The road to Damascus

Syrians still trying to control Lebanon despite withdrawal

There are dark and worrying signals coming from Damascus. This month we have seen trucks stranded at the Syrian border under the pretence of security measures. We have heard of Lebanese nationals being expelled from Syria and there is even talk of Damascus issuing the order for a mass pullout of its workforce in Lebanon.

We have been bullied and shut out before, notably in the period just after independence, and in 1973 when the army tried to defend Lebanese sovereignty in the face of intolerable Palestinian guerilla activity. It is clear now that economic punishment is policy.

We have come to expect our public servants to be less than dynamic, but the sloth demonstrated in responding to the current crisis gives cause for concern. We need a leader, a genuine statesman, who will say: “Enough! We are a free nation. We can depend on ourselves and nobody or no country is indispensable.”

Any such decision would be a demonstration of commitment to our newfound autonomy. It will be expensive, but a plan to ensure that Lebanese products do not spend one more night in the open would be a priceless gesture of national solidarity. In the meantime, Lebanese industrialists are already finding ways around the blockade.

But what of Damascus’ twin threat to expel our citizens and withdraw its own nationals? The Lebanese that work in Syria are both skilled experts and investors, vital to the development of the Syrian economy. (We must remember that this is a country that has already crowded out its homegrown talent.) Crucially they are net contributors. They do not go there to earn higher salaries or milk a system.

And yet despite the border blockade, despite the expulsions, we still welcome and hire our Syrian brothers. This is the Lebanese way. To withdraw their citizens from Lebanon in a misguided attempt to bring our economy to a halt will not hurt the Lebanese. Our free movement of labor policy would soon fill any vacuum. It will however hurt the Syrian economy to which Lebanon contributes roughly one third of the Syrian salary mass.

Damascus is not shutting us out, they are locking themselves in.