The continuation of the Syrian crisis has allowed many Lebanese who have never interacted with people from their neighboring country, Syria, to get to know some who counter the prevailing perceptions of Syrians in Lebanon. They have discovered that their neighbors are not the same in terms of culture, potentials, capabilities and lifestyle, but are rather diverse.
In fact, there is a rich Syrian class that is very similar in behavior to many Lebanese, who are, in general, fairly materialistic. This can be seen in the luxury brand cars they own and drive in the streets and suburbs of Beirut that are inhabited by the rich. It is also evident in the lobbies of luxury hotels and in expensive restaurants, which have become meeting places for wealthy Syrians, where the Damascene or Aleppo dialect prevails. It is worth noting that a large percentage of these Syrian women speak foreign languages, such as English or French. This is usually a sign that they descend from aristocratic families.
The discussions of these wealthy Syrians — or the well-to-do upper middle class, who can afford to pay $5 for a cup of coffee — focus on the harsh security, economic and political situation in Syria. They diverge in opinion, some seeing a possibility for a political solution, while others seeing no eventual peaceful solutions. Some believe that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has escaped the danger, while others assert that it is impossible for him to continue to rule Syria considering how the situation has developed.
Being mostly merchants, they closely follow the reactions, positions and communications of Western and Arab capitals on the crisis through various sources and contacts with both government and opposition officials.
They chose Beirut to stay in temporarily due to its proximity to Damascus and Syria in general; it is only a two-hour drive from Beirut to Damascus. Many of them spend a few days in the Lebanese capital to take a break from the charged and stressful atmosphere they live in, amid occasional sounds of near or far explosions. A large percentage of them are youths who are attracted to the nightlife in Beirut, and have friends who entertain and introduce them to places different from the ones Syrians — in their own country or Lebanon — live in.
The number of displaced Syrians in Lebanon has reached 400,000, the majority of whom left their homes and villages empty-handed.
For a large percentage of rich Syrians, Beirut is a station from which they travel abroad to follow up on their businesses, and to which they return since Damascus International Airport is no longer safe for them.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Lebanon registers 2,000 refugees per day, although their numbers are much higher. Approximately 90,000 out of 400,000 displaced people are waiting for their names to be registered in order to receive support and care from the Lebanese government, the United Nations and non-official organizations involved in this process.
Alarming levels of poverty and destitution can be seen in places accommodating poor refugees all over Lebanon, especially in the Bekaa, the north and the south. However, it seems that the Syrian “capitalists” astonished with the hotels and restaurants of Beirut have not yet absorbed the idea that their country — which had long been a model of stability and security — has transformed into vast arenas of a fierce civil war. It is a war that started almost two years ago, and no one knows when it will end.
They conclude their conversations with farewells and warm wishes that the situation will improve, and that their country will become safe. "May God grant us peace of mind," they say.
Elie Hajj writes on politics for An-Nahar, Lebanon. He previously wrote for Al-Anbaa (Kuwait) and the online paper Elaph.