Challenging the Mainstream Analysis of Conflict in Lebanon

The department of Social Sciences organized a lecture by Dr. Rima Majed on going beyond sectarianism and “Challenging the Mainstream Analysis of Conflict in Lebanon”. 

Dr. Majed’s studies, delivered to an audience in both Beirut and Byblos (via video-conferencing), challenge the main concept that conflict in Lebanon (and in the Arab region) is essentially sectarian. She argues that this heavy reliance on ethnicity/sectarianism as an interpretative frame has overestimated the role of sectarianism in these societies. The growth in the discourse on the “SunniShia conflict is a typical example of such distortion.

In Dr. Majed’s opinion, Lebanon provides an exceptional case where sectarian dichotomies have been drastically remodeled in only a few years. This calls us to rethink the relationship between sectarian identities, political salience and conflicts. She also elaborated on how the sectarian schism in Lebanon shifted from a historical “Christian-Muslim” one to a “Sunni-Shia” one in a short period of time.

Majed uses both qualitative and quantitative methods to disentangle the relationship between politics and sectarianism. She relies on data from protest events that occurred in Lebanon between 2000 and 2010 and combines this analysis with in-depth interviews conducted between 2011 and 2012 with a sample of residents in Beiruti neighborhoods that witnessed violent clashes.

The protest data shows that the Hariri assassination was a “political earthquake” that shifted the attention of the Lebanese society from mainly pan-Arab concerns to internal concerns and anti-Syrian activism. It suggests that a change in political relations leads to sectarian tension when two conditions are met: the two opposing communities are equal in size and in power, and the majority of the sectarian community is politically homogeneous. 

Dr. Majed’s analysis further supports those findings and sheds light on a more nuanced reality. The micro-processes of inter-personal relationships are dictated by much more complex dynamics than sectarianism. In fact, inter-sectarian cooperation seems to be very widespread; however, it is essentially in times of violent conflict that sectarian cleavages tend to crystalize and a discourse of dichotomies tends to spread.