The voting in Syria’s presidential election by expatriates in Lebanon on May 28 saw both a contrived public spectacle at the Syrian Embassy in Beirut and a fierce torrent of abusive exchanges on social media.
Outside the embassy, large crowds raised posters of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and sang songs of support for him—something we thought we would never see again in Lebanon following the Syrian withdrawal in 2005—causing shock and an explosion of sentiments that had until now been held back to burst out on social media.
Feelings of loathing erupted and abuse and insults prevailed, with both Lebanese and Syrian social media sites filling up with exchanges that included the use of repugnant language. From the intensity of the anger and mutual hatred expressed on Facebook, it seemed like you could almost hear the screams of rage and expect the combatants’ limbs to reach out of the screen to start hitting each other at any minute.
This is not the place to repeat the expressions that were used to condemn all those who voted for Assad, or the calls to throw all Syrian refugees out of Lebanon, or the denunciations of the Lebanese people as a single loathsome group full of hatred for others, especially Syrians.
All angry parties seemed afflicted with a rampant disease, the symptoms of which spread and infected everybody. At this point we could easily turn to psychiatry to analyze the Lebanese–Syrian situation, which seems to have become a syndrome in its own right.
Modern medicine defines a syndrome as the collection of signs and symptoms that characterize a single condition, which makes the appearance of one of them a warning of the possible appearance of the others.
I do not of course claim to have any medical expertise, but I am comparing the situation we can observe today with what psychiatry has diagnosed as taking place in many other situations, such as Stockholm Syndrome, which has been abundantly analyzed and used to describe our situation in the Arab world.
In the Lebanese–Syrian case, there exists what seems to be a chronic disease that has worsened and spread in the past three years, and what took place last week was nothing other than an extension of a political, security and social clash that started decades ago and has now reached its peak.
Without much effort, we can see that the ballot that took place in Lebanon among Syrians was not a genuine one, and the same will be true of the voting in Syria itself also. What actually took place was simply a public exhibition that was carefully planned under the sponsorship of, and pressure from, pro-Syrian parties in Lebanon and motivated by the ability of the Syrian regime to threaten anyone who did not go to the embassy with being banned from returning to Syria.
What happened in Lebanon was not an election. There were no ballot boxes or booths, and many did not have voting cards—some people who voted were even below the minimum legal voting age. Therefore, these were not elections, so there is no need to consider them as such.
Why then did the events at the embassy of the Assad regime ignite this previously dormant fire? The reason is down to a flaw that the Lebanese and Syrian crowds did not openly display in their clashes, either physically or on the Internet. The crux of the problem is not mutual hatred, as we suppose, but the Ba’ath regime and the authority of the Assad clan, which has created a very deep abyss in whose fires we are now being swallowed.