Sunday, April 06, 2014

Milestone in Lebanon

The one millionth Syrian refugee was officially registered in Lebanon on the UNHCR.  However, this is only the official count, there are probably many more.  When France unilaterally separated Lebanon from Syria in 1920 when it had the Syrian Mandate after WWI, it did so in order to protect the minority Christian population that lived along the mountainous coastal region from the majority Sunni Muslims (similarly Britain unilaterally separated Transjordan from the British Mandate in 1922).  However, now the million Sunni Muslim refugees in Lebanon constitute 25% of the population and have completely reversed the delicate ethnic balance there.  Since there is little or no hope of them ever returning soon to Syria, this will become a permanent major change in the small country of Lebanon.  France also lumped the minority Druse and Shia population of Southern Lebanon in with the Christians, but they have never really cohered into a unified country. 
Apart from the previous civil wars in Lebanon, the civil war in Syria is beginning to spread over into Lebanon.  Hizbollah, the Shia militia, that is the only well armed militia in Lebanon and that is fighting with the Assad regime in Syria, is also active in fighting against the Sunni militias that have taken their war from Syria into Lebanon in order to strike back at Hizbollah.  Given the divisions between the four major faith groups in Lebanon, Shia, Sunni, Christian (several denominations) and Druse, there is almost no possibility that Lebanon can remain stable.  The Sunni Muslim states are pouring money into Lebanon, Qatar is supporting the Sunni extremist groups and Saudi Arabia is supporting the Lebanese Government and Army.  But, the center cannot hold.
Meanwhile there are estimated to be another 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Turkey and Iraq, and the funds needed to clothe and feed them all is totally insufficient.  In Lebanon alone only 14% of the funds needed have been provided.  In Syria itself, the cities are in ruins, except for most of Damascus.  There have been an estimated ca. 150,000 deaths, although this figure may be as high as 220,000, and ca. 5 million internally displaced refugees.  Syria may be partially ruled by the Assad regime, but it is a wrecked country.
In Iraq there is a major split between the western Sunni-dominated Anbar province and the eastern Shia-dominated regions where the Shia-dominated Iraqi government of PM al-Maliki is nominally in control, with Iranian influence and involvement..  The clashes and bombings in the sectarian violence in Iraq are verging on civil war there.  Quite that were artificially carved out by the British and French imperialists.  No-one can at this point predict whether the Sunni or Shia forces will prevail.  Iran is predominant on the Shia side and Saudi Arabia on the Sunni side.  The outcome will have significant consequences for the whole Arab/Muslim world.  The West, including Israel, will be better off to remain on the side-lines and let them fight it out.


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