Thursday 8 September 2016
Three years ago the Arab uprisings brought hope to the Middle East. The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt ended 60 years of autocratic rule, suggesting a future in which rule of law could prevail, with fundamental rights upheld throughout the region. The cover of the April 2011 edition of Global Insightasked if this would be a ‘bright new dawn’.
Now, in 2014, the answer is clear: it is far from being a bright new dawn. Not only is the situation in Egypt precariously unsettled, but the dangerous schism between Sunni and Shia – one that goes back to the year 632 – has been re-opened and is fuelling the ongoing fighting and bloodshed in Syria. As the forces unleashed appear to be out of anyone’s control, experts predict that this schism could define the Middle East for at least the next decade.
The pressing question now is: what can be done about the refugee crisis? The cover feature of this edition shines a light on the issue. Unsustainable pressure is being placed on Syria’s neighbours. The four states surrounding Syria – Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey – are far from wealthy. Yet, while the international community has largely turned its back, Lebanon is bearing the brunt as millions flee the civil war.
Currently, those on the ground in Lebanon feel the country is alone in confronting the consequences of the crisis in Syria. Lebanon is a struggling country, with weak infrastructure, but it has permitted 100,000 Syrian children to enter its school system, instantly doubling class sizes. Public services are at breaking point, and tensions are rising.
There is clearly a need for a combined international response. Yet, to date, this remains conspicuous by its absence. The UN has called for 30,000 visa places to be made available for Syrians, allowing permanent resettlement. As this edition of Global Insight went to press, European Union states had only agreed to take 18,300 refugees between them, and many of these placements are merely temporary. Nevertheless, this figure does not even account for one per cent of the total number of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.