between Israel and Iran, Crisis Group has raised the threat of confrontation to the highest possible level in its early-warning platform the Iran-U.S. Trigger List.
Eight members of International Crisis Group’s Council and Ambassador Council joined a trip to Lebanon alongside Crisis Group staff in November 2017 to examine the consequences of the Syrian war since 2011. In this op-ed and an accompanying video, Crisis Group supporters from the Council reflect on the Syrian refugees they met and Lebanon’s increased fragility as a result of its enormous new burdens.