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Atlas of Lebanon

Part 1 - Lebanon: A Century of Unrest and Wars

Territorialization of the State: A Contested Process

Walid Bakhos et Éric Verdeil

Texte intégral

1Since its independence, the construction of the Lebanese State and the enforcement of its sovereignty have faced continuous challenges if not long-lasting disruptions. This culminated during the Civil War between 1975 and 1990, as internal forces, supplemented by foreign interventions, almost totally sidelined the State. The way the State has mapped its territory and the various steps of this endeavor reflect these difficulties.

Territorial divisions and state control over the Lebanese territory

2During the Mandate, the French authorities started the establishment of the land registry, based on cadastral zones, but left the process unfinished. Since 1943, the Lebanese State has not completed it either. Therefore, some areas have never been delineated, while in others the survey of land parcels has never been validated or officially registered. As the map shows, some areas are also still subject to disputes. This is the result of the conflicting logics of the numerous actors which have been involved in this process: public administrations (judiciary, army), landlords, communities, etc.

3Far from revealing the systematic implementation of a territorial grid, this process seems to have answered the immediate needs of the colonial power and its interest for the most valuable lands: the vast agricultural zones, the Bekaa Valley and coastal plains, and the main urban centers. The resulting map provides an opportunity to reflect upon a process that leaves out entire areas of the country. Not being attached to any locality, these left-out regions still experience a legal limbo when it comes to land transactions, which widens margins for interpretation, contestation and circumvention by various actors.

4Moreover, the superimposition of the official border demarcation, as set by the Lebanese army, and the limits of the registered cadastral zones reveal a number of areas with unclear status: areas attached to Lebanese cadastral zones but located beyond the border, Syrian areas located within the Lebanese borders, and even areas that are Lebanese according to both sources but considered as its own by Syria. The most controversial point concerns the Chebaa Farms: mistakenly located in Syria by the French authorities, the area appears to be inside Syrian territory on a number of maps, despite official claims by the Lebanese authorities, backed by evidence that the lands are owned by Lebanese farmers. Israel has occupied this zone since it seized the Golan Heights in 1967. A joint Syrian-Lebanese committee must still officially delineate the border.

Figure I-5: Land registration and cadaster in Lebanon

Figure I-5: Land registration and cadaster in Lebanon

Territorial administration and decentralization

5The successive changes of territorial divisions in Lebanon reflect the transformation of its administration and the territorial issues the new Lebanese government is facing. The administrative framework comprises two territorial levels. On the one hand, most State administrations run services at the muhafazat (district) level under the authority of the muhafez. On the other hand, some administrations operate at the caza (sub-district) level, under the authority of the caimacam.

6After the independence, a series of new caza were created with a twofold objective. First, these bodies provided new jobs in administration. Second, this breakdown in a bigger number of caza further improved the representation of the various communities within each administrative division, and thus developed the redistribution schemes of the resources each community could benefit from. The division of South Lebanon in two muhafazat in 1975 is a good illustration of the State’s objective of reinforcing its presence in this long-abandoned region, considered the poorest of the country.

7The establishment of separate muhafazat in the North and the East in 2003 answered the claim for balanced development, a principle inscribed in the Taif Agreement which ended the Civil War. The objective was to make State services more accessible in populous areas which were not well connected with the centers of the former muhafazat (i.e. Tripoli and Zahleh). However, this decision was also taken with sectarian balance in mind: make Baalbek the center of a mostly Shiite area, while this region used to be attached to a mostly Christian city (Zahleh). The setting up of a tighter territorial grid must not only be seen as a sign of growing State control over the territory: it has been as much, if not more, a tool for the State to acknowledge local social groups, major families and religious communities.

Figure I-6: Administrative divisions from 1950 onwards

Figure I-6: Administrative divisions from 1950 onwards

8The importance of State centralization can be verified when one looks at the process for the establishment of municipalities. In Lebanon, the creation municipal entities results of a request made by the inhabitants of a specific area. Contrary to countries where municipalities are the basic administrative entity, the Lebanese territory is not entirely divided into municipalities. Started during the second half of the 19th century, the municipalization process was quite slow and uneven until the 1960s and the Chehab presidency, when a great number of localities became municipalities. However, no municipal elections took place between 1963 and 1998 and a lot of municipalities were unable to function during the Civil War. The 1998 and 2004 elections marked the relaunch of this process and, nowadays, more than three quarters of the national territory are covered. However, municipalities still face a variety of challenges (see part 6).

Figure I-7 : The Lebanese municipalities before the 1998 elections

Figure I-7 : The Lebanese municipalities before the 1998 elections

Figure I-8: The creation of municipalities over time

Figure I-8: The creation of municipalities over time

Table des illustrations

Titre Figure I-5: Land registration and cadaster in Lebanon
Fichier image/png, 307k
Titre Figure I-6: Administrative divisions from 1950 onwards
Fichier image/png, 151k
Titre Figure I-7 : The Lebanese municipalities before the 1998 elections
Fichier image/png, 275k
Titre Figure I-8: The creation of municipalities over time
Fichier image/jpeg, 42k

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