Syria and Us (Part II)

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Residents of the town of Azaz, north of Aleppo, gather around the remains of tanks in front of a bombed-out mosque on 17 August 2012. (Photo: AFP - Phil Moore)

By: Ibrahim al-Amin

Published Sunday, August 19, 2012

Of all the Arab and neighboring states, Lebanon and the Palestinian people will remain the most affected by the Syrian crisis.

The Palestinians must wait for whatever consequences Syrian events push onto them. The official Palestinian Authority does not care whether the regime in Damascus falls. Its total dependency on the West and on the occupation gives it an interest in seeing a blow struck to a central backer of its rivals, the forces of resistance.

The Palestinian forces of resistance, notably Hamas, have been adrift since the outbreak of the Arab uprisings. Suddenly, the mentality of the Muslim Brotherhood took over from the “new thinking” that led to the emergence of Hamas. It is no longer clear precisely what Hamas’ strategic choice is. Is it resistance – which would mean, among other things, preventing the overthrow of the Syrian regime? Or is it to maintain calm while banking on major political changes on Palestine’s periphery to make the battle to overthrow Israel easier— essentially, to mark time?

The problem is that it does not stop there. The Palestinian people themselves are now lost. Everyone thought they had learned from the Lebanon experience, abandoned the logic of “the road to Jerusalem passes through Beirut” (or Amman or elsewhere), and started with the 1987 and 2000 intifadas to focus on direct resistance inside Palestine. But now we are seeing a reversion to the old logic, though the slogan has become less specific: “the road to Jerusalem passes through the downfall of the regimes.” In Syria, active opponents of the regime among the resident Palestinians have dared put it more bluntly: “the road to the liberation of Palestine passes through the downfall of the Syrian regime.”

The danger here is not only of Palestinian priorities becoming unfocused. It is that Palestinian refugees, in every Arab country, get dragged into the internal problems of these states, in a manner that touches on the fundamental question of their sovereign status. Instead of wanting to seize the moment to improve the conditions under which Palestinians reside in this Arab country or that, one gets the sense that the Palestinians are becoming increasingly embroiled in domestic quarrels which ultimately have a confessional or sectarian basis.

Thus, instead of continuing to help protect our Arab identity as an antidote to such divisions, a substantial proportion of Palestinians have turned into an active part of those divisions. The folly of those who take this approach lies in their belief that because their Arab identity did not make them first-class citizens where they live, they need to resort to their religious identity to enable their complete integration. This is untrue, as will become apparent in all states of the region, where Palestinians will be no better off than in Jordan or Lebanon.

And what about us, the people of the great country of Lebanon?

A great disaster is likely to occur in Lebanon, the illusory entity which history teaches us – and we are reminded every day – amounts to nothing without a free Palestine and without a stable Syria. Lebanon is being steadily led, by its own citizens even more than by foreigners, in the direction of total collapse: to where there is no longer any state or any talk of partnership or amity and where factions of every kind – sectarian, confessional, regional, tribal, clan and local – prevail.

The Lebanese have all, without exception, involved themselves in the internal Syrian struggle. This shows that they continue to acknowledge a basic truth: the way Syria is ruled determines how Lebanon is ruled. But instead of using the Syrian crisis to unite, albeit temporarily, and try to stem the bloodletting, the Lebanese were quick to flex their muscles, display their expertise in civil warfare, infighting and hate-mongering, and put forward their iniquitous ideas regarding sabotage and partition.

The Lebanese have started to line up in accordance with their divergent interests under a nominally Lebanese flag. Indeed, they have brought all their latent factionalism and hatreds out into the open. They have begun more quickly than expected to mirror the ugly face of the Syrian crisis – in terms of sectarianism and brutality -- in preparation for fresh rounds of futile warfare.

Their services have not been confined to the provision of advice. We have seen some Lebanese take on the dirtiest of roles, aimed at ensuring either that Lebanon is divided along the same lines that end up prevailing in Syria, or – if the Syrian crisis ends with a winner taking control of the government and country – that one group rules Lebanon.

The Lebanese persist, even when they know that any political upheaval is liable to push at least around three million displaced Syrians into Lebanon – whether workers, poor people and marginalized rural dwellers; capitalists wandering in search of a bank or investment haven; or members of minority groups seeking safety.

The Lebanese persist, ignoring how closely their real economy is tied to a shared consumer market with Syria. Around a quarter of a million Lebanese can no longer obtain their basic food needs at Syrian prices. Around half a million can no longer benefit from Syrian energy and health sector subsidies. The coming season will see food and diesel being smuggled in an eastward rather than westward direction for the first time.

Also losing out will be poor people living along the length of Lebanon’s border with Syria, who only ever obtain treatment at Syrian clinics, and will no longer be able to buy Syrian–made medicines at less than half the price in Lebanon. Lebanon will also lose the re-export market for around one quarter of the foreign goods it imports which are earmarked for smuggling to Syria.

In return, Lebanon will gain additional stockpiles of weapons and explosives, and thousands of fighters coming to rest or settle. The new Lebanese-Syrian intermingling will cause additional angst over the country’s sectarian and confessional composition, and nobody will benefit from this game except a few thousand Lebanese, such as warlords and people traffickers.

The greater risk, however, lies in the willingness of the March 14 camp to render services that go beyond Syria, and entail stoking confessional strife in order to drag Hezbollah into the domestic Lebanese fray. The aim is not to engage the party in a fight, whose outcome they know in advance. It is to make it behave as though Israel is not the sole enemy against which energies and resources should be mobilized.

This will be accompanied by an attempt to repeat Kamal Jumblatt’s historic mistake, when he decided to isolate the Christians in the name of isolating the Phalangists. We are hearing the same today, in a refrain which advocates isolating the Shia in the name of isolating Hezbollah.

We should bear in mind, too, that in the Lebanese arenas, the street will not be led by groups or figures of the kind who hold out the prospect of a new Lebanon – but of the kind of filth which we failed to sweep away when the end of the civil war was announced.

Ibrahim al-Amin is editor-in-chief of Al-Akhbar.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.


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