Syrian refugees arrive at a hotel in Bhamdun
Syrian refugees arrive at a hotel in Bhamdun, in the mountains southeast of Beirut. © Anwar Amro - AFP
Syrian refugees arrive at a hotel in Bhamdun
Last updated: May 6, 2013
Jasmine Roman: Syrian elites finding a space in Lebanon

"Syrian elites deal with their stay in Lebanon as a temporary status and they have their own plans of the day they return to their homes"

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A few years ago, a Lebanese friend said: “A Syrian person is equal to a bag of bread, to 25 Syrian Pound.” That statement reflected the perception of many Lebanese who might have failed, for valid reasons, to differentiate between the Syrian regime and the Syrian oppressed people who were not necessarily in agreement with the intervention in Lebanon. The Lebanese fellows would usually perceive the Syrian to be a brutal officer, abusive soldier, vulgar dialect and old-fashioned persona, or cheap and poor laborer.

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The legacy of the Syrian meddling is very heavy and cannot be easily condoned or forgotten by Lebanese people who had suffered turbulence and brutality through the different patterns of the Syrian regime. The Syrian-Lebanese social dynamism has always been interactive and discerning, if not complex enough to mirror the political and economic paradoxes. It is prejudicial to only make a broad inference; yet, the Syrian nightmare has been mushroomed and burdened the hearts and minds of the Lebanese people over the long years.

This finds its ramifications, not only on the displaced Syrians in the refugees’ camps, but also on the well-established families who have settled in Beirut. Albeit, that stratum of wealthy Syrians are willing to pay high rents, enroll their children in private schools, and easily manage the high living expenses; there is some kind of plain bewilderment on whether or not they would be accepted in the Lebanese society.  

It is not difficult for the Syrian’s elites to integrate; they used to regularly visit Lebanon and enjoy the beaches, the nightlife, and the prestigious shopping stores before the conflict. Nevertheless, many now find themselves having to make extra efforts to offer good representation and challenge the misconceptions and prejudice of how Syrians are generally labeled in Lebanon. They often hear their Lebanese peers complaining about the recent Syrian presence, Syrian dialect, the rising traffic, and comparing them with the Palestinian flow.While many Lebanese people feel sympathy for the Syrians, they in parallel feel schadenfreude for experiencing what every Lebanese family had gone through during the civil war; whether losing a family member, fleeing, or suffering distressful times. The Syrian elites deal with their stay in Lebanon as a temporary status and they have their own plans of the day they return to their homes.   

The complication is taken to another level when some Lebanese affiliate wealthy Syrians to the regime and fear that their presence will propagate more Syrian intelligence in Lebanon. They feel threatened with the limited national resources, the new socioeconomic pressure, and the competition on available opportunities. On the other hand, some Lebanese consider the Syrian elites to be another channel of income to the economy as they are able to spend cash money and make their investments. They add that, whether they like it or not, the fate of Lebanon is very much connected to the fate of Syria and they must not create further conflict and reject the Syrians per se.

Fears echoed in the beginning of the conflict that the economy would be harmed by the Syrian crisis, yet further indications demonstrate that more legal and illegal economic interdependence is growing due to the economic sanctions on Syria.

Before the Syrian turmoil, many Lebanese would come to Syria during the weekend and take advantage of the less expensive outfits, fabulous textiles and the touristic places. However, they would never tell their friends that they had done their shopping in Syria; it is taboo and tasteless. Alas, the complexity and inferiority among the Syrians and Lebanese have its historical and strategic roots and the status quo seem to imprint other dimensions to the turmoil on the short, medium and long terms.

A few days ago, a video produced by young Lebanese in Arabic has circulated as a response to the racist campaigns against the Syrian refugees and the call to deport them to their country amid the violence. The young women and men slam the narrative of blaming the Syrian people for old and new deficiencies and shortages of the Lebanese government. In less than two minutes, they address the lack of effective and enforced laws, the fear of the minorities from Syrian settlement, humanitarian aid to the refugees, and the lack of security surrounding their arrival. The youth bash the government for its incompetence in providing energy and resources, and show how the Syrian influx is utilized to substantiate the shortages and negligence. Those voices are essential to mitigate unnecessary tension and social stigmatization that is shaping the nexus between the “two nations”.

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