Ahmed* was born in 1968 to a Lebanese father and a Syrian mother. He lived for about 20 years in Damascus before returning and settling in Lebanon in 1990. Ahmed understands the nature of Syrian society having mostly grown up there. He went to school in Damascus, worked there where he became a plumber, and stayed in his practice for nearly 20 years. He never felt that he was alien to Syrian society but he did feel a difference between the Syrians he lived among in Damascus and those he came to deal with in his work and surroundings in Lebanon.
He says about this, “During my work experience from when I came back to Lebanon in 1990 up until now, I noticed that 90 percent of the Syrians in Lebanon are not city dwellers. They do not come from cities such as Damascus or Homs but are from the countryside. A difference exists whereby someone who lives in a city is always more mature and knowledgeable in dealing and understanding things than a village person.”
Ahmed believes that half of Lebanese society is mainly of Syrian origin. A long time ago, many Lebanese, especially Beirut inhabitants, married Syrian women from Damascus and Aleppo in particular and have been moving since then between Damascus and Lebanon in a normal and natural way. There was no real separation. “A segment of Lebanese people believes that the Syrian man is this porter or that cleaner and does not know that the Syrian people include creative people, geniuses, academics and others as well” he says.
The reason for this, according to Ahmed, is that Syrians who came to Lebanon did so during certain periods. Those Syrians were either big capitalists who fled to Lebanon for reasons such as nationalisation, or petty-bourgeois labourers who worked as porters in the seaport, for instance. On the other hand, the Syrian army's entry to Lebanon in the seventies brought consequences when some of its uneducated soldiers from remote villages produced negative stereotypes that stayed in the minds of Lebanese people.
These stereotypes were passed on through generations in Lebanon but this has changed a somewhat today due to Syrian-Lebanese TV series and joint media production, which reflects better the reality of the Syrian people and their diversity. Recently, Syrians' feelings towards Lebanese society, the government and the country have turned into hatred because of the arbitrary decisions and ill-treatment they have been facing.
"Today, if you ask any Syrian in Lebanon whether he wants to return to his country, he will say that he wishes to do so as soon as he can but that he is unable to as a result of certain security conditions or because his name is listed for compulsory military service” Ahmad says. “The Syrian people have been living in a state of fear in their country for a long time and still do. The ordinary citizen avoids issues that relate to the state, security and politics so that they don’t face any harassment by the state.”
Life in Syria was simpler, something Ahmed says he lacks today in Lebanon. He hopes to return and live in Syria but this is difficult as he has established himself and worked in Lebanon for thirty years now and has his family, wife and children with him.
“I missed something after I came to live in Lebanon. Perhaps it was benediction, sincerity, and affection that prevailed in Syria. There, you walk on the road without someone asking you about your full name or which area you are in order to find about your sect and religion,” he says.
Today Ahmed has many friends and acquaintances in Damascus and in Beirut, too, because of his life experience and work. But his network of relations with the Syrians in Lebanon is still wider than his relations with the Lebanese.