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.