Lebanon update - August 2012
Wednesday, 22 August, 2012 - 09:55
A number of our supporters have expressed concern about the worsening crisis in Lebanon, linked to the violent uprising in nearby Syria. They have asked about the situation for our partners, and for children which they sponsor in Lebanon.
Lebanon and Syria share a common heritage, having been part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years and both being part of an area known as Greater Syria. Both areas formed part of the French mandate established after the First World War and Lebanon was created as a separate state in 1920, although it was not given independence by the French until 1943. Lebanon and Syria are highly divided along religious lines, and much less heterogeneous than other Arab nations such as Egypt or Jordan. Hence the fear among many observers - and the Lebanese themselves - that the brutal violence in Syria, which has often taken on a sectarian character with Alawites (an offshoot of the Shia sect) set against Sunni Muslims, will eventually spillover into neighbouring Lebanon, which also has significant Shia and Sunni minorities. The Red Cross and other agencies have already declared the Syrian crisis to be a civil war, which brings back to the minds of many Lebanese their own terrible civil war, from 1975 to 1990, which claimed as many as 100,000 lives. Since the gradual end of the civil war in 1990 there has been an uneasy and fragile peace in the country, despite simmering sectarian tensions and a weak and divided political establishment.
So far, the spillover from Syria into Lebanon has been limited in nature and geography, reflecting the desire of many Lebanese to avoid the bloodshed of the 15-year civil war. Occasional sectarian clashes between Alawites/Shias and Sunnis in the northern port city of Tripoli since June 2011 have left over 40 people dead. These have worsened over the last few summer months. More recently there have been clashes in Palestinian refugee camps and a spate of kidnappings by Shia clans, mainly of foreigners from predominantly Sunni countries. As a result, Sunni-ruled Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have urged their nationals to leave Lebanon. There has been no threat to Westerners so far. The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office does not currently advise against travel to Lebanon.
So the violence in Lebanon has been fairly limited and localised to date. As far as we are aware, none of our partners or sponsored children has been affected directly, although the schools have all been on holiday. But all Lebanese worry for the future. As one prominent Lebanese journalist, Rami Khouri, has put it: "The issue of spillover is there... for decades Lebanon has been a shock absorber for Syria.”