Lebanese have to set xenophobia aside as they struggle to contain Syrian refugees

Lebanon, swamped by Syrian refugees, is also wallowing in its own xenophobia, a regional writer says. Other topics: Kerry's agenda and Russia's success.

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Lebanese have to set xenophobia aside as their country struggles to contain Syrian refugees
The issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon looks practically insignificant today compared to the ballooning problem of Syrian refugees who have been streaming into the country over the past two years to flee the civil war, wrote Hussam Itani, a contributor to the London-based newspaper Al Hayat, in an opinion article yesterday.
International relief organisations estimate the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon to be 740,000, more than half of whom are children, the author said. However, figures collected by official Lebanese organisations say that the actual number of refugees is more than double the international estimate, given that many refugees do not register with refugee organisations, either because they have family in Lebanon or are staying for limited periods of time, he noted.
"In other words, the number of refugees now is close to half the number of the Lebanese population itself, in a country that is inching ever closer to becoming a failed state, whose apparatuses are collapsing one after the other amid general indifference."
Unfairly, some Lebanese factions have now come to blame Syrian refugees for Lebanon's political, economic and security woes - woes that have, in fact, predated the Syrian uprising.
"Some major forces in Lebanon have developed explicit xenophobia around this issue, among other attitudes. These forces, including the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), are in complete denial . Their hollow, chauvinistic discourse can be clearly observed in their insistence on preventing the establishment of camps for the refugees and on night curfews in the villages under the FPM's control."
The argument behind this xenophobic attitude is that the refugees "threaten the Christian presence" in Lebanon and with it the country's stability, Itani wrote. Never mind that Lebanon was on the brink of a sectarian war long before the Syrian crisis, he added.
To put it bluntly, Syrian refugees today are "suffering from the racism and the sectarianism of the Lebanese, who exploit the plight of the refugees to achieve some gains and exorcise their pathologies and hang-ups," he argued.
"The Lebanese are subjecting the Syrians today to what they made the Palestinian refugees go through before, and what they have Asian and African workers go through today. But, more tellingly, they have also done it to one another. For sectarian racism is an entrenched tradition in Lebanese society and is the basis for the majority of interactions between Lebanese people."
This established racism, which is not a Lebanese speciality and can be found everywhere in the Arab world, has to be uprooted before solutions can be found to the far greater problems that plague the Arab world, the author concluded.
Syrian crisis secured Russia's comeback
Russia is making a powerful comeback into the Middle East through Syria, columnist Samih Saab wrote in the Lebanese daily Annahar.
Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, has become an essential partner in charting the political and military map in the region, marking the end of the US monopoly of the area since the end of the Cold War in the early '90s.
US President Barack Obama must be grateful for how Putin saved him on the issue of Syria's chemical weapons that helped the US to avert involvement in a new war in the Middle East.
As developments accelerated following Mr Obama's announcement of a planned strike on the Syrian regime, Mr Putin skilfully resorted to active diplomacy that eventually succeeded in defusing an explosive and potentially destructive situation.
"It is hard to believe that it was John Kerry's slip of the tongue in London that stopped a strike on Syria. Had Mr Obama not been convinced of the futility of the war, he would not have accepted the Russian offer for the deal that saved his face," the writer said.
"Russia has come back to assume its historical responsibilities to stop the US from engaging in war adventures abroad," the writer said.
The ambassador of the Russian delegation at the UN, Vitaly Churkin, can now confidently say "Russia will keep the world on its toes."
Kerry ignores peace process in Jerusalem
As soon as the US-Russian deal on Syria was announced last week, John Kerry the US secretary of state flew to Israel, where he met with the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. Both men then held a press conference.
Strangely, questions and responses at the conference focused mainly on the situation in Syria. There was no mention of the peace process or the negotiations, the Palestinian daily Al Quds noted in its editorial on Tuesday.
"Mr Kerry exhibited great disregard of the peace cause despite his presence in the very heart of the region and among the parties to the conflict and the talks. This suggests that he doesn't have any real interest or concern whatsoever in the issue."
The only purpose behind the US top diplomat's visit to the region was to brief Israel, the most influential driver of US policy, about the deal, especially that the destruction of Syria's chemical arsenal ultimately serves Israel.
"Kerry didn't mention such issues as illegal settlements, Judaisation efforts, desecration of holy sites, confiscation of lands and the segmentation of the West Bank in a way that obliterates any hope for an independent Palestinian state. He focused only on Syria and this is exactly what Israel wants," the paper concluded.
* Digest compiled by Achraf El Bahi
aelbahi@thenational.ae