Much has been said about the resilience of Lebanese citizens. Last July, I wrote a blog post based on an Academic Paper in which the author concluded that the resilience of the Lebanese people is a curse, not a blessing. Read my earlier blog post to learn more about the same. The author Jamil Mouawad claimed in his paper that the so-called notorious resilience of the Lebanese is rooted in state-society relations that have undermined institutions while strengthening the system of patronage and clientelism.
We have another perspective on the issue, what about the Elite Resilience in Lebanon?
We had a revolution in 2019, but the same sectarian elites keep a tight grip on political, social and economic affairs even as the country has collapsed. What makes them so resilient. We know this very well when revolutions took place in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The powerful were deposed. Why did the revolution in fail in Lebanon, what makes the Lebanese people so passive? I will refer to two academic papers to get to the bottom of this phenomenon. One is from Dr Ibrahim Halawi and is called Elite Resilience in Lebanon at a Time of Deep Crises and the other is from Harel Chorev and is called Power, Tradition and Challenge: The Resilience of the Elite Shi'ite Families of Lebanon.
The state of Lebanon was created to manage sect conflicts rather than class-based conflicts.
Lebanon has families, why do we need parties? - Suleiman Franjieh, President of Lebanon 1970-1976.
To understand the resilience of the elites, one must go back in history once and examine our past.
After the French Mandate (1920-1943), when a centralised bureaucracy was established, the number of government offices was reduced to a minimum, most education, medical and other services were maintained on a communal basis. This consociational framework gave the elite families advantages in local politics. This framework enabled the leading families to form alliances with various sects.
Most modern states were created to manage class conflicts and protect capital, but in Lebanon, it was created to manage sectarian conflict. It was designed to serve the sectarian division of power. As a result, social relations in Lebanon are institutionalised and privileges are highly contested in sectarian forms.
What makes Elite Shi‘ite Families of Lebanon so Resilient?
In this article, the journalist Luna Safwan asks "Why isn't the Shiite community in Lebanon revolting?"
She says it was observed that at the beginning of the protests in October 2019, young men belonging to either Amal or Hezbollah were also protesting, but they withdrew from the streets within a few days.
In his paper Power, Tradition and Challenge: The Resilience of the Elite Shi'ite Families of Lebanon, Harel Chorev papers explains in detail how power shifted back and forth, but ultimately the elite Shiite families who had the ability to adapt to the new climate by developing alternative sources of power and strengthening their ideological identifications were able to be resilient.
The impact of the events of the 1970s, when control of the south was divided between the Palestinian and Lebanese militias. Despite rapid urbanisation and displacement from the south, these veteran leading families (or new ones) were able to reproduce old networks of influence.
Because of these families' advantages in the municipal arena, Amal and Hizbullah often preferred not to compete with each other and agreed to field a common candidate. Another important contributor to Shia loyalty to the elites is the absence of any kind of government in the Southern Borders.
The Shia community is tired, but the culture of unwavering allegiance, psychological factors of protection, and an alternative economy have meant that raising one's voice against the elites is not an option.
The complicity and passivity of Citizens in the Resilience of Lebanon's Sectarian Elites
In his paper, Dr Ibrahim Halawi says the citizens are complicit and were bribed and corrupted. He says the signs were obvious to see.
People trapped in pre-modern patronage relationships rode the wave of hyper-consumption, encouraged by low-interest loans from banks. They were encouraged to import luxurious cars and cheap domestic labour.
As Charbel Nahas described this political economy as where the elites bribed the post-war society and the citizens still won't admit they were cheated. Given this, it is no surprise that sectarian elites remain resilient. This, in my opinion, is the crux of Dr. Ibrahim Halawi excellent paper.