In Akkar, in northern Lebanon, “the presence of the state is disappearing”

By Laure Stephan

Posted today at 05:05

Children splash in the water of the El-Kebir River, at the mouth of the Mediterranean. Their joyful laughter echoes towards the houses of Arida planted on the shore. The gaiety contrasts with the disintegration which is measured above, on the bridge separating Lebanon from Syria.

This disintegration is that of two closely linked companies. From Syria, young people leave, direction Beirut airport. To emigrate, in these times of economic calamity in a country broken by ten years of war and under sanctions, is a necessity. In the distance, the portrait of Bashar Al-Assad stands on the facade of the security buildings. On the Lebanon side, a bankrupt country, kids and men flock to carry travelers’ suitcases in exchange for a ticket. The Arida border post has always been a source of odd jobs; they are vital today. It is the window on the outside of the village of farmers and fishermen.

Women, in the shade of a boat on the sidewalk, near the bank of the El-Kebir river, forming the border between Lebanon and Syria, on the Lebanese side, at the passage of Arida (northern Lebanon), the 23 August 2021.
Passage of Arida, on the banks of the El-Kebir river, marking the border between Lebanon and Syria, in the north of Lebanon, August 23, 2021.

In Arida, at the tip of Akkar, a region of northern Lebanon abandoned by the central power and deprived of its Syrian lung, isolation is increasing. Shortages are exacerbated there. No gasoline, days in a row without electricity or telephone. Ammar I., 26, lost his job near Beirut. He used to go to Syria. “We were known as young people from the village, we crossed without presenting papers, to get supplies of gas, drinking water and food. “ He no longer dares to do so, for fear of reprisals from the regime – the Sunni-majority villages along the border have supported the anti-Assad rebellion.

Not a gas station is open on the roads we travel. “Distributors are afraid of being attacked by residents, this has happened”, says Ammar. Escorted by armored vehicles, tankers finally arrived in the region on August 25. But the fuel that is missing from the pump is visible at the edge of the asphalt, when you enter Akkar: plastic stripes filled with fuel oil or gasoline line the road. A few meters away, in the shade, sellers, charging high prices on the black market, wait for the customer, without worrying about an inspection.

A poster of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, left, and Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri.  And a deserted gas station on the road near Tleil, Akkar, northern Lebanon, August 24, 2021.

A murderous trick

The presence of the State has always been weak in Akkar, a poor region. Today, “She is disappearing”, worries Doctor Antoine Daher, in Qobayat. Attached to his land with sumptuous landscapes, denouncing his marginalization, he refuses to put a token in the economy of trafficking – “Illegality is the counterpart of political feudalism”. That morning, he cycled to Notre-Dame de la Paix hospital, of which he is the medical director.

You have 61.49% of this article to read. The rest is for subscribers only.