In this already divided country, the roots of further division are becoming more visible. Waving al-Qaeda’s flag during protests and marches carried out by Salafists has become very common. Al-Qaeda’s flag was recently seen flying in the center of Beirut when 2,000 Salafists gathered in the capital upon the call of Sheikh Ahmad al-Assir to go to the streets. In one of Beirut’s neighborhoods [Tariq al Jadidah], which is the stronghold of the Sunni sect in the Lebanese capital, young masked men go occasionally to the streets waving al-Qaeda’s flag, as is the case in the city of Tripoli [the capital of North Lebanon], which is currently dominated by the Salafist movement.
In light of the current political situation, this phenomenon does not bode well for Lebanon. Al-Qaeda’s presence has become prominent on the Lebanese arena to the extent that it has become part of its normal political and partisan life. At the security level, it is believed that the Syrian crisis has been spilling over into some areas of Lebanon, as clashes in the Damascus countryside and Homs are reflected in some of the towns on Lebanon’s northern and eastern border.
According to the security information, al-Qaeda has affiliated groups in Lebanon, which have begun to grow and engage in raging confrontations in its northern cities, mainly the clashes taking place in Tripoli against Alawites. This is not to mention the confrontations waged by Jabhat al-Nusra in Syria, especially in the rural areas of Damascus and Homs. Moreover, the security information shows that first indications of al-Qaeda public appearance in Lebanon go back to period before the eruption of the Syrian revolution between 2007 and 2011, with the growing semi-public appearance of the movement of Fatah al-Islam, Abdullah Azzam Brigades and the Ziad Jarrah Brigades.
Nevertheless, al-Qaeda has had an increasingly heavy presence in Lebanon with the growing rise of the jihadist Salafist movement within the Syrian uprising, which created some sort of a link between the jihadist Salafists in Homs in particular, and the nascent Salafist movement in northern Lebanon. It was not long before the extremely poor Sunni-dominated northern Lebanon turned into the backyard of the Syrian armed Salafist opposition and an extension of its ideological climate.
The emergence of further divisions does not bode well for Lebanon. Changing demographics mean the old political system is no longer representative of the people in the land. These new visible factions creates a nervousness about the future and whether Lebanon could once again slip into violence.