A good part of the Greater Beirut area was paralyzed Wednesday when Syrian nationals streamed to their embassy to vote in their country’s presidential election.
While the day’s events were of special importance to many Syrians residing in Lebanon, they also represented a wake-up call to Lebanese politicians, whose country hosts the largest number of Syrian refugees relative to its own population.
Lebanon’s leaders should take careful note of the fact that tens of thousands of Syrians showed up, in an endorsement of their war-torn country’s controversial poll. They might have had a variety of reasons for doing so, and not all of them involve categorical support for the Assad regime, due to factors such as fear and intimidation. Anyone watching the scenes would realize that a great deal of organization – in the form of transport and other means – brought people from around the country to the embassy.
Politicians and officials should realize they are hosting many people who are prepared to show their support for the embattled Assad regime. These leaders should ask themselves, with their own country divided between supporters and opponents of Assad, and about the short- and long-term future of these guests: Who holds sway over them and their impact on the sensitive political situation in Lebanon, which is already reeling under the weight of economic and other burdens?
Do they have a plan for dealing with these combustible elements? And if they do, does it enjoy true national consensus, or is it an off-the-cuff reaction that could cause more problems than it solves?
While Syria’s election day in Lebanon sent a message of support to Assad, it may have sent a more important message to officials in its host country.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 29, 2014, on page 7.