A Country in Fragments
A subtle and reflective essay on whether the Lebanese will ever transcend their internal divisions and external challenges.
Lebanon can seem a country in the grip of permanent crisis. Political infighting has paralysed its institutions, and its economy is barely treading water, pulled under by the effects of the Syrian Civil War, which has disrupted tourism and brought over a million refugees across the border.
Many analysts have sought to explain Lebanon’s travails by the disputes and deals of the country’s confessional leaders and the destabilising forces of regional geopolitics.This perspective, however, overlooks the ways in which Lebanon’s inhabitants have tried to come to terms with the exhausting realities of daily life, from electricity shortages to traffic jams and festering mountains of rubbish on the streets. It is on such quotidien challenges that this book concentrates.
Scrutinising the fraught, creative politics of everyday life, Andrew Arsan examines the stories and structural forces that frame the daily existences of ordinary Lebanese, and reconstructs how they make sense of, and make do with, these stresses and strains.
Arsan argues there is nothing exceptional about Lebanon’s woes. Rather, they are, in many ways, emblematic of these times of economic precariousness, public piety, populist rhetoric and popular disaffection. By making sense of Lebanon, we can also begin to understand the twenty-first century.
Andrew Arsan is University Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Cambridge and a fellow of St John’s College, Cambridge. His first book, Interlopers of Empire: The Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa was joint winner of the 2015 Royal Historical Society Gladstone Prize.