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Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis, Edited by Barry Rubin

Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis, Edited by Barry Rubin, (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010) Paperback edition 244 pages, ISBN 978-0-239-62306-4

Lebanon has a unique political system—confessional based—and has been a long-standing democracy in midst of an Arab world characterized by monarchies and autocracy. The presence of Maronites and other Christian Minorities has preserved Lebanon’s liberal nature. It has been home to many refugees. However, the country has faced a series of crises and a long-winding civil war, turning it into a failed state despite all its prospects. Barry Rubin, the editor, is the Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.

The contributions to this volume have addressed all aspects of Lebanese society, providing a clear, detailed picture of its dynamics. The book is organised so as to portray Lebanon’s internal dynamics, and then focus on the violence factor, specifically from the Hezbollah and Shi’a perspective. The book concludes looking into Lebanon’s relationship with Israel and the US, gazing into the future.

William Harris explains in ‘Reflections on Lebanon’ (chapter 1), the historical basis which has added to its distinctive structural make-up. He traces the country’s sectarian politics to its historic past, much beyond the political National Pact which legalized it. Eli Fawaz elaborates on this theme. In understanding ‘What Makes Lebanon a Distinctive Country?’(chapter 2)  through its historical background, as well as geographical and social specificity, Fawaz traces the path to the Grand Liban through the  Ottoman Millet system, ‘bounding people to their communities by their religious affiliation and confessional communities’(page 29). He reinforces his conviction in this ‘Lebanese Experience’ of power-sharing as the ‘only ray of light coming out of the region’ (page 33).

Tony Badran dissects the several categories present in the Lebanese society to understand ‘Lebanon’s Militia Wars’ (chapter 3). His conclusions are astonishing. No one section or group dominates Lebanon, but it is only the configuration of alliances among its confessional sections and external linkage that either prolongs or quickens the unrest. But the Hezbollah’s de facto control over parts of country and the Syrian association are identified as factors to be wary of for the survival of the unitary state. Mark Farha addresses the most sensitive factor of all, the ‘Democratic Dilemmas’ (chapter 5), that surround Lebanon. He concludes suggesting that the three largest communities—Christians, Sunnis and the Shi’a’ are roughly equivalent. Against the usual agreement for power-sharing, Farha feels ‘deconfessionalization to be a better cure for Lebanon’s ailment in principle’ (page 90), but recognizes the political impossibility of its realization. Charles Paul Freund and Nimrod Raphaeli elaborate on the culture and the economy of Lebanese society, following through the crises.

Moving from the internal dynamics, Gary Gambill’s ‘Islamist Groups in Lebanon’ (chapter 8) examines the presence of the various Shi’a and Sunni Islamist groups in Lebanon in their bewildering variety. Gambill portrays how these Islamist grouping are characterized by infightings (the Hezbollah-Amal competition being one example) while they are superseded by the Sunni-Shi’a divide within the Islamic fold. The presence of armed Christian and Druze elements only increases the bewilderment. While Eyal Zisser looks into the impact of ‘Hezbollah in Lebanon’; Omri Nir looks further into ‘The Lebanese Shi’a as a Political Community’ (chapter 10). Nir’s paper traces how the otherwise weakest and poorest group in Lebanon has risen to seek state power. The external support of Iran and Syria and the mounting political importance of Hezbollah have added to the improving political fortunes of the Shi’as.

Jonathan Spyer in ‘Israel and Lebanon: Problematic Proximity’ (chapter 11) looks into the most controversial of relations. Israel’s existence provokes a situation of enmity between the two countries, but the relationship is far from simple. Despite the Israeli-Maronite alliance and close borders, bad fences make bad neighbours as the presence of Palestinian Refugees remains a cause for the continued hostile environment, while the Hezbollah presence and the 2006 war further aggravates the situation. The anti-Israeli sentiment of Hezbollah and Israeli provocation are usually observed as the epicentre of the emerging conflicts in the region.

Tracing ‘America and the Lebanon Issue’ (chapter 12), David Schenker has shown how Lebanon, inflicted by crises, has always been a backwater of U.S. policy. The US national interests describe its Lebanon policy. Even the Bush government’s proactive support to Lebanon in the UN and the active involvement of US forces in the region were not aimed at improving bilateral relation with Lebanon per se, but to counter Hezbollah and  to protect the only pro-West Arab government in the region. The recent improvements in relation with Beirut and the US government’s support for the International Tribunal are more to do with US relations with Syria than those with Lebanon. In short, Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis offers a comprehensive view of the complex reality of the Lebanese political and a must read for any student of Lebanon and Fertile Crescent.

Sonia Roy is a research student at the School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.Email

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy