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The growing instability in Lebanon has been overshadowed by events in Iraq and Syria, but heightened tensions between Lebanese citizens, Syrian refugees, and competing military forces make Lebanon a critical part of the Middle East’s latest security crisis. Lebanon is being put under extreme pressure by the influx of 1.15 million registered Syrian refugees into a country already struggling to meet the basic needs of its citizens. The longstanding political divisions in Lebanon have been compounded by Hizbullah’s intervention in the Syrian civil war. The United States and Saudi Arabia have offered Lebanon emergency military aid, but this neglects the long-term humanitarian nature of the crisis and its effects on inter-communal relationships. What is needed is a long-term strategy to deal with the impact that Syrian refugees have had on Lebanese society and to contain violent outbreaks with sensitivity to the local dynamics from which they have emerged. In order to take an in-depth look at factors that are leading to growing incidents of violence in Lebanon, this Snapshot focuses on the town of Arsal, which has experienced the intense pressures that are threatening stability in Lebanon as a whole.
- Violent conflict in the Lebanese town of Arsal on the border with Syria offers a striking microcosm of the pressure the Syrian conflict is placing on Lebanon.
- Lebanon is struggling to cope with the influx of Syrian refugees, who now make up one fourth of the population.
- The refugee crisis is exacerbating long-standing political and sectarian tensions in Lebanon while the refugees are increasingly resented by the host population.
- The refugees are vulnerable, trapped between competing groups in a deteriorating security and humanitarian environment.
- A military solution to Lebanon’s security crisis is short-sighted; instead, the focus should be on enhanced humanitarian efforts and trust-building between host and refugee populations.
Michelle Obeid is a lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. She has done extensive field research in the town of Arsal since 1996 and is currently writing a book about social and political change in this border town.
Photo credit: M. Hofer, UNHCR Photo Unit