TRIPOLI, Lebanon — He is a revolutionary man, this 46-year-old Sunni, Salafist sheik and father of six with the graying beard, twinkling dark eyes, immaculately ironed thawb and manicured fingernails. He endorses the jihadist-led uprising against the Shia-dominated regime in Iraq and he warns the marginalization of Sunni Muslims will lead to an insurrection in Lebanon, too. “The way they are dealing with us they are pushing us to it,” he says.
Read my full Daily Beast dispatch here.
She is there on the street every morning early and stays there all day until dusk, when the traffic along this street in downtown Beirut falls off. She collects little from Lebanese commuters and the only people who stop and talk with her are the old taxi drivers lounging at the end of the road, who are waiting sadly for fares.
First come the pop of fireworks set off by ultraconservative Sunni Muslims here in Tripoli celebrating news of a bombing in Beirut of a suburb controlled by the militant Shia movement Hizbullah. Civilians start edging away and head for safety as the Lebanese army soldiers lounging on their armored trucks tense and warn reporters now would be a good time to scatter before snipers respond and rocket-propelled grenades thunder down the hill.
Lebanese army soldiers know the drill – they should, having spent months trying to keep the peace here. They fire off rounds from their anti-aircraft guns as a warning but to no avail. Soon grenades are flying and AK-47 automatic gunfire rattles in a chorus of anger.
The aptly named Syria Street in the north Lebanon city of Tripoli has been the scene the past two years of 20 major clashes between Sunni Muslims, who back the rebels in the civil war raging next-door in Syria, and Lebanese Alawi Muslims, who support their co-religionist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The Alawi are an offshoot of Shia Islam.
Read my report for VOA.
Middle East Institute just published a long piece by me on the possible demographic impact on Lebanon from the Syrian refugee crisis. There are a million refugees in Lebanon now — that’s nearly a 25 percent boost in the population of the country. It would be like the U.S. having to absorb 78 million refugees in a two-year-period. Another million could flow into Lebanon by year’s end.
Demography shapes politics, especially in Lebanon. See my article here.
Bekaa Valley, Lebanon.
Bewildered, exhausted, fearful and grieving for family and friends dead in the 27-month-long civil war, Syrian refugees remain bitter about the lack of Western intervention and are skeptical that President Obama’s decision to arm the rebels will come to much and be able to swing the war decisively.
Many now say all they want is the conflict to end, even if that means a negotiated settlement with President Bashar al-Assad. Some worry what Syria will be like if he does fall and fear the influence of political Islam and the Al Qaeda-affilate Al Nusra.
See my VOA report here.
From my piece in today’s Daily Beast:
“The Lebanese have been fearful ever since the civil war erupted next door in Syria that it would spread to their nation and trigger communal fighting within their borders. And with the influx of huge numbers of refugees and occasional clashes in the north between Lebanese sects supportive of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and those opposed to him, such fears have had plenty to feed on the past few months.
Now, a new development could bring sectarian conflict that much closer to Lebanon and have wider repercussions for the entire Arab region: the likelihood of a confrontation along the border between Lebanon’s Shiite armed movement Hezbollah and Sunni fighters with Jabhat al-Nusra, the jihadist militia that has evolved into the most effective rebel formation fighting to oust Assad.”
Read full article here.
And this filed on December 7 and examining the dangers to Lebanon of a spillover from the Syrian civil war.
“No one is suggesting that the clashes have yet reached a tipping point. The government in Beirut has struggled for months to try to limit the repercussions on the country from the vicious warfare raging in Syria and to avoid the that country’s conflict reviving the Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990—a crisis that left 120,000 Lebanese dead and a quarter of the population wounded. But one government minister, Faisal Karami, acknowledged that the situation in north Lebanon is becoming ‘very critical and dangerous.’
Full report here.
I have been very neglectful of the blog the past few weeks and so am updating with four recent articles from Newsweek/Daily Beast. The first is below and was filed from the Lebanon city of Tripoli. It focuses on the trauma affecting the children of the rubble — refugees kids from Syria.
“The children are refugees from war-torn Syria, where fighting is in its second year, and more vicious than ever. The oldest child is 14, the youngest 3, and everyone has been uprooted from their daily lives; from school and teachers; from friends and familiar places. Some have seen relatives killed, friends blown up, or neighbors buried in rubble. But all have witnessed the horror of a country at war with itself.
Media coverage of the Syrian conflict focuses on the tangible: on the shooting and killing, on the tactics and military hardware, on the death toll and the wounded. But the harm is much greater than the estimated number of people killed—36,000 so far. The greatest casualty is the generation of Syrian children who are living with untold grief and trauma.”
You can read the full report here.
“War has stopped time here. It often does that in the Levant. Here in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, a refugee mother is nursing her 17-month-old son, the youngest of her six children. She sits cross-legged on a thin, stained mattress covering one of the three rickety, rusted single beds pushed against the breeze-block walls. This scene and this woman, with her black hijab and brown abaya, could be from any decade in the past half- century—from any of the wars that have repeatedly savaged this region. The knowledge is no comfort to Samr or her family.” Read my report here in the Daily Beast on the plight of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
From my Daily Beast piece on Hizbullah and Syria.
“For months, the challenges have been severe in ferrying the wounded out of Syria for treatment in neighboring Lebanon. The refugees have braved strafing from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s warplanes and risked run-ins with the Syrian army. But in recent weeks, the hazardous jouney to transport wounded rebel fighters and injured civilians from war-savaged Syria has turned more perilous, with increasing intervention along the border by Lebanon’s militant Shiite movement Hizbullah.”