In This Review

When Blame Backfires: Syrian Refugees and Citizen Grievances in Jordan and Lebanon
When Blame Backfires: Syrian Refugees and Citizen Grievances in Jordan and Lebanon
By Anne Marie Baylouny
Cornell University Press, 2020, 231 pp

The plight of refugees from Syria has received much attention since the country descended into civil war in 2011. Although many western Europeans have taken a humanitarian interest in the refugees, their governments have been less keen to accept large inflows of people fleeing the war. As a result, Syria’s neighbors Jordan and Lebanon host the highest number of Syrian refugees—and indeed, per capita, they host the most refugees in the world. Both Amman and Beirut have received substantial international aid in support of these refugees; cynics suggest that the refugees serve as yet another source of government rent. Baylouny delves into how ordinary Jordanian and Lebanese citizens perceive the influx, as they face more competition over already scarce water, housing, electricity, and jobs. She provides a revealing and at times counterintuitive portrait of the nuanced ways that locals have responded to the newcomers. Resentment quickly overtook sympathy as the demand on local resources grew. But Jordanian and Lebanese citizens didn’t buy government efforts to shirk responsibility and blame the scarcity on the refugees themselves. On the contrary, in both Jordan and Lebanon, protests over the right of citizens to be served effectively by their governments undermined local regional and sectarian identities in favor of a more broadly national collective focused on making demands on the government. This shift may have far-reaching consequences for governments long accustomed to ruling by dividing diverse populations.