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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Coffins and Castles: The Political Legacies of Civil War in Lebanon

  • Author(s): Rizkallah, Amanda Therese
  • Advisor(s): Geddes, Barbara
  • et al.

Civil war is perhaps the most catastrophic event that can befall a country, and yet the long-term political consequences it has on the states and societies that survive such conflicts are not well understood. Focusing on the case of Lebanon, this dissertation seeks to explain why different geographic regions within the same post-war country often embark on divergent political trajectories. In some regions, former warlords and armed groups are able to successfully establish regional hegemonic party systems where meaningful competition is severely limited. In contrast, there are other regions where elections are meaningfully competitive. Why is this so?

I argue that the interaction between local-level differences in wartime experiences of territorial control and the macro-level outcome of the conflict jointly shape post-war politics. The consolidation of control over territory and populations requires the building, appropriating, and restructuring of local political networks. Armed groups that do this successfully provide for themselves the raw materials for the creation of a post-war political machine. Other areas, whether fragmented or contested, have overlapping and competing political networks that contain in them the seeds for post-war political competition. Whether a wartime legacy of territorial consolidation can be transformed into post-war regional party hegemony hinges on a second important factor–the outcome of the war. The terms of the peace agreement determine whether territorial control can be made useful in the post-war era. If a particular armed group is a beneficiary of the war’s peace agreement, its leaders are then able to use the resources of the state to transform their local networks into a regionally hegemonic party. If an armed group is militarily defeated or politically marginalized at the end of the war, repression and a lack of resources prevent this transition. Beneficiary groups may succeed in extending their control into some of these losing group areas, particularly where they have latent networks or a critical mass of supporters.

The first empirical part of the dissertation uses an over-time comparison of the eastern and southern suburbs of Beirut to understand how territorial control and the displacement that often comes with territorial consolidation reshape local political networks and post- war local politics. I analyze transcripts from a set of thirty in-depth interviews with local elites and residents in both suburbs. In both areas, incoming displaced persons, due to their vulnerability, were more likely to become imbedded in the political networks of armed groups. In contrast, “original” residents of the area who were never displaced continued to be more connected to traditional local familial elites that were prominent in the pre-war era. Although both areas followed similar pre-war and wartime trajectories, the outcome of the war affected them very differently. The group controlling the southern suburbs was a beneficiary of the war’s final outcome and remained in total control of the suburb’s local politics in the post-war era. The group controlling the eastern suburbs was militarily defeated. The political vacuum created an opportunity for pre-war elites to reemerge and produced a pluralistic post-war political life. Lastly, the power of each type of elite’s core constituency corresponds to that of its patrons. The displaced “new” residents are more empowered in the southern suburbs and the “original” residents more empowered in the eastern suburbs.

The second empirical part of the dissertation provides a national-level quantitative test of the argument’s implications for post-war elections–both their results and their competitiveness. This test relies on originally-compiled data from Lebanon’s five post-war parliamentary elections. I use digitized maps of territorial control in the last phase of the war and each major armed group’s position in the outcome of the war to classify all of Lebanon’s districts as fragmented territories, beneficiary group territories, losing group territories that are directly controlled by beneficiaries, and losing group territories that are only indirectly contained by beneficiaries. I demonstrate that fragmented territories and losing group territories that beneficiaries indirectly contain have competitive elections and elect a mixture of candidates to parliament–including many pre-war traditional elites and new parties without martial backgrounds. In beneficiary group territories and losing group territories where a beneficiary has taken direct control, elections are uncompetitive and the candidates affiliated with the ruling group always win.

In sum, my dissertation illuminates the profound effects that civil war can have on the nature and composition of a country’s political elite. When warlords become politicians, this has long-lasting impacts on the prospects for competitive and accountable local and national post-war elections.

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