Sectarian Tensions Flaring Up
BMI View: Sectarian tensions will continue to increase in Lebanon over the coming quarters, mainly as a result of the ongoing civil war in neighbouring Syria. This will ensure that the political process remains slow, while the army will find it increasingly difficult to maintain security. Political instability will result in a significant deterioration of the country's macroeconomic outlook.
Sectarian tensions continue to rise in Lebanon. As we highlighted in our latest Syrian conflict crib sheet ( see 'Conflict Crib Sheet And FAQ ', August 16), Lebanon is the country most at risk of experiencing a prolonged period of instability as a result of the civil war in neighbouring Syria, due to its entrenched confessional political system and the strong historical ties between the two countries. Tensions between Sunni and Shi'a communities in Lebanon have indeed risen noticeably over the past few months. In the latest major developments, a pair of car bombs exploded near two mosques on August 23 in the largely Sunni northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, killing at least 47 people - the deadliest attack since the end of the civil war in 1990. Earlier, a car bomb which ripped through the southern Beirut stronghold of Shi'a militant group and political party Hizbullah killed at least 24 on August 16. As a result, the US State Department on September 6 ordered nonessential US diplomats to leave Lebanon due to security concerns, and urged private US citizens to depart the country. The increasing number of refugees from Syria is exhacerbating an already highly unstable political situation. According to the UN, over 731,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Lebanon since the onset of the civil war as of September 11 2013, a very significant burden for a population of approximately 4.3mn.
The Syrian crisis has recently taken a turn away from US military action, following Damascus' acceptance on September 10 of a Russian proposal that Syria gives up its chemical weapons ( see 'Chemical Weapons 'Deal' Offers Exit, But War Risks Remain', September 11). Risks of a potentially dramatic intensification of the conflict resulting from an American attack have therefore abated over the short term. However, Syria will remain reluctant to abandon its chemical weapons. In addition, even if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appears to cooperate by letting international inspectors into Syria to monitor and remove its chemical weapons, huge logistical challenges could hamper the implementation of the plan. As a result, Washington will keep the military option on the table, and strikes could well take place at a later stage. Risks of a further intensification of the conflict remain therefore significant, which could result in a further deterioration of the political situation in Lebanon.
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