A Country in Fragments
A reflective examination of everyday life in Lebanon in times of precarity and political torpor
Winner of the Philip Leverhulme Prize for History, 2018
Lebanon seems a country in the grip of permanent crisis. In recent years it has suffered blow after blow, from Rafiq Hariri’s assassination in 2005 to the 2006 July War, to the arrival of a million refugees fleeing war in Syria, and nationwide protests in 2019.
This is an account not just of Lebanon’s high politics, with its endless rows, walk-outs, machinations and foreign alliances, but also of the politics of everyday life: all the stresses and strains the country’s inhabitants face, from electricity black-outs and uncollected rubbish to stagnating wages and property bubbles. Andrew Arsan moves between parliament and the public squares where protesters gather, between luxury high-rises and refugee camps, and between expensive nightclubs and seafront promenades, providing a comprehensive view of Lebanon in the twenty-first century.
Where others have treated Lebanon’s woes as exceptional, a by-product of its sectarianism and particular vulnerability to regional crises, Arsan argues that there is nothing particular about Lebanon’s predicament. Rather, it is a country of the age—one of neoliberal economics, populist fervour, forced displacement, rising xenophobia, and public disillusion. Lebanon, in short, offers us a lens through which to look on our times.
‘Arsan’s book is an acute portrayal of Lebanon’s unsentimental resilience and exhausting challenges. … It is both deeply immersive and narrated with impressive critical detachment.’ — Times Literary Supplement
‘Lebanon seeks to understand, and explain, Lebanon on its own terms. Only by doing that can the story of this complicated country be fairly told … [this book] can serve as a manual for those in Lebanon wishing to understand their country better in order to change it.’ — Joey Ayoub, Al-Jumhuriya
‘Arsan skilfully reviews and analyses major themes … Lebanon: A Country in Fragments is well-written and deftly explained … strongly recommended.’ — Choice
‘This brilliant book immerses us in Lebanon’s present. … caustic, biting and often funny. … if you do not understand Lebanese politics this book is the ultimate key to grasping the complicated history of this small nation.’ — Arab News
‘In writing such a wide-ranging and impassioned book, Arsan has made a significant contribution to scholarship on Lebanon. In particular, his work succeeds in searching out the ‘now’ of lived experience, drawing on art, social media, journalism, interviews and personal experience. Thoroughly recommended and highly gripping, the general reader and the specialist both have something to gain by reading Lebanon: A Country in Fragments.’ — Asian Affairs Journal
‘Combining thorough historiography with half-detached ethnographic observation, this brilliant book is the account of a modern Virgil, guiding the reader through Lebanon’s Hell and Purgatory while pointing at the country’s manifold sinful indulgence.’ — Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies and International Relations, SOAS
‘A comprehensive political and social history of post-2005 Lebanon. Arsan provides context, nuance, history and ethnography, all of which are key to understanding this dizzying period. This book is a must-read—a gift to scholars and activists alike.’ — Maya Mikdashi, Assistant Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies, Rutgers University
‘This lively and well-written book provides an excellent narrative of Lebanon’s history and an engaging and thoughtful account of the social and political problems that beleaguer it even today.’ — Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, SOAS
‘A beautifully written and empathetic account of politics, security and the realm of the ordinary in Lebanon’s recent tumultuous years. This is a must-read for anyone seeking to understand this small, crisis-ridden nation.’ — Sarah El-Richani, Assistant Professor of Mass Communications, The American University in Cairo and author of The Lebanese Media
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.