Interview with Charbel Nahas, economist and former Minister of Labour of Lebanon, at the FEMISE annual conference in Casablanca on 29 and 30 April 2017 where M. Nahas along a number of prestigious speakers addressed the conference theme of “Migration and the refugee crisis in the EU-Med: the dawn of an era of shared responsibility?”
Has Syria reached the climax of the crisis? What are the possible scenarios?
I do not see an eminent stabilization of the situation in Syria: Syrian territory is in the process of being divided into zones of influence. The direct intervention of the Americans in Syria is in this sense a major development. The Russians and regional actors (Iran, Turkey) are intervening just like Israel, in the south of the country. These countries have no interest in finding an immediate solution.
Is there a risk of contagion to neighbouring countries?
The divergence between the Russians and the Iranians, though hidden, is real. I do not think the Syrian crisis is going to a near end, unfortunately. Daesch’s agitation as a scarecrow is dissipating, but we have not yet emerged from the crisis and new threats arise. Iraq sets the tone with the creation of Kurdistan and its implicit recognition. We may fear a sharp fragmentation of Syrian space. President Erdogan has repeatedly denounced the Lausanne agreement. It calls into question the formal legal basis for defining borders in the region. France and Great Britain, signatories of this agreement, did not react to this denunciation.
What similarity do you see between the civil wars in Lebanon and Syria?
I note significant differences. The more the power is concentrated, the less likely it counts sub-state nets. In this case, the collapse of the regime is brutal. The Lebanese State, by its structure, adapts better to a situation of war. The Syrian state, which is stronger in power, is therefore more fragile. We saw that once its grip was broken, the institutional sub-state structures did not serve as a net. We can draw a parallel between Tunisia and Egypt, or Syria and Libya. In Tunisia, the presence of the administration, the universities and the unions constitute those needed nets that mitigate the effects of the collapse of the regime. In Lebanon, the society was able to adapt quickly to the situation, which was not the case in Syria where the damage is devastating.
What lesson can Syria learn from the Lebanese example in its reconstruction phase?
The Syrians can avoid we experienced during the reconstruction period. The warlords in Lebanon shared the country alongside the Gulf businessmen who came with their billions. They endorsed the effects of the war. We may fear a similar situation in Syria.
What is your view of the management of the Syrian refugee crisis by Lebanon?
Lebanon has no strategy for the management of Syrian refugees. Convinced of the imminent crisis of Syria, Lebanon allowed a million and a half Syrians to enter without even recording their entry. We can not manage this displacement as if it was a natural disaster. The massive size of this exodus induces a reconfiguration of space. To consider the question of refugees as an only accidental or humanitarian problem seems to me naïve, even dangerous. It is important to realise the consequenes of this issue and to admit them.
To read more about the FEMISE conference and download the Agenda, click on the link.
Interview undertaken by Nathalie Bureau du Colombier in partnership with Econostrum at teh FEMISE Annual Conference of 2017- Photo by Nathalie Bureau du Colombier.
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