Is it Because They're Poor?

There’s this theory making the rounds in certain circles in Lebanon and in the foreign media, which sees the events in Tripoli as simply the outcome of stark poverty and wretchedness in that miserable part of Lebanon. Many statistics are produced, about Tripoli having some of the poorest people in the country and the highest unemployment rate, to support this theory. This makes for a neat narrative, but I think this econocentrist view doesn’t adequately represent what is happening in the city.

What is happening in Tripoli is sectarian hatred, pure and simple. All it takes to know that is to actually go to the city and talk to the people and fighters. I am yet to see evidence that sectarian hatred is in any way linked to poverty. Even the richest people can hate, as evidenced by the blind hatred Sunnis and Shiaas in the Gulf have for each other. In Tripoli, poor haters are carrying the weapons and rich haters are bankrolling them (sometimes even the poor bankroll themselves). Meanwhile, amoral political powers manipulate both sides of the fight for their own ends.

There are three reasons why an economic explanation is attractive to people. First, it offers a simple explanation backed by numbers to a complex situation. Second, it gives an illusion that the problem can be solved by throwing money and government resources at the problem (government neglect is often cited). And third, it suits people who have an idealized (naive?) view of a Lebanon where people are all the same and love each other at heart, but that they are simply fighting over resources and the means of production.

Does this mean that poverty has nothing to do with the fighting in Tripoli? Of course not. Poverty and poor living conditions create stress, and stressed people are more likely to violently express emotions like hate. But the beating heart of the tripoli fights is hate and politics, not poverty.


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  • http://twitter.com/LeeloF Layal (@LeeloF)

    I’ve lived here my whole life. It’s definitely not about poverty. It’s a political/religious fight for power, and it’s linked to what’s going on in Syria. The Sunnis and Alawites have different views when it comes to Syria.

  • z

    Nice perspective…
    But people don’t hate by coincidence, neither by the act of difference of point of view
    What we have in Tripoli is someyhing called “forced unemployement”. Money spent monthlyon the unemployed people to be attached to the “za3im” is making people lazy and waiting for action.
    We always hear that the government is dedicating some money for this city, but we never saw new production outlets nor factories openning to fill the gap of unemployement.
    If the employment rate goes down, fighters number will diminish gradually and laundring the money will be a harder task.
    I work in a company of 600 employees, who are not willing to get unto war because they got used to work and not to be waiting for the monthly 100 or 200$ of this and that “za3im”.
    So imagine that we have like this company 3 others who will offer job opportunities to people, it will be a hard task since a lot of people are used to get money while being in the “ahwe” but at least we will be doing a step forward to diminish crime and “zalmet flen” acts.
    Tripoli PM Mikati already started this process by buying the lands of ex Ghandour factory inBahssas areas, but for a “reason” he didn’t work on it, maybe afterall the gun buying business is an easier job for a specific issue!
    Yes people of tripoli doesn’tlove alawites but that is a near past issue, we didn’t have problems before, that’s because there was inter-sects marriage wgich is very normal in a city where there is a mixture of religions/sects.
    Alawites are proSyrian nowadays more than before because they need a outsourced power to strengthen their existence, and in Lebanon we had several exanples of this.

    What Tripoli needs? We need businesses to open and work on this huge potential workforce who will be busy working and not busy to wait for the “za3im” to pay them (depends on the broker, and how much he takes for percentage)

    Poor Tripoli, it deserves a better future…

    Z

  • Khaled

    Totally true.Wouldn’t have said it better.

  • http://twitter.com/Fadi_Dalati LibanoholiC (@Fadi_Dalati)

    Ignorance, poverty and unemployment drive ppl directly to seek “magical” “Devine” “Holystic” powers to justify their awful situation, to explain what they can’t comprehend, and to complete the “circle of victimization”……simply put, you are poor, helpless, unemployed, no hope of a better future, BUT u have FAITH, and God Almighty will save you!

    Then comes the big players, utilizing people’s ignorance, poverty, unemployment and blind faith to control them! Those with money, through dollars, and those of loooong beards, use religion to make these people do whatever they want them to do.

    You wanna change things in Tripoli? You need a HUGE, SCIENTIFIC, ECONOMIC, STRATEGIC plan to iradicate ignorance and self-victimization. ONLY then, will these people start to look for a better future instead of a “Devine intervention”, and ONLY then, will a man of them stand in front those with guns, and those with dollars and say: “Screw you!, I wanna live!”

  • GK

    Mustapha,
    I agree it is not poverty but it is not hatred neither! I believe it is the suffering of the Sunni on the hands of the Alawi’s when Syria was in control of Lebanon. The “Lebanese” Alawi’s acted like they are the kings and abused the Sunni and other sects in Tripoli. The injustice and lack of law and order during the Syrian occupation created anger that is being transformed to revenge. But if the current Lebanese government forces the law and order and get the weapons out of the hands of people, civility will prevail.

    • zaza

      suffering? Last time I checked it was the sunnis who helped Syria invade and occupy Lebanon, especially those of Tripoli. The only guy fighting them was Michel Aoun.
      Hariri was hand-picked by the Syrian regime to be the prime minister for ten years so he could help them rampage and loot the country. And Sunnis supported Hariri. So by extension the Sunnis supported the Syrian occupation. That’s of course until Hariri and his thugs (Khaddam, Ghazale, and co) couldn’t successfully topple the Alawite regime of Bashar and install their own Sunni regime, and Hariri payed the price of the unsuccessful coup. And of course all these bajam then took to the streets yelling “Hariri built Lebanon! Hariri died for Lebanon!”, when in reality Lebanon meant nothing to him except a means to expand his fortune and his money empire.

      • GK

        Check your history books. The Syrians fueled the war between the Christian Lebanese and the rest of Lebanese and when the Christians became under threat of being overrun, they (Suleiman Franjieh) asked Syria to enter Lebanon.

  • http://gravatar.com/gkaram Ghassan Karam

    Mustapha,
    You said: “In Tripoli, poor haters are carrying the weapons and rich haters are bankrolling them “. Isn’t this statement of yours supporting the hypothesis that you are objecting to? No desperately poor , no fighters.

  • Anonymous

    i was born and raised in this city, over the years, i formulated a kind of explanation of the several problems that this city has (not sure how correct i was), but for sure, what ths inhabitants of this city suffer from is a kind of Xenophobia, (few years back they were in love with Syrians,and hate the Maronites as much as they hate Shiaas now). and this, i beleive, is due to their collective explanation to the failure of this city, who has the individual wealths, degrees (not education), geopgraphy etc.. (ie all potential), to put all of these into the benefit of the greater community. it was easire for them to blame it on the other who sucking the wealth/benefits out of this city, instead of looking inwards and find out that (although in theory 20% of this city are christians, but defacto they are somehting like maybe 2%)they are not welcoming to “strangers” of other sects, that if you were successful, we would rather bring you down if we cant reach you up there. of course Poverty is one of the reasons of the current events, as they are an aspect of it, but the problem is the crisis of human develpoment that it is suffering from: lots of degrees, little knowldge. loads of money, little communal benefits. it is like some the salafists we encountered at university, their failure in studying/life triggered their “salafism”. the failure of this city to use the potential it has, triggered its salafism/

  • Doha

    Mustapha: I think your analysis is as simplistic as those who blame everything happening in Tripoli on poverty…it’s not simply hatred! Even if sectarianism is boiling in that city, the majority of Tripolitans don’t have an appetite for war and the majority are not “bankrolling” the clashes in Bab Tebbaneh-Jabal Mohsen..simply because these Tripolitans are trying to make ends meet on a daily basis and don’t have the resources to do so, and are more concerened about raising their kids and dreaming up a brighter future than what is currently presented to them economically and politically in a country going down hill by the minute. The other commentators on this post provide all the other legitimate reasons why there are clashes in Tripoli.

  • Anonymous

    From the people I have met it is something similar to the riots in the UK.People waiting for the right time to join in with something that makes them feel important as they have very little in their lives-no money or jobs and live in a bleak environment.Many young men I met before this crisis started were always talking about waiting for the next fight and that they can’t wait for it.The fact snipers are randomly shooting means it’s a game to them and they don’t think of the consequence on people’s lives as most of them are uneducated and narrow minded.Of course there is a link to the current problems in Syria but it is being exploited and some people are manipulating others for their own agenda.
    When people value the place they live in they won’t destroy it but if life doesn’t even have a value this is what we can expect and worse.

  • Mustapha

    So many great comments here, thanks for taking part of the discussion.. A few replies to some points:

    I think Z, Libanoholic & Doha are making more or less the same point, which I’m not disagreeing with: That with more development, education and jobs, people will have less reasons / incentives to fight and have more important things in their lives to do. This post is not an argument against that logic, this post is an argument against the simplification of the issue of Tripoli as simply one of poverty, especially by those who refuse to accept that many Lebanese are sectarian. It’s an argument against those in denial, who always say that “outsiders” are making us fight each other despite the fact that we love each other and are peaceful to each other..

    Ghassan,

    Ha, that actually makes sense.. But it’s built on a hypothesis that is not mine. My argument is that the fighting in tripoli cannot be explained by poverty alone, that the main drivers are anger and politics (many readers, especially those based in the US, are hating the word “hate”)

    • http://gravatar.com/gkaram Ghassan Karam

      Of course it is not poverty alone, social behaviour is never explained in terms of one variable. It is the case however that there are dominant variables . In this case poverty is one of them.

  • Z. H.

    Mus, not more important things to “do”, but to “lose”; when you say the poor, you are referring to the delinquents who are damaging other people’s property.

    This proletariat-aristocracy social discrimination has been present all over the world, like for ever. Keep them busy, well-fed and able to acquire things, narrowing the social gap and of course, maintain security’ all of these are economic activities that gobble up resources at an incredible rate.

    Do people hate each other in Tripoli? To a certain extent yes, because different political parties are forcing their interpretations of human misery; does the fact that the dead two-year-old was the son of a freedom-fighter or a militant rebel make him less of a human being and more deserving of an atrocity?

  • http://www.beirutreport.com Habib

    How can we define the level of hate in Tripoli? Yes there are fighters and yes there are politicians. But those two groups are tiny minorities, minuscule even. What about the hundreds of thousands of others in the city and surrounding area? Who speaks for them? I fear that so much analysis is based heavily on the small groups of fighters and politicians. This happens not only in Tripoli but all over Lebanon. The loudest voices seem to dominate our public discourse.

    • Mustapha

      Habib, as a resident of Tripoli and as someone who often attends large gatherings of family and friends in that city, I can tell you that the Allawi-Sunni hate is common and real. People immediately assume that if you’re a Sunni, you must be pissed with the Alawis because of what the assad regime did to that city..

      Politicians and fighters don’t come from a vacuum, they come from an enabling popular environment. If this fight was being fought away from the city and not inconveniencing its residents, you would be hearing more cheer-leading than complaining..

  • Nobodaddy

    What would create peace in people’s hearts?

  • http://www.beirutreport.com Habib

    Stereotypes are all over Lebanon, and it’s a huge problem we need to deal with. But talking trash about others is different from picking up a gun. That costs money and political cover that most people don’t have.

  • Anonymous

    Mustafa, you make absolutely valid points. Poverty itself is not the root cause of the clashes and the fighting going on, and sectarian hatred does play the biggest role. But I pose the following questions, which is true not only for Tripoli residents but Lebanese across all regions and sects:

    Will they still fight each other when they were educated, have a decent job and were taught to respect laws and rights?

    When you were raised in the law of the jungle, have to be the fittest to survive and teach your children that they make a better living holding a gun instead a pen, you end up depending on warlords and religious money to make a living……..

    It is not poverty, it is not sectarianism, it is simply lack of a logic where citizens have rights, responsibilities and where a sovereign nations actually signifies something…..

    When you live by the gun, you die by the gun.