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Atlas of Lebanon


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1As we are concluding this work, we cannot escape addressing the paradox this book embodies. In most contexts, preparing an atlas, understood as a reasoned mapping of a country, happens in moments of State’s affirmation. Atlases are indeed symbols of sovereignty through the mapped exhibition of national borders and territorial State’s actions. Their realization itself is conditioned by the possibility of access to informational resources, the production of which results from processes of control and management implemented by the State on its territory. This Atlas of Lebanon does not fit this description, even though a public institution, the National Council for Scientific Research, initiated the project.

2Since 2005, Lebanon has gone through a period of strong destabilization, both internally and externally. Because of repeated political voids, its institutions have frequently appeared powerless. The major crises in the public infrastructure such as potable water, electricity, and waste collection and treatment mirror this weakness, as does the sloppy and inefficient management of urbanization that triggers pollution, wasting of public goods such as natural and agricultural spaces and the free access to the seashore, as well as the exposure to natural hazards. The State also seems largely powerless in the face of the sudden inflow and the probably long-term settlement of Syrian refugees, that account for between one quarter and one third of the population, in addition to the Palestinian refugees who have been living in the country since 1948. The arrival of this uprooted population, left with scarce resources, aggravates even more the dramatic social crisis, with poverty at its highest.

3To confront these evolutions, the State is almost blind, as it lacks the necessary observation tools. Their absence is a mere sign of the disdain the political elites show for these issues. The government indeed keeps on limiting the funds and the programs of the administration of statistics, which depends upon international supports to undertake surveys. Therefore, the State knows little about the inhabitants and their elementary socio-demographical characteristics, and even less about their geographical repartition. This certainly explains the serious limitation regarding information about the country’s population in this book. The paradox is that information about the refugees are for more precise, regarding the demographics, the spatial repartition and the living conditions, than the data concerning the Lebanese.

4As we finished the first version of this atlas, in 2006, the Israeli war against Hezbollah broke out and left once again the country in ruins and deeply divided. In 2015, as we wrote the second version, we feared Lebanon might be torn apart in the spillover of the Syrian war, as had this country since 2012. However, until now, Lebanon has overcome these challenges thus prompting many commentators to highlight and hail the Lebanese “resilience”. It is necessary at the end of this book to acknowledge those factors and dynamics, the interplay of which has allowed Lebanon to hold on, if not as a State at least as a country.

5The management of the Lebanese economy is the first factor to be taken into consideration. The economic and financial integration of the country, at the regional and world levels, and the strong links developed with its diaspora, has ensured the continuity of financial inflows into the country. Whereas out-migrations are the symptom of a run-down economy, they can also be interpreted as a factor that holds the country together. The central bank plays a central role in this mechanism, through the pegging of the Lebanese pound with the dollar, a key element to maintain the level of deposits in the banking system, which in turn helps finance the State. This mechanism has brought a lot of revenue to the economic (and political) elite, thanks to a policy of high interest rates. This once stabilizing mechanism is however a factor of risk because of the increasing national debt. Cutting expenditures will come at a high social price.

6The continuous support of the international organizations to assist and aid the Lebanese State in the reconstructions it went through (thanks to loans), and more recently to cope with the Syrian refugee crisis, is another source of the so-called “resilience”. But this coping mechanism is ambiguous because it has not resulted in the building of efficient infrastructures and administrations, but rather in their bypassing and in the creation of parallel, often private, institutions. Hence both factors of resilience have resulted in the sidelining of State institutions, as stated by researcher Jamil Mouawad (2017).

7Another source of the Lebanese strength lies in its civil society. Even though this notion is at times unclear, one can observe that, in Lebanon, the citizens have to deal without the State. Therefore, they mobilize various resources drawn from the multifarious networks they live in, whether professional, militant, scientific, or sometimes sectarian. This enables them to arm their claims and protest against the State or against the groups that monopolize violence and power, as well as to imagine answers and alternatives. These counter-initiatives produce knowledge, which this atlas has drawn upon in order to document and visualize the mobilizations in defense of civic rights, to protect the environment and public goods, and more recently to organize politically. In the face of the forces that seek to enroll the Lebanese population into political and sectarian divisions, vast swaths of the Lebanese society are aware of the errors and deadly drifts of the Civil War and stand up to these trends. These movements are also considered a factor of national stabilization.

8Eventually, and acknowledging the risk of overgeneralization, this atlas has insisted on the dynamics that many local governments have shown. It is true that municipal (and supramunicipal) organizations are not without shortcomings. The main one probably being that most citizens cannot vote in the place where they live, but only where their ancestors were registered. This gap is a major pitfall that is leading to the bad management of municipal services, because their budgets do not reflect their real needs, and because local elites may confiscate public action in their interests rather than dedicating it to those of the actual dwellers and users. Nevertheless, local governments have taken numerous interesting initiatives aiming at solving concrete issues on the ground, by entering into unspectacular partnerships and alliances that might display different logics than accounts of public action in Lebanon that privilege national and sectarian stakes. The closing chapter of this atlas has highlighted these local, modest but concrete initiatives and solutions. By doing so, our team wished to insist on their potential and on the necessity to empower these institutions.

Figure C-1 : Participatory workshop during the consultations organized in preparation for the reconstruction for the Nahr el-Bared Camp

Figure C-1 : Participatory workshop during the consultations organized in preparation for the reconstruction for the Nahr el-Bared Camp

(© Ismael Sheikh Hussein, 2008)

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Título Figure C-1 : Participatory workshop during the consultations organized in preparation for the reconstruction for the Nahr el-Bared Camp
Créditos (© Ismael Sheikh Hussein, 2008)
Archivo image/jpeg, 272k

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2019

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