The Politics of Sectarianism in Postwar Lebanon

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By: Bassel Salloukh,
Rabie Barakat, Jinan S. Al-Habbal,
Lara W. Khattab, and Shoghig Mikaelian

Publisher: Pluto Press

London, UK: Pluto Press, 2015. 240p. Pbk: $30.00. ISBN: 978-0745334134. Ebk: $24.12. 887KB. ASIN: B0123NN51M.

Volume: 3 Issue: 12

December 2015

Review by:

Ghassan Khankarli, PhD

University of Texas at Arlington

Texas, USA

In their book, The Politics of Sectarianism in Postwar Lebanon, authors Salloukh et al. examine the inner workings of Lebanon’s sectarian system and its impact on the overall performance of all facets of institutional establishments as well as social, economic, and political norms. As the authors affirm, the main objective of the book is to examine the sectarian system of governance by researching the institutional and societal arrangements which brought into being a structured form of subjective sectarian political actions as well as those who differed in accepting it. The authors stressed that the “institutionally weak Lebanese state assimilated the logic of kinship as an institution of governance,” resulted in low public morality and lack of accountability and transparency. The book starts with a discussion about how, since 2010, the Arab Spring, which started as a simple protest against social injustice quickly descended into vertical sectarian tone throughout the region. By contrast, Lebanon’s sectarian form of government provided stability; yet as the authors state: “the Lebanese remain unequal sectarian subjects compartmentalized in self managed communities, rather than citizens with inalienable rights” (p. 2). This led to the development and consolidation of power within the sectarian, political and economic elites which emerged after the dissolution of the pre-civil war political elites. Based on decades of experience in the Lebanese sectarian system of governance, the authors concisely explain how this system managed to survive the vertical sectarian tone in order to sustain class division within the Lebanese society.

This book, which is comprised of 10 chapters, presented the various aspects of sectarianism based on in-depth research supported by factual data. Bassel Salloukh authored chapters 1, 5, and 10, and contributed to Chapter 2 with Rabie Barakat, who also authored Chapter 8. Jinan Al-Habbal authored Chapter 3 and co-authored Chapter 6 with Basel Salloukh. Lara Khattab authored Chapter 4 and co-authored Chapter 10. Lastly, Shoghig Mikaelian authored Chapter 9. The chapters are laid out in a disciplined manner describing Lebanon’s sectarian system. Chapter 1 reviews recent events in the Arab world, the make-up of Lebanon’s sectarian system, its history, and its struggles towards an effective nation-state. It also lays out the book chapters’ make-up and the relevance of their contents to the introduced information. Chapter 2 offers a historical view of Lebanon’s evolvement of its sectarian political system from its inception in 1839 through its formal adoption into a power-sharing establishment, in particular the period starting from 1990. Chapter 3 examines the functions and mandate of state establishments in relation to the sectarian political and religious establishments, in particular on matters affecting family laws, sectarian-based social services, and the sectarian political economy. Chapter 4 explores the tactics employed by the sectarian political leaders to complicate civil society’s active efforts towards reform. Similarly, Chapter 5 focuses on describing the similar tactics employed by the sectarian political leaders in influencing and exploiting the labor movement along the sectarian divide, and the ensuing results of undermining its core existence for social fairness and laborers’ rights. Chapter 6 explores the electoral system’s set-up, which preserves the sustained production of sectarian political elites at the detriment of a more encompassing non-sectarian set-up. Chapter 7 examines Lebanon’s most prominent and promising institution — the Lebanese Armed Forces, its composition, its mission, its role, and the irony of the typical governing civil-military relationship. Chapter 8 looks at the impact of privately owned, sectarian-driven media outlets and their influence on their audience in fueling sectarian opinions and attitudes. Chapter 9 focuses on one of the most powerful sectarian actors and this role within and external to Lebanon. Lastly, Chapter 10 concludes the book with an observation about possible transformational actions which could put Lebanon on a positive reform path.

In summary, this book is not just about Lebanon. Rather, it is a superlative description of the challenges governing a sectarian political system and the obstacles to overcoming them. The authors clearly differentiate this work from others by highlighting its neutrality, coupled with an in-depth analysis. It is a story relayed by the authors with great insight into the complexities of such a system of governance based on factual data. In addition, Salloukh et al. expose the struggles faced by those who differ from such a system and the difficulties in achieving meaningful results. Every person who is concerned about the long term progress of a nation under such a political arrangement should carefully examine the contents of this book as the debate goes on about the concept of individual citizenship rights in a consociational political system of governance and the potential for advancements as an equitable benefit to all. As their record of research and studies showed, Lebanon’s progress towards statute, transparency, and accountability will be hampered if windows for broad discourse are not generated together, and conceivably when national interests are at stake. Future revisions to this book may consider exploring the link between the sectarian system of governance and transparency, especially since Lebanon’s Corruption Perception Index score has steadily regressed from 30 in 2012 to 27 in 2014, with a current ranking of 136 out 175, or in the bottom 23% of the most corrupt countries in the world (Transparency International 2015).

Transparency International (2015). Corruption Perceptions Index 2014: Results. Berlin, Germany. Retrieved accessed November 15, 2015 from

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