Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Blog

After the spontaneous arrest of an anti-Syrian cleric in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli for suspected ties to Al-Qaeda, a series of escalating reciprocal protests lead to gun-battles across Lebanon. The convulsion of violence appeared to be an inevitable spillover of the Syrian uprising onto its fragile neighbor.

Though the violence clearly has some basis in the Syrian uprising (and has certainly been framed that way), to what extent is this round of violence a product of Lebanon’s own political environment? Several analysts have weighed in on this question, with a number of different answers.

One of the most interesting interpretations comes from Patrick Galey, who writes about the intersection of economic deprivation and political allegiances in Tripoli: “Behind all of Syria's influence in Lebanon, and underneath a past of political manipulation, the true cause of Tripoli's violent present lies in the city's appalling neglect.”

Galey does an admirable job of breaking down the unique misfortunes suffered by Lebanon’s second-largest city:

Close to 40% of all Lebanon's poor live in Tripoli or the surrounding areas. More than half of Tripoli residents are classed as either "poor" or "extremely poor." Of those families who live in the trouble hotspots of Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen, 82% live on less than the equivalent of £336 per month. Illiteracy and unemployment rates in the city are way above the national average…Compared for example to parts of southern Beirut and the south, where inhabitants worst affected by Hezbollah's 2006 war with Israel have had their homes rebuilt and infrastructure improved, the people of Tripoli receive precious little by way of financial support from either state or private sponsors.

But as Galey is quick to point out, “That is not to say Tripoli has been forgotten by power holders in Beirut. Parties are more than happy to arm partisans in the area and encourage them to "defend" themselves against rival sects. Allowing poverty to continue to disrupt the lives of residents is the best way, apparently, to ensure militia loyalty.”

It’s a compelling narrative that doesn’t necessary explain the entirety of the conflict – after all, the underlying resentments between the parties still originates from somewhere – but offers a much more robust view than the narrow sectarian explanations that are often presented elsewhere.

It remains unclear to what extent Lebanon will be further destabilized by the growing violence in Syria, but all indications point to a steadily-worsening effect as the uprising grows increasingly militarized. It does seem clear, however, that Lebanon’s existing problems of wealth inequality, political instability, and pervasive militarization, will only make matters worse.




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