Human Rights Watch’s Lama Fakih, the Carnegie Middle East Center’s Raphaël Lefèvre, and the Carnegie Middle East Center’s Yezid Sayigh discussed the sectarian dynamics of the conflict and the impact of regional conflicts on Lebanon. Lina Khatib, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, chaired the panel.
- Sunni-Alawite Conflict: There have been increasing attacks targeting the Alawite community in different parts of Tripoli, said Fakih. The violence documented shows that Sunni militants have targeted and destroyed shops owned by Jabal Mohsen residents. In other instances, gunmen have demanded money from shop owners in exchange for protection.
- State Response to Violence: Only 20 percent of those who have perpetrated attacks arrested ,even when the perpetrators are identified by victims, continued Fakih, stating that the government’s response to both the generalized attacks and the targeted attacks has been weak.
- A Divide Between Leaders and People: There is a growing divide between political leaders and the people of Tripoli, said Lefèvre, noting that the latest security plan did not reverse underlying dynamics in the city. To the contrary, the security plan has increased the gap between politicians and militias, he noted. Resentment from Bab al-Tabbaneh militants towards the March 14 party for a perceived withdrawal of their support has shifted allegiances towards alternative (and perhaps more extremist) political groups, concluded Lefèvre.
- Salafists in Tripoli: The security plan seems to be based on the assumption that stopping the clashes between Bab al-Tabbaneh and Jabal Mohsen is going to reduce the local appeal of Salafi Jihadism, said Lefèvre. This assumption overlooks the fact that Salafist groups were always a minority in the fight against Jabal Mohsen; the conflict that drives recruitment for Jihadist groups is in Syria, not Tripoli. Salafism is a very heterogeneous movement; in a city population of 6,000, they account for half of the population (3,000). However, they are bitterly divided among those who receive support from Qatar and those from Saudi Arabia, as well as over whether to send fighters to Syria, said Lefèvre.
- Impact of Regional Conflicts: Reaching an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program would significantly ease tensions in the region, said Sayigh. However, if no understanding is reached, then the proxy wars between Iran and Saudi Arabia will continue, he predicted.
- Recommendations: Human Rights Watch recommends that economic grievances in the city be resolved, that conflicting sides should meet and reconcile to resolve issues like poverty, and that compensation for losses is necessary, noted Fakih. Furthermore, Sayigh said that either the central government must devise a plan to reconstruct the city economically or the North Governorate must be given the authority to help develop the region.