SOAS University of London

Department of History, School of History, Religions & Philosophies

Populism and the Christian political in post-war Lebanon

Andrew Arsan, University of Cambridge

Date: 18 March 2019Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 18 March 2019Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: Khalili Lecture Theatre

Type of Event: Seminar

I want to provide here a brief account of the central features of Christian political thought in post-war Lebanon. Much of the English-language literature on Lebanon’s politics since 1990 has tended to focus on the practices of its Sunni and Shia leaders – and, in particular, of Rafiq al-Hariri and Hizballah. I would like to suggest, however, that much can be gained from examining the languages in which Christian political commitments have been expressed, and the causes that have elicited concern among Lebanon’s Christian political leaders and partisans. Theirs, I argue, is a form of political thought stalked by the fear of social decline and political irrelevance, of impotence and existential risk. These anxieties spill over the bounds of the political, expressing themselves in concerns about property sales or the movements of migrants and refugees as much as in debates surrounding electoral law or political alliances and alignments. Together, however, they have produced a deeply populist form of political expression, which conflates the particular claims of one community with the collective interests of the body politic as a whole, and which draws sharp distinctions between friends and enemies, members of the fold and those who must be cast out. Retracing the evolution of this language can, I think, tell us a great deal about the Middle Eastern trajectories of populist politics and conservative thought.  

Andrew Arsan is Senior Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History in the Faculty of History, University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of St. John’s College. His first book, Interlopers of Empire: The Lebanese Diaspora in Colonial French West Africa (Hurst, 2014), was joint winner of the Royal Historical Society’s Gladstone Prize. His second book, Lebanon: A Country in Fragments, a study of contemporary Lebanese politics and society, was published by Hurst in 2018. That same year, he was awarded a Philip Leverhulme Prize in History. He is currently at work on a history of the lands we now know as Lebanon. 

Organiser: Ceyda Karamursel

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