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Atlas du Liban

Éric Verdeil
Ghaleb Faour
Sébastien Velut



Texte intégral

1This book aims to highlight the achievements made during the 15 years since the civil war, given that this has been a period of great achievements despite some uncompleted realizations and the difficulties that have surfaced since 2005 with the renewal of internal tensions, the conflicted relationship with Syria and the war with Israel in the summer of 2006. In Lebanon probably more than in other places, the evolution of the country cannot be understood without connecting together various scales of analysis. In this book, we intend to intertwine the geopolitical transformations at the regional level of the Middle East and the factors of the social, economic and political balance of power at the national level. In addition, we also want to take into consideration the smallest scale at which actors are evolving, the various regions, cities and villages of Lebanon, as well as the global scale at which the diaspora is moving.

2With this book, our purpose is to provide a framework of territorial dynamics in the middle and long term that can help understand and place in their context the more brutal movements and changes, like the recent 2006 conflict.

A New Atlas of Lebanon

3This Atlas of Lebanon is not the only book of its kind. The first could probably be considered to be the Atlas de Syrie et du Liban by Khanzadian, in 1926. Published by the French Trade Chambers, it brought together some historical plates with modern maps regarding the country’s economic resources and its demography. It was clearly linked to the Mandate’s imperialistic, colonial project of exploiting the country.

4The Atlas du Liban by the IRFED team in 1964 was one of the products of the large effort to produce surveys and plans undertaken under President Fouad Chebab in order to launch a development and regional planning policy that remains until now a reference in Lebanese history.

5The third document in the series is the Atlas du Liban published in 2004 by the CDR (and later distributed by the CNRS of Lebanon). It was prepared by Dar al-Handasah and Iaurif, a team of consultants commissioned for a National Master Plan. It contains a wide-ranging diagnosis of the country’s situation about ten years after the civil war and a set of proposals for new planning principles. Several sources used in the Atlas du Liban were elaborated in common with CNRS teams and are to be found in this work.

6In 2005 the Ministry of Agriculture published an Atlas of Agriculture, limited in its scope to the cartographic display of the 1999 agriculture census, as well as the 1998 land-use map prepared by the CNRS.

7A further Atlas du Liban was published in 2003 and re-issued in 2006. Authored by several professors of the Université Saint-Joseph, it is mostly intended for pre-university students. Its purpose is to provide historical and geographical materials for the identification of the country.

Four logics of spatial organization

8This Atlas du Liban – Territoires et Société is linked neither to political sponsoring, nor to implementation purposes or an educational goal. It is meant to help understand the transformation of Lebanon over the last half-century, and it focuses on spatial, social and political dynamics. Four levels of interpretation are laid down in the foreground.

9The first is the Lebanese national construction, especially in its territorial chapter. With its current borders set up only in 1920, Lebanon is, like its neighbours, a by-product of the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire by the Great Powers in the aftermath of the First World War. The territorial organization of the country is the result of a progressive adjustment of the various administrative levels that divide the country: borders, limits of deconcentrated administrations, municipal limits. At the local scale, the pre-existing and new local actors are disputing this State-defined territorial organization. The civil war highlighted the persistence of ancient internal, political, regional and religious divisions, as well as the emergence of new ones.

10The second axis in the study of Lebanon’s territory is its insertion within the world economy. Owing to the capitalist penetration of European powers during the 19th century and the rise of a strong migration movement towards America, Lebanon can be considered as a precursor of globalisation. Its economy also depends upon Middle Eastern transformations that affect its position as a joint between the East and the West.

11A third logic in the evolution of Lebanon is linked to the geopolitical tensions and crises of the Middle East. The new borders inherited from the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, the Zionist movement in Palestine and the creation of Israel, the refugee flows from Anatolia and from Palestine and the series of wars at the Lebanese borders or on its soil, as well as the turmoil on the edges of the Gulf and in Iraq, are all major factors of change for the Lebanese territory.

12A final point, mostly due to a combination of the above-mentioned logics, helps understand the country’s spatial transformations. Changes in the way of life, particularly urbanization, the adoption of new demographic and consumerist attitudes, represent a deep break. Less brutal than political changes, it has nonetheless resulted in powerful spatial dynamics.


13The Atlas intends to combine several scales of analysis: the world, the Middle East, the Lebanese territory, as well as Lebanese regions, towns and villages. The historical framework focuses mostly on the second part of the twentieth century. As far as possible, we have relied on a wide range of data from various origins provided we could identify and refer to clear sources. We know that their reliability is sometimes questionable and therefore mention it in the text when it is the case. As for the small scales, the data come from external sources, such as international organizations. We have also used very basic sources, easily gathered through the Internet, whose mapping is not usual. The most original data used in the book is from unpublished work by the CNRS and the team of authors at larger scales: land use patterns, villages and municipality limits and status, master plans. They allow investigations at a geographical scale that is not commonly used in other Lebanese statistics. These data were elaborated in the last ten years by Lebanese administrative bodies like the Central Administration for Statistic, the Ministry of Agriculture, the General Directorate of Urban Planning, and the National Centre for Pedagogic Research. A wide range of other data was gathered during the elaboration of the National Master Plan at the CDR. These institutions shared the material that we elaborated under a GIS, according to the methods of statistical mapping.

14Since it was not possible to be exhaustive, the choice of themes and maps results from a subjective selection by the authors, based on the reliability and the availability of the sources as well as on a desire to display a great variety of data. It has been our choice not to concentrate on data that are well known and that are to be found easily in other publications, starting with the natural geographical data (hydrography, rains, relief).

15It must be acknowledged that some social and political phenomena are not easy to map, however much they may weigh on territorial dynamics.

Organization of the book

16The chapters of the book broadly respect the coherence of the sources. Their hierarchy follows the set of logics presented above.

17The first chapter deals with the Lebanese national construction whose mapping reveals its uncompleted character. The study of the administrative geography is a benchmark of this work. It provides a complementary look at the geopolitical evolution of the country’s regional environment.

18Chapter Two takes a look at Lebanon in the context of globalisation. At a global scale, it maps the deployment of the diaspora since the end of the 19th century. It also analyses the changes in the role of Lebanon at the Middle Eastern level. Globalisation represents a fundamental resource for the Lebanese as well as a major factor of fragility and weakness because of the dependency it creates.

19Chapter Three studies the population of Lebanon. It maps the distribution of the population over its territory and traces recent changes in demographic trends. It addresses the question of the population movement across the territory, i.e. how the distribution of the Lebanese is linked to the former organization and to the society’s denominational and regional segmentation.

20Chapter Four provides an assessment of the recent territorial dynamics, including the damage of the civil war. It relies on land use data in order to understand and describe the regional organization and the spread of urbanization. It also studies the alteration of the environment.

21Chapter Five is devoted to the analysis of economic data and highlights the concentration of activity in favour of Beirut.

22Chapter Six explores the social aspect of this spatially unbalanced economy and shows the territorial inequalities in incomes and access to infrastructures.

23Finally, Chapter Seven provides a broad picture of the regional and infrastructure policies in the framework of post-civil war reconstruction. Those are to be understood in the light of the slogan of “balanced development” implying more allocations for peripheral and deprived areas. This sometimes contradicts the imperatives of concentrating certain investments in Beirut in the name of economic competitiveness.

24This book was originally ready to publish on the eve of the 2006 war in Lebanon. Without changing either the text or the data, we have added a postscript designed to offer a first appraisal of the destructions and of the spatial transformations it has caused.

© Presses de l’Ifpo, 2007

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