The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Lebanese State Identity — The Impact of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on the Lebanese State Identity Through Discourse and Actions (2005-2020)

Dahrouge, Elias (2023) The Syrian Refugee Crisis and the Lebanese State Identity — The Impact of the Syrian Refugee Crisis on the Lebanese State Identity Through Discourse and Actions (2005-2020). PhD thesis, Budapesti Corvinus Egyetem, Nemzetközi Kapcsolatok és Politikatudományi Doktori Iskola. DOI

PDF : (dissertation)
PDF : (draft in English)


Lebanon developed since its creation a very peculiar form of political system. The Lebanese consociational system was created to preserve a fair representation of its various religious communities through a quota-based power-sharing model. Hence, factors that endanger the fragile sectarian demographic balance are perceived as a threat. But following the Syrian conflict that started in 2011, Lebanon became the host for 1,5 million of Syrian refugees, making it one of the countries with the highest rates of refugee per capita in the world. The following thesis examines how has the Syrian refugee crisis impacted on the Lebanese state identity. This is operationalized through 4 main steps: (1) the review of the Lebanese nation-building process and the main elements of its state identity; (2) the comprehensive presentation of the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon and its heavy contextual frame, with the Palestinian refugee precedent being its cornerstone; (3) analyzing the official discourse of the state, and (4) tracing the intentions behind its policies and behaviors, in order to track changes in its identity content. The thesis argues that while the refugee crisis had some impact on the state identity, it does not contradict its core elements. In addition, the thesis redefines Syrian refugees of Lebanon as internationally displaced persons, and confronts theoretical literature with empirical findings from the field, making it a novelty in its discipline. So, how has the Syrian refugee crisis affected or shaped the Lebanese state identity? First, it is important to note that the Syrian refugee crisis obviously did have an impact on the Lebanese state identity. Since discourse and actions reflect on identity, the clear shift in the discourse as well as in the policies reveal that the identity was impacted. Second, for the modalities if this impact, the simple answer is that the Lebanese state identity, based on some strongly embedded elements of content in its structure, was reinforced and reaffirmed. The content had incorporated through decades consensual concepts such as coexistence, power-sharing, or the strict opposition to any type of “tawtin”. And these concepts were constantly reaffirmed and institutionalized through the National Pact, the Taef and Doha Agreements. Neither the discourse nor the actions present elements of contestation or challenge for these core concepts. On the contrary, they almost go beyond the “minimal required”. Therefore, the Lebanese state identity, although fragilized by the developments, and sometimes questioned by some actors, was strengthened by the Syrian refugee crisis. The thesis comes to this conclusion through answering the following two sub-questions: For (1) how has the Syrian refugee crisis impacted on the Lebanese state’s official discourse on the national and international levels? On both levels, the state’s discourse saw an escalating trend by (1) reprioritizing Syrian refugees as a much more important existential threat than the Palestinians; (2) reaffirming and reinvigorating the negation of “tawtin” in all its forms; (3) “normalizing” the idea of non-voluntary safe return; (4) on the domestic level, by justifying the state’s restrictive policies; (5) and on the international level, by (a) exercising chantage for international aid, and by (b) gradually forcing a redefinition of Syrian refugees as simple voluntary displaced rather than asylum-seeker refugees. The last point provides an additional justification for our proposed new definition of Syrian refugees as being internationally displaced persons. Whereas for (2) how has the Syrian refugee crisis shaped the policies and behaviors of the Lebanese state on the local, national and international levels? The Lebanese state’s policies are most probably driven by a perception that considers refugees as a threat to the sectarian status quo demographic fragile balance. The Syrian refugee crisis was first mitigated through (1) “ostrich policy”, (2) then “policy of restriction”, and then (3) evolved towards policies of return. On the local level, (4) the state did not adopt any policy. (5) On the national level, the state issued and tried to implement some of its restrictive policies in many different sectors such as security and economy. Finally, on the international level, (6) the Lebanese state acted as a “refugee rentier state” by using chantage in order to attract international aid.

Item Type:Thesis (PhD thesis)
Supervisor:Csicsmann László
Subjects:International relations
ID Code:1302
Date:14 November 2023
Deposited On:15 May 2023 10:27
Last Modified:06 Dec 2023 14:20

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