Sectarian divides in Lebanon's second largest city [Tripoli] mirror those in neighbouring Syria, and loyalties are being severely tested.
A large Sunni majority in the city, which feeds into the growing Free Syrian Army network, smaller Alawite and Christian populations, and increasingly vocal Islamist groups all vie to support their respective allies just over the border.And as the violence continues, each have established Tripoli as a base of operations for their work in Syria.The religious nature of Syria's uprising is difficult to gauge, but a number of Islamist groups, from Hizb ul-Tahrir to the Muslim Brotherhood, are said to be supporting a growing number of individual local militias, gangs and brigades in Syria's restive towns and cities.
With Islamist pitted against Alawi, Syrian operatives scouting for FSA members and a growing refugee problem, members of the city's large Sunni population are somewhat caught in the middle.
The stories they hear and images flooding in from nearby Homs are clearly disturbing, but worries that a power vacuum would provoke a civil war arouse painful memories.
"We had a long and bloody war here and we don't want this to happen again," says Bader Hassoun, owner of the city's well-known soap factory Khan Saboun.
Already witnessing the growing flood of refugees, Mr Hassoun is concerned that Syrians forced to beg and steal will swamp Lebanon and drive away business.
"There are 25 million people in Syria - if only 2% of their population arrives here in Lebanon, it will be a disaster for us," he says.
"They should be careful. About 80% of my business is outside of Tripoli. If it gets much worse, people like me will do what the Lebanese do best in troubled times - leave."
Keep in mind, as well, that Lebanon has a very low fertility rate (TFR just at replacement level of 2.1), and only 25 percent of its population is under age 25. Its next-door neighbor Syria, by contrast, has a TFR of 3.2 and 37 percent of its population is under 25. The demographic threat to Lebanon of continued conflict in Syria is thus very real.