Syrians targeted by Middle East populists - Arab Weekly

Populists in Middle Eastern countries are mirroring their Western counterparts and targeting Syrian refugees to bolster their support, said Baha al-Awam in an article for the Arab Weekly.

While Western populists target millions of legitimate refugees from Syria for their Muslim or Arab heritage, populists in Turkey, Lebanon and Egypt are focusing on how Syrian are taking jobs and changing the ethnic fabric of towns and cities.

But those same populists ignore the proven contribution of Syrians to their nations’ economies, al-Awam wrote in an op-ed for the weekly publication.

In Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have leapt on the populist bandwagon after the political opposition warned of the dangers posed by Syrians in local elections this year and promised to deal with the problem.

In Lebanon, populism has gained an uglier face as demands have converged with Hezbollah’s efforts to send Syrians home to serve President Bashar al-Assad’s attempts at legitimacy, al-Awam said. Assad is drafting young returnees into the Syrian army or demanding payments to help the countries finances, he said.

“The populists are exerting their influence on the ground with brutal and extreme vengeance,” al-Awam said on the Lebanese actions.

Sometimes politicians cite the burden posed by Syrians on the state budget, at others they talk of Syrians seizing control of the local labour market, he said.

“In certain regards, Middle Eastern populism is uglier than its counterpart in the West,” al-Awam said. “It is perhaps best described as deaf and blind but not mute. It rejects the other even if this other shares the same culture and does not constitute an ideological threat to the host society.”

Therefore, Syrians are caught between the Middle Eastern and Western forms of populism, al-Awam said.

“Syrian refugees can’t find enough arguments to convince the world of the need to end their crisis,” he said. “What’s worse, they cannot rely on the Syrian opposition or on the Assad regime.”