‘Lebanon’s own pathologies have been exacerbated by the bloody crisis next door’ in Syria, writes Emile Hokayem in Foreign Policy, as he examines a deadly conflagration this weekend in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli. Sunni-dominated northern Lebanon has been a welcoming haven for refugees and opposition rebels fleeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite regime. However, Lebanon has a small Alawite minority concentrated in Tripoli, a city also plagued by poverty and state neglect.
Sectarian clashes have been erupting in Tripoli for months, and tensions flared again this weekend when Lebanese authorities arrested a Sunni activist whom they claimed had just returned from taking part in the rebellion in Syria. The General Security Directorate that arrested activist Shadi al-Mawlawi is, Hokayem explains, ‘one of Lebanon’s many competing security agencies, and it is perceived as the internal arm of Hizbullah’. Prime Minister Najib Mikati, a Sunni native of Tripoli, was among those criticising the arrest for lack of due process. However, Mawlawi and five others were still charged on Monday with belonging to an armed terrorist organisation.
There is much enthusiasm in northern Lebanon for the rebellion across the border. Smugglers carry medicines into Syria, and Syrian Free Army fighters cross in the opposition direction to regroup. Meanwhile, there are differences on Syria within the government in Beirut. Shia Hizbullah (whose leader Hasan Nasrallah is pictured in a poster with Assad) wants to see a more forceful state crackdown on anti-Assad activities, while Prime Minister Mikati has been treading a thin line trying to placate both his Sunni constituency and his pro-Assad allies in government.