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Syrian refugee children participate in a religion class. Photographed in the Ketermaya informal tented settlement (ITS), outside Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014. (Courtesy Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

Syrian refugee children participate in a religion class. Photographed in the Ketermaya informal tented settlement (ITS), outside Beirut, Lebanon on June 1, 2014. (Courtesy Dominic Chavez/World Bank)

THIS PAST SUMMER, at one of Beirut’s many trendy rooftop bars, I met an undocumented Syrian NGO worker named Hani. Since Syria began unravelling in 2011, its people have fled in many directions, and for all sorts of reasons related to the war. In Hani’s case, it was because he feared arrest for his opposition to the Assad regime.

According to Hani, he set out for Lebanon early one morning in August 2012, traversing the mountainous Syrian-Lebanese border. Hani had walked for five or six hours until arriving at a pre-arranged meeting place, where a car was waiting for him.

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Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut. (Courtesy Reuters)

Maghen Abraham, Beirut's oldest synagogue, undergoes renovation in Wadi Abu-Jamil district in downtown Beirut. (Courtesy Reuters)

Miriam Mizrahi Guindi, a Syrian Jew originally from Aleppo, set sail from Mexico City to Beirut in 1946. Already pregnant, she would soon give birth in her husband Elias’ hometown, the Lebanese capital. Miriam returned to the city on three occasions to deliver the youngest of her six children, spending five or so months there each time. Like many émigré Lebanese and Syrian Jews, Miriam and Elias maintained a strong attachment to the region despite having left their homeland. Both spoke French and Hebrew since their youth, but Arabic was their native and preferred tongue.

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(Courtesy Shutterstock/The Economist)

(Courtesy Shutterstock/The Economist)

WITH only the clothes on her back and a toothbrush in her pocket, Mariney, a Mexican-American NGO worker, flew from Beirut to Cyprus in April. It was a routine visa run made by many expatriates in Lebanon before the expiry of their two-month “tourist" visas, which are free on arrival. But when Mariney was clearing customs, security officials told her she would not be allowed to return to Lebanon.

Two months earlier Mariney’s employer, a Chicago-based human rights organisation, had started the paperwork to get Mariney a work visa. That led to months of back-and-forth exchanges with a disorganised and overwhelmed Lebanese bureaucracy, ending in nothing but flagging up Mariney to the authorities.

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Charred books in Tripoli's Al-Saeh library. (Courtesy Hussein Malla/AP)

Charred books in Tripoli's Al-Saeh library. (Courtesy Hussein Malla/AP)

DAYS after a fire wreaked havoc on Tripoli’s largest library, much of it is already restored. Shelf after shelf holds books neatly wrapped in plastic to protect them from the humidity. Residents from the northern Lebanese city gather in the backyard eagerly discussing the library’s reconstruction.

On January 3rd, Tripoli’s Al-Saeh library was set aflame, purportedly by Salafists, fundamentalist Muslims, after rumours circulated accusing Father Ibrahim Sarrouj, a Greek Orthodox priest and the library’s founder, of writing a pamphlet insulting Islam. Among other things, the article was alleged to say that Abu Bakr, Islam’s first caliph, the leader of the Muslim community after Muhammad’s death, once beat the prophet’s wife Aisha with a newspaper.

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A camel foams at the mouth as he is whipped by a robot jockey during a race at Nad al-Sheba on December 6, 2006 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Courtesy Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

A camel foams at the mouth as he is whipped by a robot jockey during a race at Nad al-Sheba on December 6, 2006 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (Courtesy Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—A late-afternoon sandstorm had descended on the Al Marmoom racetrack, some 40 kilometers outside of Dubai, and dust swirled everywhere. But even with the harsh desert weather, the races went ahead as planned.

The camels—many of them owned by the royal families of the United Arab Emirates—galloped along a five-kilometer track, with the fastest ones zipping past the finish line, like clockwork, on or near the 7:40 mark. Stamped with electronic chips for identification, the animals are presented by their owners, along with parentage certificates specifying their breed and age, before every race. Afterwards, the top three finishers are taken to a nearby center to test for doping—routine fare for Dubai’s multimillion-dollar camel racing industry.

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