Lebanon had sustained a civil war that spanned 15 years from 1975 to 1990. The causes of the war are still debated today. Some argue that the main reason for the conflict was the armed Palestinian factions that were operating from Lebanon, others argue that it was the uneven power sharing agreement of 1943 (al Mithaq al Watani) that gave the Maronites overwhelming powers in the state, yet others find that the state of Greater Lebanon proclaimed in 1920 itself was a French, Christian colonial creation that did not account for the Muslim sense of belonging. Some go as far as to claim that what took place was not a civil war but a war of others on Lebanese soil. Sectarianism is commonly attributed explanatory power in this and other processes in the country.
Even though the war officially ended in 1990, Lebanon is still characterised by highly polarised and factionalised social and political structures that led some observers and scholars to argue that the war is still ongoing by other means. The post-war resolution “no victor and no vanquished” did not address the period of the war and subsequently instituted those active in the fighting into the post-war governments. Each faction still circulates its own version of the causes of the war which blames the other. The pre-war conditions of inequality and exclusion that generated the conflict remain ready tools of mobilisation in post-war Lebanon. Although sectarianism is but one element of the ongoing conflict dynamics, it has become the sine qua non, defining the political, social, economic, national, and international conditions underpinning the civil war, the economic meltdown, and the post-war corrupt governments. Sectarianism seems to mean everything and thus nothing.
Project fieldwork in Lebanon analyses the war as a social process and explores the pre- to post-war dynamics along with factors that led to the conditions of possibility of war in 1975, with an emphasis on social organisational origins of the actors involved. Through life history interviews with ex-combatants from the most active groups during the war, and semi structured interviews with journalists, academics, and political activists, Dr. Toni Rouhana is conducting ethnographic fieldwork in Lebanon to understand the relationality between the geopolitical, national and subnational levels, the economic and cultural conditions and the making, unmaking, and remaking of divisive and violent sect identities before, during and after the war. As part of the Civil War Paths project, Lebanon’s case will be analysed in comparison with two other cases in the Middle East as well as cases from around the world.