Displacement and statehood: the case of Lebanon’s coping mechanism with Syria’s refugee influx

By Tamirace Fakhoury
Submitted to Session P4737 (Reflections on the State and Statelessness in the Post-Arab Spring Era, 2017 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
19th-21st Centuries;
LCD Projector without Audio;
This paper discusses how displacement crises have shaped the notion of statehood and governance in the Arab region after the Arab uprisings. It draws on the case of Lebanon’s coping mechanism with Syria’s refugee flows, and investigates how displacement has interacted with the Lebanese state and shaped its features, namely the conceptions of sovereignty, governmental institutions, political and public spheres. The paper starts by taking an inward-looking approach. It looks at how Lebanon’s governmental institutions, political elite and public spheres have responded to forced migration flows. It describes how Syria’s refugee surge has prompted the formulation of new, albeit incoherent policy processes, and has enmeshed the political elite and public spheres into polarities around the theme of solidarity. Focusing on the political elite’s conceptions of Lebanese statehood, it will show how the crisis has provoked contradictory narratives as to the degree to which it endangers the Lebanese state and its power sharing formula or not.
Then, taking an outward-looking approach, the article inquires into how supranational and international organizations traditionally involved in the governance of migration in the region, namely the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN) have cooperated with the Lebanese state in its management of displacement flows. In this context, scholars and practitioners have been divided over the effects of the politics of funding on Lebanon’s state authority and dynamics. Politicization of aid, the EU’s refusal to channel aid directly to the government, and the proliferation of NGOS have fuelled debates about Lebanon’s waning of oversight capacity. At the same time, Lebanon’s stability in a ‘region on fire’, amid an unprecedented displacement crisis, have spurred debates about the resilience of the state.
The paper contends that the refugee crisis has indeed posed significant challenges to Lebanon’s institutions, and to the culture of political accommodation upon which the state rests. At the same time, it has provided Lebanon’s political and public spheres with what I will frame as ‘opportunities of adaptability’, ones that allow rethinking the notion of governance, institutionalism and solidarity.
From this perspective, the Lebanese case has broader lessons to convey. While Syria’s displacement crisis has been portrayed as a major challenge to Arab and European states, it has also provided an opportunity to align the modern notion of statehood with an increasingly globalized order in which displacement crises are an integral part of the inter-state system.