Lebanon's loneliness in the face of the Syrian refugee crisis: three worrying scenarios

Syria is in the grip of the humanitarian crisis most important of the XNUMXst century. Almost half of the country's population has fled the fighting: 6,6 million people have been displaced within the country and 4,9 million have crossed borders. These refugees are mainly distributed among in neighboring countries, especially at home, in Lebanon.

Che small country of 4,5 million inhabitants officially welcomed 1,011 million people and probably much more if you count the refugees who are not registered. It is as if Australia welcomed 5 million refugees, France 15 million, the United States 80 million or the European Union 120 million ...

At this level, it is all the country's infrastructure, health and education that are destabilized. And, in a multi-faith country like Lebanon, political balances are also threatened.

Caregivers and aid workers in the Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp where clashes broke out with extremists in early April.AFP

What scenarios can we draw for the future of these refugees within Lebanese politics? We looked at this question as part of of a study carried out in 2016.

The objective of the method followed was to produce contrasting medium-term scenarios (2030), including a “desirable” scenario, and to identify the path to follow, including the pitfalls to be avoided, in order to achieve the latter. We thus ended up with three alternative scenarios, which we respectively entitled “Phoenixia”, “Sarajevo Beach” and “Boot Camp”.

“We are all refugees” reads the banner during a demonstration to welcome Syrian refugees in Beirut, in July 2016.Joseph Eid / AFP

Curiously, the exercise only allowed the emergence of more or less “gloomy” scenarios, the desirability of which actually fluctuates according to the interests of the stakeholders concerned.

Possible Lebanese renaissance

“Phœnixia” is based on the hypothesis of a decrease in the number of refugees and a strong central power. This scenario envisions a Lebanon that is gradually secularizing and developing under the impetus of donors who make their financial assistance conditional on greater integration of Syrian refugees.

To appreciate the challenges of this scenario, it should be noted that 17 communities nuns coexist in Lebanon. Following the National pact of 1943, an unwritten agreement, traditionally recognized as the constitutive charter of Lebanon, they share the political and administrative positions including the highest state offices, according to very specific criteria including demographic weight. Thus, it is defined in the pact: “To the Maronites, the Presidency of the Republic, keystone of the Constitution promulgated in 1926, and the command of the Army; to Sunnis, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers; to the Shiites, the Presidency of Parliament; to the Greek Orthodox, the vice-presidency of the Parliament ”.

In this context, the population census carried out in 1932 continues to be authoritative. Despite an obvious change in balances, due in particular to fertility differentials, no new census has been carried out so as not to call into question the national pact. However, the integration of hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees belonging mainly to the Sunni Muslim community is able to shatter the myth of a maintained confessional balance.

A Christian Maronite father celebrates mass at the top of the slopes of Mount Lebanon and pays homage to Saint Maron on February 9, 2017. Seventeen religious communities cohabit in Lebanon.PATRICK BAZ / AFP

To abolish this threat, it seems logical to neutralize the religious factor by secularizing the system. The integration of Syrian refugees should no longer pose a problem insofar as their religious identity would no longer be a political issue. The answer is obviously not that simple. Indeed, Lebanese politicians derive their prerogatives from the community logic in place and the current system gives religious leaders significant secular power by granting them exclusive jurisdiction over any issue that concerns of the law relating to personal status. These actors can only oppose - with very likely success - the abolition of the denominational system envisaged by this scenario.

Rising tensions

"Sarajevo Beach" is located at the antipodes of "Phœnixia". It is based on the hypothesis of a weak central power overwhelmed by the increase in the number of refugees, leading to a sharp deterioration in the socio-economic conditions of migrants as well as of the populations of host regions.

This situation increases the security tensions that are already manifesting themselves in certain regions, in particular in the Bekaa plain, causing a migration of Syrian refugees to Lebanese Sunni Muslim areas which are theirs more favorable in northern Lebanon. Far from settling the socio-economic question, this population movement is therefore amplifying it in specific areas, to the delight of local bosses. Indeed, since the civil war which bloodied Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, the country's militias draw on the weakened layers of the population to form troops.

Place des Martyrs, Beirut, 1982. James Case / Flickr, CC BY

This massive influx of potential recruits is therefore capable of pushing certain parties into confrontation. To prevent this conflict from leading to a new massive exodus of refugees to Europe and the Gulf countries, the international community will then have to intervene to make Lebanon an international protectorate, like Bosnia-Herzegovina or Kosovo. .

The last scenario, "Boot Camp" is a scenario of type business as usual, in which we have confined ourselves to prolonging the current situation. We have therefore adopted the hypothesis of a declining number of refugees, but of a central power which remains weak and above all, unwilling to act. Over time, this inaction inevitably leads to a very sharp deterioration in the situation: Lebanon is entering a recession, hotbeds of insecurity are increasing, the security crisis is coupled with a political crisis ...

To escape the looming chaos, the Lebanese economic elites then favor a military coup aimed at preventing the collapse of the country and their businesses. The military took power and the international community, more concerned with stability than democracy, helped them to redress the situation.

What do these scenarios bring?

These scenarios clearly show that Lebanon's main problem lies in the obsolescence of its confessional system and not in the more or less massive presence of Syrian refugees that each political current tries, in its own way, to instrumentalize.

Christmas decorations on the Place des Martyrs, December 2016.Joseph Eid / AFP

In doing so, we have undermined a myth circulating in Lebanon, that of a legendary resilience of Lebanese institutions, able to cope with all crises.

A confirmation of our projections also appears: Lebanon is alone. Its fate worries only because of its consequences on the rest of the world: if this dark country, the neighboring States and Europe must prepare for a massive influx of refugees, Syrians… and Lebanese. For now, theEuropean Union is content to provide him with economic aid which allows him to hold, but not to develop or even, to imagine a future.

The ConversationClearly, the Syrian crisis is indicative of the deep dysfunctions of the Lebanese political scene.

Abdel Maoula Chaar, Head of Research and Development, ESA Business School et Karim Medjad, Professor, National Conservatory of Arts and Crafts (CNAM)

La original version of this article was posted on The Conversation.

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