News / Middle East

Syria Spillover Adds to Lebanon's Paralysis

Lebanese citizens gather at the site of a car bombing in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 21, 2014 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
Lebanese citizens gather at the site of a car bombing in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, Jan. 21, 2014 (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
The Lebanese have much to preoccupy them—from a string of deadly sectarian car-bombings sparked by the civil war raging next-door in Syria to the flood of nearly a million Syrian refugees that has increased Lebanon’s population by a quarter, staining the country’s resources and adding to sectarian tensions. But above all they are worried by political paralysis gripping their country.
The symbol of that for many residents of Beirut is the odorous trash starting to pile up on their streets following a dispute over a landfill site outside the city that is meant to handle the Lebanese capital’s waste. A private firm contracted to ship the trash has had to suspend operations because locals fed up with overflow from the landfill site at Naameh are blockading it.
For weeks the problem has been brewing but the country’s fragile caretaker government did nothing to preempt a showdown or seek out another dumpsite.
In an editorial the English-language Daily Star warned the country’s divided politicians of the dangers of political drift. “The formation of a new government is the top priority during this critical stage, while all of the political bickering and armchair analyses are luxuries that the country can simply no longer afford.”
The Lebanese were buoyed a few days ago when onetime Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, announced he was prepared to enter a national unity government along with Hezbollah, despite the fact that he blames the Shi’ite movement, along with its longtime patron Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for the 2005 assassination of his father Rafiq Hariri.
That assassination nearly plunged Lebanon into a resumption of the country’s devastating 1975-1990 civil war. But speaking in Paris on Monday Hariri told a French radio station “the interests of Lebanon are more important than my own.”
But since Hariri’s olive branch not much has moved politically. Forming a government that could replace the weak 10-month-old caretaker government is easier said than done in a country divided so sharply between the three main sectarian communities of Shia and Sunni Muslims and Christians. The divisions have become poisonous thanks to the Syrian war that everyday spills into Lebanon and has triggered numerous clashes in the north of the country between Lebanese Shi’ite Muslims supporting Syrian President al-Assad and Sunnis backing the rebels trying to oust him.

Tuesday’s car bomb that ripped through Hezbollah’s stronghold in southern Beirut is sure to add to the tensions.  
“Poor Lebanon, the Syrian civil war is killing the country,” laments U.S. business consultant Robert MacGregor, who teaches at the Lebanese American University.
Syria is one of the main obstacles to an agreement between the Hezbollah-controlled March 8 alliance of parties and the Sunni-dominated March 14 coalition over a new government.
Hezbollah leaders are refusing to agree a government policy statement demanded by the Sunnis that would reiterate the formal position of the previous administration of neutrality and non-involvement in the Syrian civil war.
In a public statement issued Monday, the Shi’ite movement, whose militiamen have been fighting for Assad in Syria, announced: “We do not want to discuss now the contents and details of the policy statement because our convictions cannot be shaken by thunder.”
Hezbollah’s military role in Syria is aggravating historical divisions between Lebanese Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, according to author and commentator Michael Young. “The fact that today Hezbollah is intervening on the side of the Syrian regime has really only exacerbated a problem that has been there for several years,” he says. But it is an exacerbation that is one of the biggest impediments to the formation of a new government.
Another obstacle to agreement is over the division of cabinet positions. Broadly the three main sects have agreed ministerial positions should be shared equally between them on an 8-8-8 basis but the problem comes with which group gets which ministries.
Lebanese President Michel Sleiman has remained upbeat that a government will be formed by the end of the week, saying the path is clear for agreement. But he has also warned that come what may, there will be a new government, even if it has to be yet another caretaker administration.
Caretaker or not, at this point, Beirut residents can only hope that any new government will move quickly to clean the trash from their city’s streets.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Michel M. from: Lebanon
January 21, 2014 11:42 PM
what "paralysis"?? since Jordan ousted the "philistines" and we tried to accommodate them here, gave them sanctuary, they have destroyed our country completely. the philistines are the source of the stink in Lebanon. we no longer have a State, but a collection of warring tribes, and Iranian scumbags - how sad.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs