Today’s story from the Associated Press, Anti-Syrian tide drives workers out of Lebanon, describes how Syrians have become persona non grata in Lebanon:
Despite official Syrian and Lebanese denials, anti-Syrian sentiment has reached a fever pitch in Lebanon. Anti-Syrian protests brought down the country’s pro-Damascus government and calls are intensifying for the withdrawal of Syria’s 14,000 troops based in the country.
Many Syrian workers do not have work permits, making it impossible to know their exact numbers. But estimates range from about 500,000 in low seasons to more than a million during harvest time and the summer, when tourists stream into Lebanon.
It is also not known how much money Syrian laborers transfer home, financial analysts say, because most earnings are in cash.
“It is for sure in hundreds of millions of dollars,” said an economist, Louis Hobeika.
When the Syrians leave Lebanon, that “will also spell the end of the Syrian regime,” says Alan Merhi (a 23 year old graphic design student camping out on the square, JL). All the others agree with him – it’s Lebanese money that pays for the Baath-regime in Damascus. “They control the casinos, the harbours, they take 50 percent of our taxes, they took the $40 billion in reconstruction loans that the country received after the end of the civil war,” says Merhi.
It is hard to foresee the endgame of the struggle that has just begun in Lebanon. Bashar al-Assad’s honor and prestige are already at stake in the outcome. How can Syria possibly back down, when the economic costs are so high?
If the United States presses for a complete withdrawal of all Syrian military troops and intelligence agents from Lebanon, the stress on the regime in Damascus could well become unbearable. The glass becomes cloudy: Syria could face popular unrest and demonstrations, followed by a crackdown according to “Hama rules”; Assad could be overthrown in a military coup; Syria could generate more spectacular terrorist attacks outside its borders so as to divert attention from the regime.
If the Syrian leech is removed from Lebanon’s body politic, the coming days will hold far more than their share of history. We live in interesting times.