“We must go after them before they come after us,” says Hezbollah Secretary General Hasan Nasrallah, justifying Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian civil war by reason of protecting Lebanese territories from terrorists, mainly ISIS.
Populism seems to be recently growing in the west, and Brexit and the election of US president Donald Trump are prominent examples. But populism has always been present in the Arab world –the focal point of clashes- and it clearly erupted with the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2011. Lebanon was home for Syrian refugees fleeing from war zones, and so was the political life for sectarian populism. Lebanese leaders and politicians practiced populism in response to the Syrian crisis and its implications on Lebanon. For instance due to the influx of Syrian immigrants into the country, Foreign Minister and FPM Chief Gebran Bassil stressed that “it’s the responsibility of the state to control the border; Lebanon is not the garbage dump for the world’s problems.” Indeed, the populist call got positive feedback from Lebanese people surviving security woes on a daily basis. “When we do not permit Syrian immigrants to flood in, we need to couple our refusal with actions,” he added. Bassil charged the police of constantly snooping Syrian refugees and consequently, pictures circulated on social media showing municipal police officers abusing Syrians. Legally speaking; Lebanon is home for around 1.5 million Syrian refugees, which amounts to 1/5 individuals in the country. “It’s a real crisis,” comments Bassil, repeating demands for return of Syrians to Syria.
Be it xenophobic or populist approach, Lebanese leaders have mastered public narrative to mobilize the base for purely political purposes in the name of protectionism. The slogan “us [Lebanese] versus them [Syrian refugees]” is always the essence of politicians’ populist statements and generations are being raised on xenophobic undertones, mainly “Syrian refugees are a burden”.