The University of Balamand’s Samer Annous, International Crisis Group’s Sahar Atrash, director of the Business Development Organization in Tripoli Fawaz Hamdi, and former mayor of Tripoli Rashid Jamali provided a general overview on Tripoli, including its history, its current socioeconomic and security trends, and suggestions for reform. Atrash chaired the panel.
- Poor Socioeconomic Conditions: Jamali listed a number of disturbing statistics, including the fact that 57 percent of Tripoli’s inhabitants live below the upper poverty line, school enrollment is at 55 percent, and unemployment reaches 40 percent among the youth. However, Hamdi noted that these socioeconomic problems are not unique to Tripoli. The entire northern Lebanon region has similar trends, and the north is home to around 46 percent of Lebanon’s extremely poor population.
- Migrants: The schism between the old city of Tripoli (downtown) and the new one has created a sense of alienation, where people in the old town do not accept migrants coming from underprivileged areas of the north, added Annous. The reverse is true as well, with migrants feeling isolated from people in the old town.
- Deteriorating Economy: At the beginning of the civil war in 1975, economic hardship grew in Tripoli, particularly after the Iraq Petroleum Company closed its pipelines in the city, Hamdi explained. The economic situation deteriorated further after the start of the Syrian-Palestinian conflict in the 1980s. Today, the harbor of Tripoli handles only 6 percent of Lebanon’s maritime traffic and Beirut accounts for the rest.
- Absent Security Measures: Sunni leaders of Tripoli have financed militants, who, in return, help gather voters, said Annous. He explained the popular discourse in Tripoli is that Hezbollah is the major reason for confrontation. There are, however, deeper socioeconomic roots to the crisis, he contended. Atrash warned that Tripoli is a microcosm of what is happening in Lebanon and that the political system continues to produce renewed crises.
- Need for Reform: Reform and development is required in tourism, agriculture, education, and infrastructure, stated Hamdi. The population must be reduced and land area expanded, he said, adding that he sees a great deal fo potential for the Rachid Karameh area.