Lebanese Twitter users are demanding the dismissal of the country’s foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, following a series of what they called “racist tweets” against Syrian refugees on Monday.
Lebanese and Arabs on Twitter are using an Arabic hashtag that translates to “we demand the dismissal of the Foreign Minister” to express their anger about Bassil’s statements, making the hashtag the second most used in Lebanon.
On Saturday, Gebran Bassil’s Free Patriotic Movement published a promotional video of a campaign that encourages hiring Lebanese workers instead of foreigners. The video featured campaigners visiting shops and telling Syrian workers to “go back to their country.”
Lebanese twitter users responded by tweeting “Gebran does not represent me,” or “Gebran does not represent the Lebanese people.”
Lebanese Elie Keyrouz tweeted saying: “I suggest you leave the ministry and smoke shisha.”
Bassil previously called Syrian refugees “ticking bombs” that threaten Lebanon’s stability and “dangerous” for the Lebanese social fabric, but most of his comments revolve around Syrians taking the jobs that the Lebanese people are entitled to.
Free Patriotic Movement’s campaign
Syrian journalist Mohammad Hasan, one of the most prominent activists of refugee rights in Lebanon, believes that Bassil’s rhetoric is directly linked to violence against refugees.
“The increasing hate speech on social media, especially from Lebanese politicians, including Gebran Bassil, is encouraging violence against refugees,” he told Al Arabiya English.
Hasan also said that the Lebanese politicians’ urgency to improve the economy is making them turn a blind eye when it comes to sending refugees back to Syria.
“Gebran Bassil’s statements saying that Syria is safe – to legitimize Lebanon returning Syrians to their country – is really concerning the refugees because they know the truth, that is their lives will be in danger if they return,” Hassan added.
Despite some of them being born and raised in Lebanon, Lebanese labor laws are still tough on Palestinian refugees. Along with Syrians, they are not allowed to practice most occupations, despite having legal residencies.
Comparing Lebanese and Saudi laws
Among users of the hashtag were Saudis who were rather angry by comparing Lebanon’s hiring laws to Saudi ones; some of them even called for applying the same law to Lebanese people working in Saudi Arabia, and firing them.
Saudi Twitter users were mostly replying to a two-days-old tweet by the minister saying “it’s normal to defend Lebanese workers against workers from any other nationalities, be it Syrians, Palestinians, French, Saudi, Iranian, or American. The Lebanese employee comes first.”
Doctor Khalid al-Saud, a Saudi businessman and an academic in the field of public administration, replied to the Lebanese foreign minister saying: “Saudis come to your country as tourists, not to look for a job. Your excellency should corroborate information before tweeting.”
Bassil replied to the outrage by tweeting: “Countries, including Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, prioritize their people in their laws. This is not racism. When you defend your nation, you are patriotic, not racist.”