01/16/2024, 11.30
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Demographics, internal crisis and Gaza war: Lebanon risks self destruction

by Fady Noun

Without a president for 14 months, the country of the cedars is undergoing a socio-political process of implosion. According to one (alarming) study, Syrian refugees who entered in 2012 could, within 15 years, account for half the population. And at the southern gate, a front has opened up between Hezbollah, a state within a state, and Israel.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - Without a head of state for 14 months, crushed under the demographic weight of Syrian refugees and a conflict on the southern border with Israel, is Lebanon about to self-destruct? By 2038, the Lebanese will represent only 52% of the population, according to a recent study on the demographic situation of the Land of Cedars and its probable evolution published in L'Orient-Le Jour on January 11th.

Drafted by the former Minister of Labor Charbel Nahas, the document highlights the "will to ignorance" of a State which, without the keystone (the presidency) - upon the expiry of Michel Aoun's mandate on 31 October 2022 - has fragmented into several decision centers. A fragmentation of powers and structures that, with difficulty, try to manage the country while trying to maintain a superficial legality.

Arab Spring, Syrian immigration

The authors of this study with alarming contents warn that one of the main objectives is to draw the attention of managers and government institutions to the difference in fertility rates between the two populations. In fact, the current number of Syrian refugee children between the ages of one and four is double that of Lebanese children.

The current demographic imbalance dates back to the period 2010-2020. A first turning point occurred in 2012, with the emergence of the so-called "Arab Spring" in Syria which then degenerated into a civil war (and by proxy) between rebel militias and the army loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. Lebanon has suffered the shock of the massive arrival of Syrian refugees and their uncontrolled settlement in the four corners of the country, with those responsible completely unaware of the consequences of this demographic invasion. In the years that followed, these refugees brought with them a flood of humanitarian aid, particularly from the World Bank and the European Union.

Unfortunately, and against the will of the Lebanese, this aid was intended to keep them on site until the reconstruction of Syria, hit by American (and Western) sanctions and awaiting a change of direction by the regime, would have made their safe return. A turning point that never happened.

Migration shocks

Of course, this migratory shock is not the first to affect the Land of the Cedars and the Middle Eastern region. However, the massive and unbridled influx of Syrians into Lebanon from 2012 onwards recalls in due proportion that of the Palestinians after the partition of Palestine and the creation of the State of Israel in the two-year period 1948-49. As the Syrian crisis continues, there is a strong risk that the presence of these refugees, like that of the Palestinians at the time, will become permanent.

According to the current Minister of Social Affairs of the Beirut government, Hector Hajjar, in Lebanon there are currently 2.1 million Syrians, or 200 thousand families, while the Lebanese are around five million. This figure does not correspond to the 3.7 million indicated in other tables. And it is precisely this discrepancy that becomes a reflection of the fears of a society, which seems to be increasingly afraid of reality and possible consequences.

The authors of the study, which fueled further concerns and tensions, believe that the Syrian crisis and financial collapse have put an end to an economic system born from the combination of the oil boom of the second half of the 20th century and the civil war. Events are happening “exactly as in an economic system based on the export of natural resources and the consumption of their counterparts, but in the case of Lebanon it is society itself that is consumed,” we read in one passage, which goes on to point out: “ This system was institutionalized in agreements between warlords and billionaires [who made their fortunes] from oil revenues, who hoped to perpetuate it” while keeping the regulatory role of the state to a minimum.

This is precisely what the Maronite patriarchal vicar, Samir Mazloum, fears, who denounces to AsiaNews the "crumbling of the Lebanese state", the stalled presidential elections and the replacement plans. All this at a historical moment in which the massive and unexpected arrival of tens of thousands of Syrian refugees forces the Lebanese authorities to face challenges of all kinds: educational, security, health and economic. Msgr Mazloum also fears the illegal entry of Muslim extremists into Lebanon, with a further phenomenon of radicalisation. “The weapons - warns the bishop - have started to appear! Arms depots were discovered by the army in the Bekaa and Akkar. Of course, these are single weapons, but you never know."

Mgr. Mazloum then deplores the institutional vacuum at the helm of the State and the administrative shortcomings it is causing in the security and justice systems, at a time when, since 8 October, Hezbollah has actively engaged 

nilateral forces in a “low intensity war” with Israel. Contested by the Christian political camp, paralyzed by a hateful feud between its leaders, as well as by the Maronite Patriarch and the Sunni Mufti of the Republic, this conflict "in support" of Hamas in Gaza has already caused the exodus of around one hundred thousand Lebanese from the villages border.

Khalaf: a coup d'état

“Lebanon no longer belongs to itself” exclaims MP Melhem Khalaf, who has been locked up in Parliament for several months to ask for the election of the President of the Republic and sees in the reluctance of some of the Shiite tandem to facilitate “a real coup d'etat". Moreover, it is now a fact that, faced with the regional crises that arose following the partition of Palestine, Lebanon's internal unity seems to be increasingly shaken. An element visible in the birth of Hezbollah after the Israeli invasion of 1982, when the entire process of rebuilding a Lebanese state seemed about to restart.

Since then this party - closely linked to Tehran - has been transforming itself into a state within a state, parasitizing the country's defense policy and foreign affairs, as well as its economic and judicial apparatus. To all these burdens is added today the weight of the presence of Syrian refugees, welcomed inconsiderately. Alain Bifani, former director general of Finance, who coordinated the drafting of the study in question, claims that this is a wake-up call: "We cannot allow - he adds in the final note of Charbel Nahas' work, which recommends concrete measures to stop the bleeding of departures - Lebanon to self-destruct”.

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