Reflections on Faith-Based Solidarity and Social Membership: Beyond Religion? The Case of Lebanese Shiite FBOs (January 2018)

I have recently published a study on “Caucasus International”.

During the July 2006 postwar period in Beirut’s southern suburbs (Dahiye), which were destroyed by the Israeli air force in its effort to annihilate the Lebanese Shiite party Hezbollah, the Islamic Shi‘a philanthropic sphere has been growing. It has pioneered the postwar reconstruction process and local relief provision, while diversely defining itself in relation to its secular and faith-based counterparts. This paper examines the extent to which religious providers develop solidarity with or antagonism towards provider members of the same community in times of crisis. Indeed, intracommunity solidarity among different aid providers tends to be taken for granted. Problematizing this common belief is particularly important for defining the ways in which social solidarity either develops or contracts across faith-based communities during conflict-induced displacement. In this context, aid provision and local accountability remain fundamental litmus papers. Drawing on in-depth, semi-structured interviews conducted in Dahiye from 2011 to 2013 with Lebanese Shiite faith-based organizations and private initiatives, a secular local organization, and their respective beneficiaries, this paper advances reflections on how social membership and acts of solidarity and charity interact within the Lebanese philanthropic scenario.

To read the whole article see: http://cijournal.az/post/reflections-on-faith-based-solidarity-and-social-membership-beyond-religion-the-case-of-lebanese-shiite-fbos-by-estella-carpi.

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Book Review – Humanitarian Rackets and their Moral Hazards: The Case of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon (December 20, 2017)


Humanitarian Rackets and their Moral Hazards: The Case of the Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon by Rayyar Marron. Abingdon and New York: Routledge 2016. 188 pp., £110 hardcover 9781472457998, £36.99 paperback 9780815352570, £36.99 e-book 9781315587615

Rayyar Marron’s book provides a critique of how academic and activist accounts of Palestinian refugee camps end up reinforcing the humanitarian narrative of refugee victimhood. By underlining refugee economic and political agency, especially in the camp of Shatila in Lebanon, Marron recounts economic fraud and tactics that not only guarantee refugees’ survival and empowerment, but also seek to suggest a de-romanticised configuration of ‘refugee’ within the Middle Eastern moral economy. The author questions human suffering underlying the formulation of social and humanitarian policy. In this vein, in the scholarly literature, camps are defined not only as “sites of exilic nationalism” (p. 5), but also of resistance (p. 4). In this context, Marron contests how “Palestinianness” is addressed as a mere humanitarian cause, where refugees are passive aid recipients in need of international compassion.

The book is composed of an introduction, seven chapters, and a brief conclusion. The lengthy introduction aims to collocate the book within the framework of the de-romanticisation of vulnerability and of refugee agency: but it struggles to anticipate the core arguments. Chapter 1 intends to show how Palestinian refugees themselves seek to repackage their originally military cause as humanitarian due to the decline in funding, therefore often portraying themselves as “dispossessed peasants” (p. 44). Marron emphasises the identity crisis through which Palestinian refugees in Lebanon passed through when the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) was removed from Lebanon in 1982. Nevertheless, the chapter loses the opportunity to accurately describe what the author sees as a crucial historical moment, when Palestinians dropped the militant guerrilla culture as a public discourse to embody the exceptional case for assistance. More attention to this historical moment would have unraveled how the Palestinians’ unethical tactics to guarantee everyday life – such as smuggling and political protection rackets – are actually connected to daily grievance. The author, making the important attempt to de-romanticise the refugee category and refugee agency, however ends up focusing only on one side of the coin, providing a predominantly negative representation of camp society. A nuanced approach to examining everyday life would instead have informed the longstanding dialectics between need and greed in refugee economies.

Chapter 2 suggests the emergence of a Palestinian nationhood in connection with the pan-Islamic and pan-Arab cause (p. 50), in a complex framework of foreign state patronages. Marron specifically argues that a Palestinian sense of national belonging precedes the PLO battles, while providing shy hints of this pre-exilic society. This chapter does not provide the specificities of whom, where, and what led humanitarian definitions and practices to a negatively nuanced – but under-explained – everyday racketeering and appropriation.

In Chapter 3, the author argues that the PLO and the Palestinian political movement of Fatah radicalised the political landscape in Lebanon, seeking direct influence from within the formal institution of the parliament (p. 76), or through studentships, as cadres of Fatah enrolled as students in Lebanese universities (p. 78). By conducting robberies and soliciting funding, the PLO and Fatah militarised the civilian refugee community, raising violence in the camps. The author describes the “neopatrimonial” tendencies of Fatah and the PLO in terms of “self-enrichment” rather than the official rhetoric of the “revolution” (p. 87). Marron thus opposes the narratives that depict the so-called Palestinian revolution as an effort against Lebanese sectarian politics.

Chapter 4 highlights the challenges of organising camp society outside of patronage legacies. The pervasive influence of factional politics on refugee lives is in fact mentioned as the most deleterious issue for the Palestinians, rather than poverty or lack of infrastructure per se. On the one hand, the chapter is not too convincing in the attempt to incorporate humanitarianism into the discussion of patronage, where political groups compete for assistance, recruiting their families and allies in the capacity of beneficiaries or employees within humanitarian projects, including the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) (pp. 93-95). On the other, the author clearly shows how camp dwellers challenge the legitimacy of the popular committees, as they represent the interests of proxy states to the camp society (pp. 103-104). Marron here opposes the tendency of the scholarly literature to separate out the Palestinian oppressive sovereigns from the refugees.

Chapter 5 provides accounts of rent-seeking and illegal housing (p. 111) to shed light on camps as sources of livelihoods and proliferation, by specifying, for instance, that the percentage of Palestinian camp dwellers who own their homes (82%) is higher than Lebanese nationals (68%). Besides, Chapter 5 seeks to approach the humanitarian framework, by mentioning how NGOs are captured by competing factions in the camps (p. 116). Marron, however, is not detailed in showing how ordinary people participate in these dynamics, risking, on the one hand, a new homogenisation of refugees – shaped by negative agency – and, on the other, a new homogenisation of humanitarians, who emerge as victims that are over-burdened with responsibilities, and finding “their path disrupted by amorphous forces” (p. 124).

The role of humanitarian agencies which stems from this chapter is slightly opaque: the attentive reader is left with several questions regarding what humanitarian projects the author precisely refers to until Chapter 6, when Marron finally outlines the political economy of refugee camps and NGOs. Drawing on Horkheimer’s theory of rackets, the author largely draws on her own ethnographic experience as a teacher in a vocational school in Shatila to inform her argument that the protectors in refugee camps are also the sources of violence (p. 126). The experiential anecdote serves to illustrate how factions, influential retired community members from different political constituencies, camp residents, and humanitarians participate in the “racket society”. Likewise, Marron mentions that public services are privatised by camp factional officials to appropriate aid from outside (i.e. waste removal service, electricity grid, etc.). Nonetheless, the author often mentions dynamics of welfare power-sharing, which can surely overlap with humanitarian interventions, without telling us how she frames such overlaps and, furthermore, is too quick to label all of the service providers in the camp as “humanitarian”.

While in the first instance the author depicts the humanitarian system as caught up in the racketeering dynamics as a mere victim, in Chapter 7, she nuances their action as a “moral hazard” (p. 149) in the crystallising refugee vulnerability and as facilitating the amplification of statelessness (p. 146). Racketeering against UNRWA projects is therefore seen as the only means by which camp dwellers can access resources (p. 163). In the effort to normalise refugee camps and dissuade public narratives from ossified victimhood, Marron concludes by asserting the humanitarian exacerbation of camp racketeering dynamics but, at the same time, denouncing how humanitarian failures have been “deflected away from camp society and back onto the Lebanese state and the international community” (p. 171). The author here argues that “humanitarian assistance is not a measure that ensures collective welfare”, but rather an individual entitlement for which racketeering is necessary in order to obtain “fair shares”. I find this the most significant and intriguing argument advanced, which, probably, should have been introduced and developed earlier in the book.

Throughout the chapters, the reader struggles to identify the voices of Marron’s interviewees and her own empirical evidence. Among her second source-based historical accounts around the formation of a camp habitus oppression, the refugee individual, however, is not well visibilised: refugees seem to be given agency through the negative morality of the humanitarian rackets and political neopatrimonialism, while being unable to turn camps into civil societies.
Moreover, to me, the choice of the title remains unclear, as the humanitarian discourse and practices are not given the largest room for analysis. By the same token, the geography of the camps in Lebanon is not clearly outlined, emerging as an abstract and therefore easily homogenisable space, while most of the accounts and the camp history provided actually regard Shatila exclusively. The book’s overall imprecise structure hinders a still needed in-depth discussion of humanitarianism in camp societies.

While revealing a specific disciplinary approach is not essential in my view, the author could have been more explicit in several sections in defining her positionality while in the field and the local politics of knowledge. The book presents a very large number of key themes which therefore remain hinted at rather than properly explored, scattering the reader’s attention. On the whole, this book is primarily a historical account for social sciences scholars and researchers interested in refugee-related issues, and humanitarian practitioners. I particularly suggest this book to those who engage with the history of Palestinians in the region, and the way camp politics intertwines with the domestic politics of “host societies”. In this regard, the author provides insights from relevant first hand experience and important secondary sources, which inform the current debates on politics, refugeeness, and humanitarian governance.

Estella Carpi is a Research Associate in the Migration Research Unit, Department of Geography, University College London, working on Southern-led responses to displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. She received her PhD in Social Anthropology from the University of Sydney (Australia) with a research project on social responses to conflict-induced displacement and humanitarian assistance provision in contemporary Lebanon. In the past, she also worked as a researcher in Egypt, Australia, and the United Arab Emirates, mostly focusing on humanitarian and welfare systems, forced migration, and identity politics.

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Refugee Self-Reliance: Moving Beyond the Marketplace (October, 2017)


I have contributed to this research in brief with my study on Halba in northern Lebanon. You can download the whole paper here: https://www.rsc.ox.ac.uk/publications/refugee-self-reliance-moving-beyond-the-marketplace.

The issue of how to promote refugee self-reliance has become of heightened importance as the number of forcibly displaced people in the world rises and budgets for refugees in long-term situations of displacement shrink. Self-reliance for refugees is commonly discussed as the ability for refugees to live independently from humanitarian assistance. Many humanitarian organisations perceive refugee livelihoods creation, often through entrepreneurship, as the main way to foster refugee self-reliance. Yet focusing on a purely economic definition of refugee self-reliance is problematic as it does not capture the diversity of personal circumstances or the multifarious ways that refugees live without international assistance.

Refugee self-reliance, livelihoods, and entrepreneurship have considerable salience – yet there remain notable gaps in understanding and supporting non-economic dimensions of refugee self-reliance. Academic and policy literature often focuses on technical economic outcomes at the expense of social and political dimensions and the use of holistic measurements. This latest RSC Research in Brief, titled Refugee Self-Reliance: Moving Beyond the Marketplace, presents new research on refugee self-reliance and addresses areas not commonly included in current discussions. In particular, it focuses on social and cultural, practical, and programmatic aspects of refugee self-reliance. In so doing, it rethinks the concept of refugee self-reliance and aims to contribute recommendations to help achieve positive outcomes in policy and practice.

This brief arose out of a two-day workshop at the Refugee Studies Centre on rethinking refugee self-reliance, convened by Evan Easton-Calabria and Claudena Skran (Lawrence University) in June 2017.

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Supporting refugee livelihoods or host stability? The two sides of the coin

For many refugees, the humanitarian programmes focusing on “livelihoods” end up having merely an “accessory” role rather than generating sustainable labour.


Civil defence members and civilians put out fire at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, July 2, 2017. Picture by HASSAN ABDALLAH/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.


Civil defence members and civilians put out fire at a camp for Syrian refugees near the town of Qab Elias, in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, July 2, 2017. Picture by HASSAN ABDALLAH/Reuters/PA Images. All rights reserved.The livelihood component of humanitarian programmes has taken on ever greater importance over the past few decades. It touches on and integrates various NGO sectors, including protection [1], food security and water sanitation and hygiene (WASH). In particular, the strategy of humanitarian livelihoods programming targeting refugees around the world has changed from the care and maintenance of refugees to the self-reliance formula during the 1960s and ’70s.

The challenge of translating the concept of “livelihoods” from English into other languages is noteworthy, particularly with respect to the term’s technocratic implications, and Latin languages have by and large adopted it as a loan wordtout court. In recent interviews conducted with local aid workers in the city of Halba in the Akkar province (northern Lebanon), “livelihoods” was translated into Arabic by using a broader expression, namely “ways to improve life” (subul tahsin al-‘aiysh). Tentative and stunted verbal and conceptual translations of “livelihoods” play a major role in unpacking the standardised and de-historicised way in which livelihood strategies have been exported through humanitarian programming, which has the (paradoxical) purpose of guaranteeing survival on the basis of local specificities.

Regarding the case of Akkar in northern Lebanon, most of the livelihoods programmes currently being implemented among refugees and local hosts are meant to produce temporary, small-scale and – for women – mostly home-based forms of income. According to the Syrian refugees I interviewed in Akkar in February and March 2017, humanitarian programmes end up having merely an “accessory” role: They do not generate any form of sustainable labour and practically turn vocational training into leisure activities. For these refugees, this comes as no surprise. They are aware of the scarcity of job opportunities that Akkar’s economy can provide, of the fickle character of Lebanon’s (mainly de facto) policies regulating their everyday lives and of the legal constraints they face as unrecognised refugees. Lebanon is not a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees and the 1967 Protocol. At present it allows Syrians to work exclusively in the agriculture, gardening, cleaning and construction sectors. These are the sectors in which Syrian migrant workers have historically worked throughout the country.

To analytically understand what refugee interviewees have called the “cosmetic” role that humanitarian programming plays while displacement becomes long-term, the humanitarian discourse around refugee livelihoods in Lebanon – as argued by a UN official I interviewed – has now replaced the “cash for work” formula with the “community support” motto. This is done in an effort to disguise and sugarcoat what the refugee beneficiary may be able to earn and learn in host societies.

The humanitarian intent is primarily aimed at creating and enhancing sources of livelihoods, rather than getting beneficiaries to participate in leisure activities. Nonetheless, the social-affective value of offering physical spaces for collective forms of exchange and temporary learning should not be undercut.

To date, 253,332 Syrian refugees have been registered with the UNHCR in this region in Lebanon. Despite this rather large number, during my latest visit to Akkar I noticed that these individuals were becoming decreasingly visible in the public space. Having moved here since 2011, they are often undocumented, feel unaccepted at the local level and therefore prefer to lead their lives behind closed doors.

Hence, on the one hand, livelihoods programmes have the unintentional positive outcome of providing new experiences of collectivity, where mingling is necessary and legal papers are not requested. On the other hand, vocational training based on small-scale activities and home-based forms of labour aimed at self-sufficiency too often end up confirming unequal economies. Moreover, aiming most of the livelihoods programmes’ to produce self-employment and informal activities, they are mainly promoted to guarantee survival rather than entrepreneurship: Small-scale self-empowerment challenges host governments less and is unlikely to spark local dissent. Furthermore, home-based activities do not call pre-established cultural understandings of gender roles and work tasks into question.

Conversations with refugees and local residents show that the beneficiaries’ expectations of livelihoods programmes are quite diverse and range from having the desire or the desperate need to find a job to approaching training as little more than a leisure activity. The majority of local residents joining the livelihoods programmes affirmed approaching them as potential job opportunities and humanitarian agencies as temp agencies. Although initiated with the ethical goal of rescuing lives and alleviating suffering, humanitarian agencies are increasingly acting as conflict resolution forces; by definition, however, they cannot recognise themselves as job providers, even though they have become an integral part of the local labour markets.

So what is the current role of humanitarian practices in catalysing a symbolic encounter between Lebanese and Syrian nationals if labour can seldom be the ultimate goal and actual achievement? Humanitarian efforts in Lebanon have historically contributed to defining new and old human needs along ethnic and sometimes religious lines. Aid provision to Syrian refugees in the poor Akkar region is no exception as it initially polarised locals and migrants by distinguishing between the needs of the Lebanese and those of the Syrians. Today humanitarian agencies seem to act through compensatory stability mechanisms to deal with social tensions by promoting economic survival for refugees and employment and empowerment among local residents.

Although they provided aid unconditionally and indiscriminately to all Syrian nationals at the beginning of the crisis, humanitarian agencies have gradually targeted refugees and vulnerable hosts in a bid to compensate for the frictions caused by an earlier refugee-centred provision of services in chronically poor areas.

These days, local economic development agendas and humanitarian livelihoods programmes are explicitly intertwined with social stability and cohesion agendas. Rather than having self-reliance as an explicit final objective, the current humanitarian politics of livelihoods in northern Lebanon sets social cohesion and stability as the primary purpose of such programmes by addressing both Syrian nationals and vulnerable Lebanese residents.

Therefore, while tensions and stability are still identified and addressed in ethnically hybrid contexts, humanitarian targeting strategies are decreasingly deployed along ethnic or religious lines and are better inscribed within the area-focused intervention framework. In other words, a geography of vulnerability is replacing an (ethnic and religious) identity politics of need and aid provision. Yet humanitarian cohesion and stability agendas continue to stymie this process by addressing ethnically mixed areas and therefore fantasising ethnocentric regimes of stability.

The protracted nature of the crisis inevitably produces a need to attribute agency to the refugees. Likewise, humanitarians use the language of “resilient livelihoods” by tacitly putting the moral and material responsibility to survive and thrive on the beneficiaries. If humanitarian programmes in Akkar are increasingly self-legitimised by upholding long-term cohesion and the stability of the host society, refugee beneficiaries are also called upon to help maintain such local stability.

Unfriendly legal frameworks and humanitarian agencies sometimes burdened with responsibilities that should be attributed to host governments have been sufficiently discussed. I would encourage practitioners and opinion-makers to look beyond such constraints and to ask how individuals feel when they are provided with new skills, particularly when they are aware they are unlikely to be employed anytime soon. Personal frustration and resignation may offer simplistic and unsatisfactory answers. The fact that some segments of the refugee population reconfigure livelihoods programmes as leisure activities opens up new ways of thinking and idealising the humanitarian system in ageing crises.

[1] “Protection” here refers to the UNHCR definition, that is legal assistance that ensures the basic human rights of uprooted or stateless people in their countries of asylum or habitual residence and that refugees will not be returned involuntarily to a country where they could face persecution.

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Refugee Hospitality and Humanitarian Action in Northern Lebanon: between Social Order and Transborder History

English Version: http://urd.org/Refugee-Hospitality-and

This short essay will discuss the social spaces which, in times of crisis, turn into host environments for refugees and displaced people, and where humanitarian programmes are implemented. It argues that the “hosting spaces” that populate the media and NGO reports which tackle refugee influxes are constructed with direct and indirect purposes. Hospitality, thus, becomes the official rhetoric which governments, UN agencies, NGOs, and international media adopt to speak of the consequences of conflict while preserving their moral aura and a convenient social order. The folkloristic idea of “host spaces”, inhabited by displaced people in the wake of emergency crises, helps domestic political actors and humanitarian agencies to preserve the social order that allows them to continue their activities and implement their agendas.

French Version: http://urd.org/L-hospitalite-envers-les-refugies

Cet article aborde la question des territoires qui, en temps de crise, se transforment en terres d’accueil pour réfugiés et déplacés, et où des programmes humanitaires sont mis en œuvre. Il soutient que ces « terres d’accueil », dont parlent les médias traitant de l’arrivée de réfugiés et les rapports des ONG, sont d’une certaine manière « fabriquées » à des fins directes et indirectes. L’hospitalité se transforme ainsi en une rhétorique officielle que le gouvernement, les agences des Nations unies, les ONG et les médias internationaux adoptent pour parler des conséquences du conflit tout en préservant leur aura morale et un ordre social bien commode. L’idée folklorique de « terres d’accueil », habitées par des populations déplacées à la suite de crises, aide en effet les acteurs politiques nationaux et les agences humanitaires à maintenir en place l’ordre social, ce qui leur permet de poursuivre leurs activités et de mettre en place leurs stratégies.

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Rethinking Lebanese Welfare in Ageing Emergencies

“Lebanon Facing the Arab Uprisings. Constraints and Adaptation” is the newly issued volume on Lebanon edited by Dr Rosita di Peri and Dr Daniel Meier (copyrights: 2017).

Here below the abstract of my book chapter “Rethinking Lebanese Welfare in Ageing Emergencies”, pp. 115-133. You can find here all contributions: http://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9781352000047#aboutBook

A cycle of internal displacement and influxes of refugees in Lebanon has led local care providers to cooperate and partner with the international humanitarian apparatus. By using welfare as an explanatory screen of social relations, identifications, and frictions, this chapter highlights the blurred lines between welfare and emergency programmes in Beirut’s southern suburbs after the July War of 2006. This chapter first discusses how social order is sought out in humanitarian and welfare systems of care in order to maintain stability and guarantee their practices. Second, it unearths the individual and societal processes that beneficiary subjects experience in response to policies of provision. Finally, it seeks to assess the notion of nationhood in Lebanon, where the lives of long-term refugees and local communities are increasingly enmeshed, as are the beneficiary categories that they represent.

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Against Ontologies of Hospitality: About Syrian Refugeehood in Northern Lebanon (October, 2016)


This essay explores the relationship between Syrian refugees and local Lebanese. In particular, it discusses the dominance of the discourse of ‘hospitality’ in the international media depiction of this relationship and in the humanitarian response informed by it. As this essay will show, these tendencies have resulted in the ‘hospitality’ discourse informing and reinforcing the international response to the Syrian refugee influx into and presence in Lebanon.

More specifically, the essay unpacks the dominant ‘hospitality discourse,’ which rests on three interrelated notions. First, hospitality employed as a social order instrument characterizes the relationship between refugees and local Lebanese as defined chiefly by the latter’s generous offers of sanctuary. Second, hospitality as a media narrative and epistemic construction portrays Lebanon as a country straining under the weight of the refugee burden, depicted as “existential problem.” Finally, hospitality as a local way to respond to the official declaration of emergency crisis has allowed the “hosts” to “other” the refugees and instability threats.

Syrians in Lebanon: A Pre-Refugee Sociology

According to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), as of June 2016, there were more than one million registered Syrian refugees in Lebanon.[1] However, this massive influx is not the first ‘encounter’ between Syrians and Lebanese.

In the framework of an ambivalent Lebanese-Syrian nationhood in Akkar, which is used to sharing moral, social, and political capital across a historically porous border, hospitality has paved the way for a process of differentiation from people who did notused to be “the Other.” It is legitimate to wonder why this differentiation process, in a sense, needs to happen. Hence, what is the sociology underlying such a need to differentiate oneself from the economy of the Syrian refugee, while paradoxically making space for it? For a partial answer, we need to get back to the conflicted politics of gift and exchange[2] and the tension, put forward by Derrida, that characterizes the never exclusively voluntary act of hosting. Hosts must have power over the domain in which they host, as well as power over the guest.[3] The tension remains, and a people’s collective morality is evaluated according to the accomplishment of charitable acts. However, self-sufficiency—which the earlier Syrian laborers of Akkar certainly did not lack—is still demanded by the hosts. The legacy of the Syrian presence in Lebanon and Akkar in particular (1976–2005), as well as the common nationhood that ties the two peoples together, unearths the inappropriateness of a discourse built on the traditionallimits of hospitality and assimilation, which are in fact generous acts activated within society, “as long as one leaves Otherness behind.”[4]

Historically, Akkari hospitality goes beyond the politics of “spare couches.”

Historically, Akkari hospitality goes beyond the politics of “spare couches.” And to distinguish the non-economic migratory status of Syrian nationals from economic migrants has become even more nonsensical after March 2011, the start of the uprising in the main Syrian cities and the subsequent regime’s repression. Some Syrian nationals, in a sense, were also Akkaris, insofar as Akkaris themselves strived to get access to Syrian welfare, crossing the border to reach the nearby province of Homs rather than driving all the way down to Lebanon’s Tripoli to benefit from a scant welfare system. The lack of hospitals, schools, and means of transportation has long since rendered this region hostile to comfortable inhabitation and detached it from a modern state that was originally crafted as Beirut-centric. Moreover, it has encouraged foreign investments in the third sector rather than reinforcing basic services.[5]

Hospitality, when spontaneously offered in the first months of the Syrian crisis, was in fact conceived and enacted at a grassroots level as a religious[6] and cultural duty, a “sacred commandment of charity”[7] to assign strangers a place in a community whose functioning was already guaranteed by demographically hybrid forces of labor.

Since 2012 international humanitarian organizations have financed some local families to enable them to host the refugees temporarily. This ended up “internationalizing” the tacit and unmediated Syrian-Lebanese relationship. By thus interposing themselves, humanitarian agencies have played a key role in shaping social relations; for example, by ensuring that particular local resources are prioritized over others that are less functional to humanitarian global governance.

With the intervention of the humanitarian agencies and the “neoliberalization” of local hospitality by paying local families to host Syrian refugees for a limited period of time, usually over a maximum period of a year, hospitality has gradually become an aid toolkit item to be temporarily delivered. Yet, the sociological character of local hospitality does not fade away with the “humanitarianization” of the act of hosting, as the Albanian experience of hosting Kosovar refugees has proved.

Scholars and newsmakers have therefore used hospitality as a lens through which to understand the entanglement of Syrian-Lebanese relations over the past five and a half years. As such, it has repeatedly been defined as “limited” due to the massive influx of refugees, with Lebanon referred to as being “under strain.” Socio-economic accounts of the prosperity of Lebanese landlords and employers and the increase in productivity thanks to lower workforce costs have sought to turn the sword tip of blame toward Lebanese greed in an effort to alleviate the Syrian “guests” from the burden of being scapegoated at a national level and becoming targets of disdain for having a “large number of children” and a “different culture and mentality.”[8]

Unpacking the ‘Hospitality’ Trope

The common international media portrayal of the relationship between Syrian refugees and Lebanese tends to ‘hype’ the phenomenon of hospitality.[9] Commentators have sometimes seen the local hospitality phenomenon in Lebanon as turning a vertical power system into a horizontal one, despite the risk of neglecting the feudal societal fabric of northern Lebanon’s hosting villages, which rely on wealthy and powerful families.[10] In this region, the privileges of a few people contrast with the overall inadequacy of services and infrastructure.

Refugee-refugee—also called “South-South”[11]—hospitality has recently entered academic studies and finally re-consigned dignity to unofficial acts of coping with crisis and helping others to cope. The hospitality provided by local refugee communities in Lebanon opens up new spaces of recognition. It sheds light not only on refugees’ agency—which certainly does not wait for “northern” recognition in order to exist in practice—but also on new phenomena of alienation among “uninsured people,” whose self-reliance is inherently unachievable.[12]

Lebanese hospitality is neither simply a case-by-case negotiation to tackle the everyday refugee crisis nor solely a generous or interested act of offering shelter to communities that Lebanese feel proximity to refugees in several respects.

More specifically, Lebanese hospitality is neither simply a case-by-case negotiation to tackle the everyday refugee crisis nor solely a generous or interested act of offering shelter to communities that Lebanese feel proximity to refugees in several respects. Hospitality is also the narrative that local and international media and the humanitarian enterprise weave together. The idea of a “hosting Lebanon”—a country already struggling under the weight of its economic and political crises—is positioned in the space between historical truth and the necessity to maintain social order. In this sense, the idea delivered to the public is that of a Lebanon strained by the “refugee crisis” per se, where the humanitarian structures, in concert with the central government, are efficient actors calming local tensions and flattening historical complexities by promoting accounts of generosity and victimhood.

To clarify how hospitality is also an epistemic construction, it is necessary to highlight how the Syrian conflict and the refugees are conceived and spoken of at an official level. While the US government conceives of Syrian refugees as people fleeing shelling and persecution due to their sectarian or ethnic background, the refugees often mention that no one helped them change their political condition when they were still inside the country. Indeed, international humanitarian agencies traditionally deal with deserving humanitarian victims rather than victims of human rights violations.

“We cannot bear this burden; they should go back to Syria and resettle,” was the political proposal of Antoine Chedid, Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States.[13] To make people resettle in Syria by setting up camps inside the conflict-ridden country— “which is 18 times bigger than its Lebanese neighbor,” as Chedid pointed out—is a way of re-domesticating the conflict and the management of the conflict and an attractive alternative to opening borders to the displaced. By contrast, the international humanitarian machine, which represents the Geneva-based international community, has contributed to internationalizing[14] the Syrian conflict through programs and policies. Humanitarianism, which supports local hospitality and renders it sustainable, is increasingly employed as a conflict resolution force aimed at triggering friendships and social ties that surely preceded the crisis. It is therefore employed to pursue international security agendas as well.[15]

The idea of generosity, hospitality, and its limits implicitly accuses the Syrians of having overstayed their welcome, insofar as it foregrounds the chronic predicament of the Akkar region, the decrease in local employment due to the presence of cheaper menial labor, and the increase in the cost of living and housing owing to the newcomers’ influx. Hospitality therefore came to be described as an existential problem for Lebanon. Discourses of greed or grievance, as sparking enduring conflicts and war economies in the Middle East, are growing louder and louder, and have gradually silenced more important narratives.

In a nutshell, at a rhetorical level, Lebaneseness is stigmatized as generous in order to uphold humanitarian practices, which associate the importance of social order with their mission of being a conflict resolution force. At a historical-material level, local communities, whatever their social status, attempt to protect wealth accumulation or basic livelihoods through the act of hosting either for free or for pay to be able to host.

Hospitality on the Borderline between Normality and Crisis

Hospitality and hostility are two sides of the same coin, marking an undecided and ambivalent space between proximity and distance.[16] If hospitality implied an unconditional law, an absolute openness, it would be impossible to organize it into a law or politics;[17] moreover, it would destroy the host’s mastery of the home, which enables hospitality in the first place.[18] Rather than a home, we would be left with an indeterminate space that could offer nothing determinate, and hospitality per se would be ineffective.

That being said, in a country where intermarriage has always used to be a common social practice, why is 82 percent of the Lebanese population now reported to feel uncomfortable with the notion of marrying a Syrian?[19] And why do Syrian nationals claim to be mistreated, to the extent that they are now trying to change their accent in order not to be marked as “Syrian refugees” and undergo discrimination? The process of “othering” the Syrians in Lebanon took place during the process of refugeehood as an improvised way of dealing with the influx and marking the territory as theirs, that is to manage and control “the home.” In a geopolitical scenario officially declared as a “state of emergency,” safeguarding the home comes into play, along with as a responsibility toward the Other, as an in-crisis strategy of local self-determination. This has led local Akkaris to reinvent their relationship to the pre-existing presence of the Syrian nationals in response to the announced crisis.

In this way, in-crisis hospitality has produced spaces to which some inhabitants belong—insofar as their sense of belonging has been reinforced by their act of hosting—while others do not and instead turn into temporary guests. Indeed, before the crisis, Syrian nationals used to inhabit the same space mostly in the capacity of unskilled cheap laborers, marking the continuity of the sovereign Akkari host lord. In this sense, the social construction of hospitality has not only fed the political rhetoric of “Lebanon the bountiful” but has also acted as a societal fragmentation force, undermining the previous relations that these laborers used to hold in Akkar before moving to Lebanon with their own families due to the full-scale conflict.

In other words, as a form of unwilling humanitarianism, hospitality made the traditionally porous borders between Lebanon and Syria socially meaningful. The collective act of producing an outside has served the purpose of Lebanese Akkaris to prevent the spillover of violence and preserve relative social order. The absence of a well-bounded “Syrian community” in Akkar, “melting like sugar in tea,”[20] facilitated the task of “othering” the refugees.

Anywhere it takes place, Derrida’s “hostipitality”—a combination of hospis and hostis, of hostility and hospitality—characterizes contexts in which transit and permanent resettlement slip beyond individual and family acts of decision. The unsustainable limitlessness of hospitality has turned narratives on Akkar’s spirit from those of grievance to those of greed, acting as a force of global compassion toward the Syrian crisis. In settings of displacement and uncertainty, it becomes even more important to re-consign such ambivalence to hospitality, which goes far beyond unconditional receptiveness, regardless of historical conditions and trajectories.

We need an explanatory politics that combines daily struggle with calculation strategies-something both the hosts and the guests (including humanitarian agencies) are familiar with.


[1] U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR),http://data.unhcr.org/syrianrefugees/country.php?id=122.

[2] Marcel Mauss, The Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies(London: Routledge, 1990).

[3] Jacques Derrida and Anne Dufourmantelle, Of Hospitality (Stanford, CA: Stanford California Press, 2000).

[4] Brian A. Watkins, “Asylum-Seekers, Spare Couches, and the Politics of Hospitality.” Paper presented at the American Anthropological Association, Denver, Colorado, November 20, 2015.

[5] Sahar T. Issa, Irna Van Der Molen, Manal R. Nader, and Jon C. Lovett, “Spatial Variation of Vulnerability in Geographic Areas of North Lebanon”, European Scientific Journal 2 (2014): 261-273.

[6] The Old and New Testaments and the Koran have many references to the commandment to shelter strangers.

[7] Heidrun Friese, “The Limits of Hospitality,” Paragraph 32, 1 (2009): 51.

[8] Author’s conversation with a Lebanese resident. ‘Ebrine, Northern Lebanon, April 2016.

[9] Doreen Abi Raad, “Lebanon strains under weight of refugees,” Catholic News Service, January 7, 2016, accessed October 23, 2016,http://www.catholicnews.com/services/englishnews/2016/lebanon-strains-un….

[10] Helen Mackreath, “Cosmopolitanism in Akkar? Why the Role of Host Families Is Significant,” E-International Relations, May 28, 2015, accessed October 23, 2016,http://www.e-ir.info/2015/05/28/cosmopolitanism-in-akkar-why-the-role-of….

[11] Julia Pacitto and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh “Writing the ‘Other’ into Humanitarian Discourse: Framing Theory and Practice in South-South Humanitarian Responses to Forced Displacement,” Working Paper Series No. 93, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, 2013.

[12] Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending Wars: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Polity Publications, 2007).

[13] Speech delivered by Antoine Chedid at the Wilson Center, Washington, D.C., October 29, 2013.

[14] Chedid himself rejected the specifically Lebanese responsibility of a conflict that is increasingly becoming regional by pointing out that the crisis is not of their making; rather, it is international. See conference recap webcast athttp://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/humanitarian-crisis-impact-syrian- refugees-lebanon.

[15] Mark Duffield, Development, Security and Unending Wars: Governing the World of Peoples (Cambridge, UK: Polity Publications, 2007).

[16] Heidrun Friese, “The Limits of Hospitality,” Paragraph 32, 1 (2009): 52.

[17] Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides – A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” in G. Borradori, (ed.) Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003) 129.

[18] Jacques Derrida, Acts of Religion (New York: Routledge, 2002) 364.

[19] Cathrine M. Thorleifsson, “The Limits of Hospitality: Coping Strategies among Displaced Syrians in Lebanon,” Third World Quarterly 37, 6 (2016): 1079.

[20] John Chalcraft, The Invisible CageSyrian Migrant Workers in Lebanon (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2008).

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Enhanced local coordination for effective aid provision: the case of Lebanon (September 2016)

The Policy brief I co-authored with UN Habitat (Beirut) and the ‘Issam Fares Institute (American University of Beirut) is finally out.

Here below its summary and the link to access it.

Lebanon’s refugee crisis has highlighted the need for much closer coordination among the various organisations and local authorities involved in the response. A new study has laid the groundwork for a series of recommendations, set out in this briefing, on how national, local and international humanitarian actors can work together more effectively to enhance urban refugee responses in Lebanon and perhaps in other countries. In the context of a protracted urban crisis, this briefing argues that humanitarians will only be able to ensure their responses are sustainable and meet needs on the ground if they work closely with local authorities.

Available online at: http://pubs.iied.org/17373IIED/

Categories: Lebanon, Syria, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Politics of Care and Social Responses in the July 2006 War: a Special Focus on Local Faith-Based Organisations (August, 2016)

Author(s): Estella Carpi
This paper examines the politics of care of international and local humanitarian actors, as well as the social responses to their intervention in the southern suburbs of Beirut (Dahiye) during the Israeli shelling in the summer of 2006. Several faith-based and secular international NGOs and UN agencies rushed to assist individuals displaced by the Israeli air force’s heavy shelling; once the large-scale violence ended, some of the international organisations that had operated in Dahiye during the war gradually turned ad hoc short-term relief into long-term development programs. This paper, through in-depth interviews and ethnographic participant observation methods (2011-2013), will illustrate how short-term foreign provision of aid differs from the continuous efforts of some local providers to support their communities on a daily basis, unearth different approaches to states of emergency and responses to crisis and demonstrate how the international-local dyad plays out in a very complex way on the ground.
While it aims to show such complexity, this paper does not get deep into the diverse ethical approaches of FBOs to immediate help and sustainable care in the context of historical continuums of crisis and violence – which has instead already been object of extensive literature on faith-based humanitarianism in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Keywords: Lebanon, Beirut’s Southern Suburb, International Development, humanitarian aid, Aid Distribution, faith based NGOs

To cite this paper: Estella Carpi, “Politics of Care and Social Responses in the July 2006 War: a Special Focus on Local Faith-Based Organisations*”, Civil Society Knowledge Center, Lebanon Support, 2016-08-01 00:00:00.
[ONLINE]: http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/paper/politics-care-and-social-responses-july-2006-war-special-focus-local-faith-based-organisations

Full text:

Politics of Care and Social Responses in the July 2006 War: a Special Focus on Local Faith-Based Organisations


The present paper will examine the politics of care of international and local humanitarian actors, as well as the social responses to their intervention in the southern suburbs of Beirut (Dahiye) during the Israeli shelling in the summer of 2006.

Several faith-based and secular international NGOs and UN agencies rushed to assist individuals displaced by the Israeli air force’s heavy shelling in areas known for having a strong Hezbollah presence. Once the large-scale violence ended, some of the international organisations who had operated in Dahiye at the time of the war gradually turnedad hoc short-term relief into long-term development programs: some of them funded new municipality services by training local staff to employ them in new education programs and health care, while others conducted their own programmes.

This paper, through in-depth interviews and ethnographic participant observation methods (2011-2013), will illustrate how, on the one hand, short-term foreign provision of aid differs from the continuous efforts of some local providers to support their communities on a daily basis. This contrast will unearth different approaches to states of emergency and responses to crisis. On the other hand, it will demonstrate how the international-local dyad plays out in a very complex way on the ground. The interviewed (secular and faith-based) local NGOs claim primacy in addressing domestic needs and tend to largely perceive international humanitarians as “emergency tourists”. Nonetheless, people’s responses, in an overall climate of disaffection towards domestic politics, reveal popular mistrust and resentment towards all aid actors indiscriminately.

In order to provide further grounds for the discussion of international and domestic programmes and Dahiye’s social responses to them, this paper will assess the different politics of care, which I personally classify as Geneva-born humanitarianism[1] on the one hand, and manifold Shi‘a humanitarianisms on the other. The latter falls under a diversified local humanitarianism more connected to a longstanding civilian resistance.

This paper will particularly focus on local faith-based organisations (FBOs), in relation to international and local secular aid providers. I personally interpret their service and aid provision as new forms of humanitarianism, underpinned by different philanthropic ideologies and politics of care.

Although contemporary researchers contribute to examining humanitarianism and development as increasingly interconnected and overlapping[2], there is still a line between development and humanitarian assistance, no matter how blurred. Development – occasionally called long-term humanitarianism[3] in literature – tends to eradicate deep-seated problems such as inequality and poverty, and tends to cooperate with governments. Conversely, humanitarianism aims to intervene, rescue lives, and alleviate suffering. The Lebanese case proves the inappropriateness of such a distinction, not only pointing to chronic cycles of resources alternatively allocated to development and humanitarian assistance in times of emergency crisis, but also to development and humanitarian aid happening simultaneously.

The controversial relationship between local and international aid providers in the aftermath of the July 2006 war

The aid providers who worked during and after the 2006 war are international (Save the Children, CARE, Oxfam, UNICEF, Caritas, Christian Aid, Islamic Relief, USAID, Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, among many others) and local NGOs (such as the secular Amel Association, Najdeh, and Samidoun Association, Hezbollah’s NGOs[4], and many other local and regional FBOs).

I primarily conducted interviews with the NGOs that worked during the July War (harb tammuz) and maintained a branch or headquarter in Dahiye in the aftermath of the war. These aid providers were all intervening in the war-stricken Beqaa Valley and in the South to a similar extent, managing shelter spaces and providing medical kits, food, mattresses, blankets, and drinkable water. The provision of aid was described by war-affected individuals as visibly sponsored with logos, posters, and signs hung outside of their structures. Programmes were communicated by word of mouth among the local residents. The local and international practitioners described the aid recipients’ selection in 2006 as “haphazard” but “never discriminatory”.

As international practitioners specified in the interviews, the previous presence of international NGOs in Lebanon was mainly due to past states of emergency. A UNDP technical advisor called NGOs operating in Lebanon “anti-governmental” organisms rather than “non-governmental”, considering their minimal effort in rehabilitating the central state[5] and rather focusing on extending their own programmes and rebuilding their own structures after emergency crises.

During this ethnographic study, it was extremely difficult to collect valuable information from the several NGOs interviewed. Their staff, mostly new, seemed to be unprepared with regard to funding sources and past projects. In other cases, the interviewees working for larger NGOs used to fear that their comments would be published to the detriment of their reputation. The fact that some NGOs deemed the topic irrelevant also pointed to a lack of interest in discussing a past emergency. Moreover, some NGO workers interpreted the research questions as an aprioristic form of judgment[6].

The old development industry’s strategy of implementing standardised projects, often regardless of local specificities, has nuanced characteristics. On the one hand, international development and humanitarian agencies increasingly rely on local providers to ensure in-depth knowledge of the addressed areas, and adopt inner perspectives to properly manage a territory of intervention. On the other, local NGOs are said to trade their own local knowledge and the access to it for financial resources and generally greater public visibility[7]. In particular, for small NGOs with restricted resources, large funding allows for project evaluation – a stage that is often ruled out due to financial shortfalls[8].

In compliance with the humanitarian cornerstone of immediate alleviation of suffering, international agencies tend to prioritise emergency relief provision, which they then often transform into post-conflict development programmes. However, these longer-term projects are quickly abandoned whenever new emergencies call for urgent action and also attract funds[9]. In the Middle Eastern region, it is crucial to recall the cyclic humanitarian crises that followed the several Israeli invasions of Lebanon, most notably 1978, 1982, 1996, the 2003 American invasion of Iraq, the 2006 Israeli War on Lebanon here discussed, the 2008-2009 Israeli “Cast Lead Operation”, the Syrian crisis from 2011 onwards, and the August 2014 “Operation Protective Edge” in the Gaza Strip. Needless to say that additionally, the re-occurrence of armed conflict and humanitarian need in the region has not allowed for NGOs to focus on one crisis for too long, consequently harming sustainable development.

This emergency-driven logic prompted local people to think of international aid providers – mainly from Western countries – as the sole humanitarian actors in harb tammuz. Many local residents interviewed attributed this sentiment to their perception of international aid providers as groups that capitalise on emergencies to raise funds, and that monitor Hezbollah’s political movements, while not leaving any lasting impact on their beneficiaries. International humanitarian intervention has, however, been able to strengthen pre-existing channels of services for the local population, and has given rise to a new philanthropic labour market for foreign workers in Dahiye.

The international aid industry’s increased reliance on local actors was easily observable in Dahiye, and already associated with a recent tendency of “reifying and romanticising the grassroots”[10]. While the international development expertise is believed to enhance local expertise, local NGOs can still utilise their networks to negotiate the implementation of projects and serve as an accessible channel for people’s complaints[11].

In the interviews conducted, local NGOs emphasised that their partnerships with international NGOs often expose them to the risk of being blamed for failing projects, while international actors tend to specify that their mandate is restricted in Lebanon and that their action is not meant to change the societal structure. This sort of political vulnerability for local actors has yet to be considered in the old contested model of prefixed standards of development, extending beyond the relinquishment of their autonomy and the compliance with foreign financiers and “Western” elitist agendas. The endemic resistance to such risks seeks to counter the marginalisation in one’s own territory[12], sugarcoated with an increasing number of “glocal” partnerships in Lebanon.

The informality of small local NGOs in dealing with their beneficiaries often results in their low visibility within the international humanitarian sphere, as the Palestinian Association Najdeh[13] affirmed. Such small NGOs are aware of their low visibility, and international partnerships allow local actors to gain major visibility and, consequently, funds to survive.

The increasing international reliance on local partners generally seeks to localise international organisations’ projects and services, aiming to catalyse development through the already existing social forces and structures[14]. In the official discourse of international NGOs, the alliance with local NGOs is called an “exchange of ideas, skills and information” even though local partners generally described it as a unilateral process, in which the local counterpart is simply expected to adopt the “Global North’s” language of development[15]. A UN agency and an international NGO representative[16], for instance, pointed out how local counterparts would totally ignore the need for coordination without international assistance[17]. The head of a Lebanese Shi‘a NGO[18] questioned the domestic impact of the international aid industry:

“Is the humanitarian aid coming from the UN, international, and local NGOs able to catalyse social change, dialogue, and democracy, or do they reinforce the existent relations of power?”

He also stressed how the so-called international community failed in understanding that the July War was only one of the violent events in a long line of historical continuity. Resistance against destruction and humiliation supports the moral basis of the mainstream Shi‘a view in which human suffering is seen as an opportunity for knowledge enhancement. As a result, the international aid industry, which mostly tackled local displacement in Dahiye, the Beqaa Valley, and South Lebanon, homogeneously victimised the war-stricken. Moreover, such a simplification is logistically necessary for the international humanitarian effort to uphold their summum bonum  –  as described by Plato in The Republic – which is an external and generalised perception of collective needs and a standardised “goodness” of protection and assistance[19].

Differentiating the “Shi‘a humanitarian ethics” in postwar Dahiye

In order for the suffering to end,
you can contribute to construction and giving.

(Writing on a charity alms box in a Dahiye pastry shop)[20]

Shi‘a charity organisations[21] knowingly represent the official ethos of Dahiye. Faith-based organisations (FBOs) played a major role in the 2006 humanitarian assistance because of their proximity to local people and their needs. According to the interviews conducted, FBOs in Lebanon are believed to be able to mobilise resources and funds with greater ease than their secular counterparts.

In particular, I interviewed the Musa as-Sadr Foundation headquartered in Tyre[22]; al-Mabarrat Association[23]founded by as-Saiyyd Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah – often described  as the “Spiritual guide of Hezbollah” – and its sub-branch al-Hadi in the Beirut southern suburbs; and, finally, Jihad al-Binaa, one of Hezbollah’s largest NGOs, which is the internationally acclaimed pioneer of the Dahiye postwar reconstruction.

The charity model in Shi‘a Islam has changed throughout time[24], although this is often overlooked because religious actors, unlike the secular, tend to be viewed homogeneously and separately from other civil society actors working in the communities in which they are embedded[25]. Humanitarianism and charity are both connected to people’s ideologies, reflecting theological tenets as much as social values in times of crisis and change.

In the interviews conducted with local FBOs, Islamic organisations in Lebanon represent themselves as acting on the basis of cultural and moral unity of the Muslim community – ummah – and as enhancing their autonomy by reducing dependence on Western countries’ support. In general, the Shi‘a local residents said they prefer referring to community services because their actions are compatible with Muslim values[26].

Nonetheless, although local people expressed their emotional proximity to domestic community providers, the latter were simultaneously perceived as compromised by corruption and opportunism. Politicians were majorly portrayed as acting out of self-interest and political gain as much as the international humanitarian apparatus. Each actor, however, ran its campaigns on its exclusiveness in undertaking genuine humanitarian efforts. Thereby, Dahiye’s public discourse, commonly known to be influenced by the political narratives of some parties, negatively portrays international humanitarian action, while paradoxically dealing with local mistrust of domestic political and humanitarian agencies.

According to the NGO classification system proposed by Clarke[27], Dahiye’s FBOs are commonly seen as socio-political because of the predominantly Shi‘a population of the suburbs, allegedly reflecting the interests of a particular community. However, these FBOs promote an action agenda according to which being inclusive of non-Shi‘a is a local value. The problem does not lie in their agenda being defined as confessional tout court, but rather as political. Rather, such organisations end up excluding specific local categories[28] – the chronic poor and also Lebanese Shi‘a who do not feel represented in the hegemonic civitas. This disregard has increasingly engendered disaffection towards both secular and faith-based actors.

In order to better understand local humanitarian actors, it is necessary to differentiate the ethical approach to humanitarianism at a local level. A number of Dahiye’s residents contest Hezbollah’s services and classify them as increasingly politicised and corrupt; these people, more specifically, were instead expressing melancholy when speaking of as-Saiyyd Fadlallah and his FBOs. Residents, therefore, identify themselves with the ideological principles and the politics of care of different local service providers. The variegated “Shiite way” of managing charity associations, thus, points to Fadlallah and Hezbollah as being two different spiritual and political key forces in Beirut’s southern suburbs.

Both Fadlallah – following the marja‘iyya[29] doctrine – and Hezbollah have acquired increasing legitimacy from the 1980s onwards, although the two sides were initially in great disagreement with each other[30]. Nonetheless, social change and struggle against “Western imperialism”[31] have been the cornerstones of both Hezbollah’s and Fadlallah’s thinking.

What an FBO worker[32] named “Shi‘a humanitarianism” is still shaped by the Shi‘a cosmology of martyrdom and the struggle against injustice, symbolised by the battle at Kerbala (680 AD). Charity is in fact correlated with social justice in Dahiye and is the response to immediate needs driven by benevolent action. Justice ideals, more specifically, call for the transformation of structures that foment social injustice and indignity. For the Shi‘a, Kerbala is a historically recurrent event[33]: “In every era there is an oppressor and an oppressed. And this history always repeats itself, throughout all eras […] People should always have the spirit of revolution against oppression”. This principle constitutes the bedrock of the Shi‘a mobilisation in Lebanon (taba‘iya)[34].

As such, Shi‘a humanitarianism has not merely served as a political strategy to turn public compassion into political consent[35], as Islamic philanthropy has often been reduced to “machiavellism”. Rather, it has come to form a constitutive part of social assistance. Humanitarianism does not necessarily need to be implemented only in response to the Israeli occupation, but rather in response to any injustice, including poverty and lack of education. The chronic uncertainty according to which the Shi‘a religious community has developed its own conceptions of life is inherent to the existential approach underlying Shi‘a humanitarianism, both in wartime and in peacetime[36]. Likewise, public activism and social engagement are the way religious people strive to continue to live the ‘Ashura ceremony on a daily basis.

Similarly, volunteerism and employment are seen as contributions to the development of the whole Shi‘a community. Working for a welfare organisation means to bring Zeinab[37], a holy figure in Shi‘a theology, into the present[38]. Thus, the common ethical judgment easily identifiable in academic literature[39] on Islamic organisations completely overlooks the fact that these NGOs do not merely use Islamic values and charity for political interests, but that they simply are Islamic. In fact, humanitarian intervention is locally perceived as less opportunistic when concerning local providers that have long since provided assistance to the victims of cyclic displacement in Dahiye. The aforementioned emergency-driven logic of the international aid industry has evidently not been adopted by their Shi‘a counterparts in harb tammuz or in its aftermath. Indeed, when Syrian refugees began pouring into Dahiye during the current Syrian crisis, the political agenda of these Shi‘a organisations – reflecting Iran’s ideology in Lebanon only to a certain extent – certainly does not deal with Syrians as refugees, or, in other words, as victims of political repression deserving assistance. The interviewed Shi‘a organisations in Dahiye emphasised that they would rather guarantee assistance both in wartime and in peacetime, boasting technical and infrastructural self-confidence, despite highlighting that Christian services are more developed for historical reasons[40].

Nonetheless, the local perception of local FBOs was ambivalent. On the one hand, they were seen as rarely addressing chronic poverty and local injustice, just like international organisations: “They often end up feeding the accountability of the political party that supports them and promotes them”, recounted Mohammed, a local resident of Dahiye[41]. On the other hand, while international humanitarian NGOs tend to view beneficiaries as victims of man-made crises – and therefore as morally deserving individuals and rights bearers that need to be protected – Fadlallah’s and Hezbollah’s services have been able to make people feel like political agents[42] – i.e. resistant, and, although usually laden with antipathy towards the central state, still de facto citizens rather than objects of charity. Social mindfulness and independence are seen as the key qualities needed to become complete individuals, thus demonstrating the proactive function of human life from the Shi‘a humanitarian perspective[43].

The organisations created by Fadlallah that were interviewed contended that their Shi‘a ideology is closer than other Shi‘a counterparts to the secular conception of humanitarianism, as it is conceived as a homogeneous force aimed at alleviating and comforting human suffering. These FBOs have, however, a specific project to pursue, which implies the idea of a civilian – rather than merely Islamic – resistance. For example, in the fundraising campaigns of Fadlallah’s associations, Israel is mentioned as the agent of destruction in expressions such as, “Our organisation was destroyed by Israel. We will continue, more committed to doing good”. The very reason behind human life is identified with the moral commitment to be doing good.

Moreover, in al-Mabarrat Association’s ideology, “doing good” explicitly means to guide individuals[44], and constitutes the only possible form of humanitarianism. Such explicitness is banned in the Geneva-born international aid provision, which does not officially aim to provide guidance. Similar to Fadlallah’s approach, the philanthropic heirs of Imam as-Sadr contribute to a local humanitarian language, which is close to charity. Even though some scholars[45] mention the divergences between these two key Shiite figures, Fadlallah and Sadr both represented the “emerging breed of Shiite revivalists in Lebanon”[46], the former being a good connection to the transnationalism with Iran, and the latter providing a Lebanese component of Shiite political Islam.

Unlike Fadlallah’s FBOs, however, according to Maliha as-Sadr[47], humanitarianism should trigger empowerment by making continuous efforts and equalising Lebanese society[48]. She highlighted how different the Shi‘a notion of humanitarianism is from the Geneva-born, which is depicted as caring about longer-term sustainability only in the wake of emergency crises. Also, local FBOs, in her view, cannot and should not aim to dismantle themselves, which is what some international humanitarian agencies find to be their ideal, once domestic sustainability is reached[49]. Providing and benefiting from social services within Dahiye’s local community is in fact part of their struggle against Israel, it is “not a war to kill, but a war for the right to exist”[50]. Development efforts and social assistance in this context are a way of coping with chronic uncertainty, and hope policies allow the community to have a link with the future, where hope evolves from a mere emotion into a conscious and realistic proposition. In a nutshell, social efficiency and mutual care deal positively with recurrent exposure to war.

Fadlallah-founded al-Mabarrat also highlighted their readiness to work with foreign NGOs and universities: “Such openness is not always well accepted in Dahiye […] and it is often labeled as mere commodification”[51]. In this regard, the tendency not to rely on external actors also depends on whether or not their strategies and agendas will meet local needs. In this regard, the Deputy Mayor of Haret Hreik Hajj Hatoum[52] said that, overall, international donors in harb tammuz rarely grasped what the local priorities were:

“Their main focus has been providing psychological assistance. […] That was not really the issue. We had apartments totally destroyed, damaged buildings, women needing specific help. So, the problem with cooperation with international providers is that they don’t fund and work for the things we really need. The reality is never changed by humanitarian services, but if you want to give something, help with infrastructure and provide money for housing and furniture. From outside, little money came with this purpose”.

Al-Mabarrat’s staff, by contrast, argued that they viewed themselves as a segment of the international aid structure.

Some local discontent with international organisations, however, is also present in the area. The manager of the Research and Development Department at the Imam as-Sadr Foundation[53], for example, questioned the paths undertaken by all NGOs in Lebanon, which, in his opinion, are very outcome-oriented. In this regard, he affirmed: “it is much easier to assess the material results of a project. The change promoted by an NGO comes from the process, more than from its material results”[54]. Projects conducted by international agencies, sometimes in partnership with local NGOs, are too often unable to grasp what sort of social processes for enhancement should be triggered within local society and, therefore, unsure how to set goals within a specific project. The continuation of such collaborations, in his opinion, is only due to matters of Realpolitik, since Lebanese NGOs need international visibility and the international providers primarily show up in times of emergency[55].

Hence, the Shiite provision of services and aid is largely hybrid. Notably, Hezbollah’s Fadlallah-founded services, and the Sadr Foundation differ in their approach to the humanitarian outside. Both promote a community-crossing vision of Dahiye, arguing for services to be provided for any Lebanese community. Nevertheless, it is generally recognised that few people from non-Shi‘a communities are able to access their services, owing to the demographic changes that occurred in Lebanon in the immediate aftermath of the civil war (1989-90). For instance, the mentioned Imam as-Sadr Foundation, created in the 1960s prior to the civil war and described[56] as associate to Fadlallah’s approach – despite the sporadic competition between each other as FBOs – “used to address anyone in the South, where Christian Maronites, Christian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholics were far more numerous”[57].

FBOs founded by Hezbollah, during and after harb tammuz, turned their programmes into compensation strategies for any community inhabiting Dahiye. Through its communication channels, the political party highlighted the domestic nature of the reconstruction, and that people’s return to their own houses was a victory achieved by local individuals and made feasible by their own hands[58]. The “victory narrative”, however, was also adopted by secular local providers[59].

Unlike Fadlallah’s approach to aid provision, a local secular NGO[60] spoke of the necessity of cultivating responsibility in Lebanon by charging the beneficiaries for the required services when feasible, with the intent of not providing charity aprioristically. It is in this sense that they argued that they are “the feet and not the head of [their] own society”. The morals of guiding individuals, typical of Fadlallah-founded associations, are lost here. Local secular NGOs generally defined their own work in terms of catalysation of an active and dynamic civic sense already existing within the country. However, in some cases, NGOs deny their political influence on society by delegating politics to the local people. From this perspective, NGOs simply accelerate and support people’s actions, and transform common people’s ideas and intentions into real changes. In this regard, the head of Amel Association, Kamel Mohanna[61]argued that his NGO’s work merely consists of promoting a “culture of rights” – thaqafat al-huquq – which, in current Lebanese society, tends to be rather community-oriented.

By reconciling the secular and the “Shi‘a” perspectives, with all due endemic diversifications, Zahir Jalul[62]emphasised the importance of a culture of humanity – thaqafat al-insan – that is still absent in Lebanon. However, the locally reformulated conception of humanitarianism, international-oriented on its surface, is still historically marked by the blood shed by martyrs[63] as well as the individual commitment in the Resistance.

Heterogeneous local aid provision: beyond the secular-religious binary

The local perspectives of humanitarian assistance at the time of harb tammuz also differed from each other. Many informal and generally small organisations were set up by local residents. For instance, some of Dahiye’s businessmen whom I met, constituting the newly emerged Shi‘a middle class, began distributing clothes, furniture accessories and money to the socially vulnerable “for the Islamic value of doing charity, as it’s written in the Holy Koran”, as Hasan, a Lebanese businessman, affirmed in Haret Hreik[64]. “Of course there are people who became homeless in the July War, but orphans are always around in Dahiye. You always have a reason to help, until the time these people will be able to empower themselves” [for the sake of precision, Hasan uses the Arabic expressionyaksab ajar al-ma’ida, meaning until the time one is able to “earn his own living”]. This phenomenon gave rise to a sort of private proliferation of services in the form of organic cultural expressions and religious obligations after harb tammuz: a war that redefined the social strata of the war-stricken areas, and that later empowered some and impoverished others. Mixed economies of laissez-faire inhabit the public space in an aiding-purchasing-selling chain[65] in which subsidies and charity services target only the very poor without a broad plan to generate long-term sustainability.

The fact that the Lebanese state ceded welfare to the local religious domain encouraged the colonisation of the public by the private in Lebanon[66]. In turn, charity and local entrepreneurship can be reconciled, although pursued by actors with different conceptions of humanitarianism and philanthropy. Hasan regarded the local Shi‘a conception of charity as a way of cleansing his own privilege of being a self-enfranchised and established large-scale seller, politically well connected with the Hezbollah party. This notion and rationale of help was shared among other Lebanese Shi‘a businessmen who I met in Dahiye.

If secular aid provision cannot really be universal, this also occurs with religious care provision, which in practice tends to address community members. The community belonging, in this case, is rhetorically marked as the core of the philanthropic act of provision and assistance. Like the secular, it also implies the risk of establishing moral hierarchies between recipients and providers. For instance, a social worker (of religion “y”) working for a local FBO and having assisted the displaced in 2006 in ash-Shiyyah, claimed how easy and quick it was to become of religion “z”, and therefore become entitled to service provision[67]:

“… ‘z’ are all used to taking, whereas, as a ‘y’, I’m used to giving. That’s so much easier to be ‘z’ […] If a ‘z’ asks for something, he doesn’t lose prestige and dignity, unlike us [‘y’]. To take and ask is the nature of their faith… I mean, the people you see in some areas to some extent want to be poor, or they wouldn’t get any help otherwise”[68].

The giving-taking binary here seems to unfold biased individual conceptions of a particular faith and points to the moral status which a confessional group holds within one’s own social pyramid. In other words, service and aid provision problematically came to constitute a fundamental tile in the “moral economy”[69] of local communities.

In times of emergency, however, a large number of social workers, who normally view service provision as a matter of community belonging and cultural inheritance, particularly tend to renew their collective sense of belonging and a greater wanting to help. According to the vast majority of the interviewees, as long as the Lebanese government does not empower anyone, “religious providers are more than welcome [to meet] people’s needs”[70]. From this perspective, it is largely due to the FBO programmes that, after 2006, Dahiye became an increasingly self-sufficient space as it also became an important commercial hub for the Greater Beirut area, where symptoms of a “damaged identity”[71], including the fears of erasure, displacement, and marginalisation disappeared. In this sense, religion-based philanthropy vests the services provided with a specific moral aura. The religious importance of guiding the vulnerable towards self-empowerment differs from the local efforts – defined as “secular” in official discourses – of limiting intervention to supporting pre-existing forms of civil action.


Faith-based and secular non-state providers in Dahiye provide social services to strengthen the social safety nets that the Lebanese state has been unable to weave [72]. Nevertheless, the community-oriented social provision of services, as much as the secular, proved to have power implications within the social moral hierarchy.

Dahiye is not a uniform space to be healed, as it has frequently been stereotyped from outside. In fact, the southern suburbs of the Lebanese capital nowadays constitute a special urban case, where local political power, chronic poverty, cyclical destruction and reconstruction occur simultaneously, raising the importance of a more fluid reconceptualisation of social vulnerability.

While both international and local provision of aid have revealed their complexities and diversification on the ground, the ad hoc approach of the Geneva-born humanitarian apparatus to crisis management was locally perceived as mostly touristic, and the outside interest in these war-affected areas as voyeuristic. As earlier discussed, this contrasts with the daily attempt of local organisations to cope with continuous hardships disconnected from regional political violence and from humanitarian crises, which rarely interests foreign political agendas.

Local social work and the relief provision for co-residents in times of conflict finally had the role of intensifying people’s attachment to Dahiye and their territorial ownership.

Nevertheless, this paper does not want to suggest that international and local (especially FBOs) are embedded in a sterile antagonism. Over the Syrian refugee influx in Lebanon, UN agencies – especially UNDP – promoted cooperation and coordination with local and international FBOs, pointing to the lessons learnt in the years before.[73]Thereby, international development agencies and the humanitarian afflatus attempt to find their own place as technocrats within the social fabric of domestic charity work, which, in Lebanon’s history, is mostly faith-based or community-oriented.

Thus, on the one hand, international ad hoc emergency relief increasingly turns into long-term aid provision, addressing chronic vulnerabilities. On the other hand, local charity endeavours give rise to a new form of giving to one’s own community in times of emergency, when alleviation of suffering and meeting essential needs come first. During crises, hence, such local charity organisations increasingly intertwine with international humanitarian assistance and development programmes, diversifying the way faith can be put into action. At the same time, actors of local governance accept funding from international donors to strengthen service provision.

In this framework, not only international humanitarianism, which rushes over in times of crisis, becomes an arm of mobile governance; but also some local providers considerably reformulate their philanthropic agendas by recognising international assistance as a good teacher of capacity building and fund-raising. Nonetheless, local aid organisations also reclaim technocracy and territorial ownership, feeding into ordinary people’s resentment in Dahiye towards the “touristic” approach of international (and traditionally neutral) humanitarianism. To what extent international humanitarian intervention is made conditional on the basis of local needs and domestic politics agendas remains contextual and debatable.

Aid and service providers increasingly become long-term development technocrats and life rescuers during crises, in both local and international NGOs, leaving ground for complex and flexible collaborations. Nevertheless, my ethnographic experience in Dahiye has unraveled how the Geneva-born assistance, “rescuing” and “healing” emergency-affected subjects, poorly fits the local context; in which local FBOs rather interpret emergencies as a historical continuum and as the last straw of prolonged unjust deprivation. The politics of reclaiming the agency of the suffering subjects, which is usually known as international participatory development, suggests new forms of local secular and religious humanitarianisms, detached from passive victimhood.

While the interplay of these different aid actors in harb tammuz was not within the primary scope of research at the time of the fieldwork, this paper has sought to unravel different politics of care and approaches to emergencies, especially of local charities, in addition to the ways in which heterogeneous philosophies of action influence social responses. Further analysing the ethical approach of all these different actors to help and care may take us to new and unexpected research avenues. And that will probably be the task of secularism and religion scholars.

*This paper is published in the frame of the call for papers Glocalizing humanitarian interventions in Lebanon: a reflexive look into innovative practices in times of crises developed by Lebanon Support and Amel Association.


Erik Abild, Hezbollah. A Contextual Study focusing on Human Freedom, BA Thesis in Development Studies, University of Oslo, 2007.

Arun Agrawal and Kalyanakrishnan Sivaramakrishnan (eds), Agrarian environments. In Social Nature: Resources, Representations, and Rule in India, New Delhi, India, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 1-22.

Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam. Musa al-Sadr and the Shi‘a of Lebanon, New York, Cornell University Press, 2012.

Estella Carpi, Adhocratic Humanitarianisms and Ageing Emergencies in Lebanon: from the July 2006 War in Beirut’s Southern Suburbs to the Syrian Refugee Influx in Akkar’s Villages, PhD Thesis, University of Sydney (Australia), 2015.

Gerard Clarke and Michael Jennings, Development, Civil Society and Fatih-Based Organisations. Bridging the Sacred and the Secular, London, UK, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

Lara Deeb, “Emulating and/or embodying the ideal. The gendering of temporal frameworks and Islamic role models in Shi‘a Lebanon”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 36, No.2, 2009, p. 242-257.

Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma. An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood,Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2009.

Didier Fassin, “Les économies morales revisitées”, Annales HSS No. 6, 1237–1266, 2009.

Mona Fawaz, “Agency and ideology in Community Services: Islamic NGOs in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut”, in (eds.) Sarah Ben-Nefissa, Nabil ‘Abd al-Fattah, Sari Hanafi, and Carlos Milani, NGOs and Governance in the Arab World, Cairo, Egypt, AUC Press, 2005, pp. 229-256.

Nell Gabiam, “When ‘Humanitarianism’ Becomes ‘Development’: The Politics of International Aid in Syria’s Palestinian Refugee Camps”, American Anthropologist No. 114, Vol. 1, 2012, pp. 95–107.

Joshua L. Gleis and Benedetta Berti, Hezbollah and Hamas: A Comparative Study, Baltimore, MD, JHU Press, 2012.

Adam Hanieh, “Shifting Priorities or Business as Usual? Continuity and Change in the post-2011 IMF and World Bank Engagement with Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt”, British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2015, pp. 119-134.

Mona Harb, Le Hezbollah à Beirut (1985-2005): de la Banlieue à la Ville, Paris, France, IFPO-Karthala, 2010.

Rana Jawad, “Religion and Social Welfare in the Lebanon: treating the Causes or Symptoms of Poverty?”, Journal of Social Policy, No. 38, 2009, pp. 141-156.

Samir Khalaf, Heart of Beirut: reclaiming the Bourj, London, UK, Saqi Books, 2006.

Saree Makdisi, “Laying Claim to Beirut: Urban Narrative and Spatial Identity in the Age of Solidère”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 23, No. 3, 1997, pp. 664-705.

Farah el-Jam Makkouk, Assessment of Airborne Particulate Matter Elevation in Haret Hreik (Beirut) after the Israeli Bombardment of July 2006, MA Thesis, Beirut, Lebanon, AUB, 2008.

Duncan McDuie-Ra and John A. Rees, “Religious Actors, Civil Society and the Development Agenda: the Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion”, Journal of International Development, No. 22, 2010, p. 20-36.

Ashis Nandy, Time Warps: The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts, London, UK, Hurst and Company, 2002.

Ananya Roy, “Civic Governmentality: the Politics of Inclusion in Beirut and Mumbai”, Antipode, Berkeley, California, University of California, 2008, pp. 7-10.

Amal Saad, An Analysis of the Factors conducive to the Group Cohesion and Political Mobilization of the Lebanese Shiites, MA Thesis, Beirut, Lebanon, American University of Beirut, 1996.

UNDP, Guidelines on Engaging with Faith-Based Organizations and Religious Leaders, October 2014, available at:http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/documents/partners/2014_UNDP_Guidelines-on-Engaging-with-FBOs-and-Religious-Leaders_EN.pdf [Last accessed July 14, 2016].

Leila Zakharia and Sonya Knox, The International Aid Community and Local Actors: Experiences and Testimonies from the Ground, the Civil Society Knowledge Centre, 2014, Lebanon Support, available at: http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/paper/international-aid-community-and-local-actors [Last accessed: June 16 2014].

[1] Emergency humanitarianism is considered to have burgeoned in Geneva, which is the city that Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross in the 19th century, came from. By Geneva-born humanitarianism I therefore refer to ad hoc assistance of crisis-stricken and displaced people in times of emergency crisis, and in compliance with the principles of neutrality and impartiality.

[2] Nell Gabiam, “When ‘Humanitarianism’ Becomes ‘Development’: The Politics of International Aid in Syria’s Palestinian Refugee Camps”, American Anthropologist No. 114, Vol. 1, 95–107, 2012; Estella Carpi, Adhocratic Humanitarianisms and Ageing Emergencies in Lebanon: from the July 2006 War in Beirut’s Southern Suburbs to the Syrian Refugee Influx in Akkar’s Villages, PhD Thesis, University of Sydney (Australia), 2015.

[3] Anthropologist Ilana Feldman engages with this concept in all of her work.

[4] Specifically, al-Jarih for the war wounded; ash-Shahid for the families of the war victims; al-Imdad for local development and social welfare; al-Qard al-Hasan for provision of microcredit to local families; al- Ha’iya as-Sahhiya al-Islamiyya for health assistance and protection.

[5] Interview conducted by the author with the coordination officer of UNDP, Beirut Downtown, October 25, 2011. This shows the particular task that humanitarianism seems to have in Lebanon: maintaining order and alleviating war plagues, certainly not reforming the state.

[6] Also, some NGO workers tended to adopt a critical perspective just when we used to meet outside of their office. The information I was able to collect was much more substantial in those circumstances.

[7] Leila Zakharia and Sonya Knox, The International Aid Community and Local Actors: Experiences and Testimonies from the Ground, the Civil Society Knowledge Centre, 2014, Lebanon Support, available at:http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/paper/international-aid-community-and-local-actors [Last accessed: June 16 2014].

[8] The head of an Italian NGO confirmed that the stage of project evaluation is often ruled out in small international NGOs. Interview conducted in Beirut, October 25, 2011.

[9] It is worth specifying that the differentiation of experiences contributes to the upgrading of the NGO workers’ career. Indeed, emergency complexes tend to create further spheres of professionalisation in Lebanon and elsewhere for internationals and local middle and upper classes (Adam Hanieh, “Shifting Priorities or Business as Usual? Continuity and Change in the post-2011 IMF and World Bank Engagement with Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt”,British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, Vol. 42, No. 1, 2015, pp. 119-134).

[10]Arun Agrawal and Kalyanakrishnan Sivaramakrishnan (eds), Agrarian environments. In Social Nature: Resources, Representations, and Rule in India, New Delhi, India, Oxford University Press, 2001, p. 12.

[11] For instance, the UNDP approach proposed the institution of working groups with different competences, and certainly not the consideration of individual needs, “…As this would be populism, which is deleterious”. Interview with the UNDP technical advisor, Beirut Downtown, October 25, 2011.

[12] Duncan McDuie-Ra and John A. Rees, “Religious Actors, Civil Society and the Development Agenda: the Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion”, Journal of International Development, No. 22, 2010, p. 25.

[13] Interview conducted in Borj al-Barajneh, November 13, 2011.

[14] This is a common argument that emerged in the interviews and was voiced in the interviews with Amel Association, Oxfam Italia, and CTM-Lecce (Wata al-Mossaitbeh, Beirut, October 11, 2011; Forn ash-Shebbak, October 18, 2011; al-Jemmaiyze, Beirut, October 25, 2011). Indeed, humanitarianism, from Amel Association’s perspective, was defined as a construction of civil society networks. “The motto should be: national unity and humanitarian solidarity”, said Mr Kamel Mohanna, October 11, 2011. Also, the humanitarian was specified as transcending the political and the confessional.

[15] Leila Zakharia and Sonya Knox, The International Aid Community and Local Actors: Experiences and Testimonies from the Ground, the Civil Society Knowledge Centre, 2014, Lebanon Support, available at:http://cskc.daleel-madani.org/paper/international-aid-community-and-local-actors. [Last accessed June 16 2014].

[16] Beirut, October 2011.

[17] For some of the interviewees, high levels of coordination are impossible. “Overlaps are kind of unavoidable when you work in a very small country”, Head of an Italian NGO, Beirut, October 25, 2011. In other cases, coordination is instead seen as unadvisable: “We never coordinate with other NGOs, particularly the international, because we don’t want to adapt our projects to foreign aims, and we don’t want to be conditioned from outside” (Interview with a Lebanese humanitarian agency, Spears, Beirut, February 1, 2012).

[18] Tyre, October 8, 2012.

[19] Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma. An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood,Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2009.

[20] Translation from Classical Arabic conducted by the author.

[21] I will use the definition of “faith-based” to refer to NGOs inspired by specific confessional principles in laying out their implementation strategies, although faith is only one facet of a broader religious identity, which eventually belongs to a social order. Jawad decides to classify these NGOs as “religious welfare” (Rana Jawad, “Religion and Social Welfare in the Lebanon: treating the Causes or Symptoms of Poverty?”, Journal of Social Policy, No. 38, 2009, pp. 141-156). Nandy instead differentiates between religion as “ideology”, a (sub)national identifier of populations protecting socio-economic or political interests, and religion as “faith, a way of life, a tradition that is definitely non-monolithic and operationally plural” (Ashis Nandy, Time Warps: The Insistent Politics of Silent and Evasive Pasts, London, UK, Hurst and Company, 2002, pp. 61-62). Indeed, states prefer to deal with religions as faiths rather than ideologies.

[22] The Musa as-Sadr Foundation in fact had just built a new branch in Dahiye.

[23] Fadlallah founded al-Mabarrat Association in 1978 to provide a library, education services for orphans, a hospital mosque, and a dispensary. Not all of these facilities were funded by Iran as often believed (Mona Harb, Le Hezbollah à Beirut (1985-2005): de la Banlieue à la Ville, Paris, France, IFPO-Karthala, 2010, pp. 45-46); they had been set up with the purpose of enabling people to engage in social activities and actions, on the conceptual basis of employing almultazimun (“committed people”). Fadlallah, known for having issued quite modernistic fatwas at al-Hassaneiyyn Mosque in Haret Hreik, also used to hold a phone line where anonymous people could call and ask for consultancy about daily Muslim practices.

[24] Rana Jawad, “Religion and Social Welfare in the Lebanon: treating the Causes or Symptoms of Poverty?”, Journal of Social Policy, No. 38, 2009, pp. 141-156.

[25] Duncan McDuie-Ra and John A. Rees, “Religious Actors, Civil Society and the Development Agenda: the Dynamics of Inclusion and Exclusion”, Journal of International Development, No. 22, 2010, p. 21.

[26] This paves the way for reflection altogether with the words of the director of Waqf Taiba, a Saudi NGO in Akkar: “It is important to protect the village from Western ideologies”. Interview conducted in Halba, Akkar. December 14, 2012.

[27] Gerard Clarke and Michael Jennings, Development, Civil Society and Fatih-Based Organisations. Bridging the Sacred and the Secular, London, UK, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

[28] Mona Fawaz, “Agency and ideology in Community Services: Islamic NGOs in the Southern Suburbs of Beirut”, in (eds.) Sarah Ben-Nefissa, Nabil ‘Abd al-Fattah, Sari Hanafi, and Carlos Milani, NGOs and Governance in the Arab World, Cairo, Egypt, AUC Press, 2005, pp. 229-256.

[29] A marja‘iyya is a religious Shia institution: Hezbollah independently follows the Khomeini doctrine under theWilayat al-Faqih, which represents the fusion between the religious and the political, and leads the Twelver Shi‘a community till the end of all eras, when the 12th hidden Mahdi – sahib az- zaman, the “Patron of Time” – will come back to liberate the Shi‘a from oppression once and for all.

[30] Vandalistic acts against Fadlallah’s properties, in fact, occurred in the southern suburbs of Beirut, prior to the Shi‘a cleric’s good relationship with the Party of God. The latter was accused of having committed the wrongdoing. Fadlallah was considered an ideologue and the spiritual guide of Hezbollah towards the end of his life after dissolving past frictions (Mona Harb, Le Hezbollah à Beirut (1985-2005): de la Banlieue à la Ville, Paris, France, IFPO-Karthala, 2010, p. 44).

[31] Such political orientations caused an attempt of assassination of the Shi‘a cleric on March 8, 1985 in Bi’r al-‘Abed (Dahiye), conducted by the C.I.A in the framework of the American “preemption” counter-terror program. The exploded car bomb caused 80 casualties and 200 wounded.

[32] Interview conducted by the author in Bi’r Hasan, Beirut, 19 November 2013.

[33] Lara Deeb, “Emulating and/or embodying the ideal. The gendering of temporal frameworks and Islamic role models in Shi‘a Lebanon”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 36, No.2, 2009, p. 247.

[34] Amal Saad, An Analysis of the Factors conducive to the Group Cohesion and Political Mobilization of the Lebanese Shi‘a, MA Thesis, Beirut, Lebanon, American University of Beirut, 1996.

[35] Ananya Roy, “Civic Governmentality: the Politics of Inclusion in Beirut and Mumbai”, Antipode, Berkeley, CA: University of California, 2008, pp. 7-10.

[36] Anthropologist Lara Deeb (Lara Deeb, “Emulating and/or embodying the ideal. The gendering of temporal frameworks and Islamic role models in Shi‘a Lebanon”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 36, No.2, 2009, pp. 242-257) pointed out how Iranian mahdism implies a greater escatological logic than in Lebanon. The Last Day belief is less mentioned by Lebanese Shi‘a and, as a consequence, less representative of local mentality, given that, in the case of Lebanon, this theology is not a hegemonic state plan, but rather a political party’s strategy or culture. Only one among others.

[37] It is worth getting deeper into the Zeinab figure as a source for inspiration: women activists, however, cannot equate her. The way Lebanese Shi‘a women look at this figure is therefore induced by social circumstances, which are different from Iran. This leads to a theoretical dissent about the Weberian conviction that religion is a key factor in influencing reality. Furthermore, the preaching of Imam Mohammed Fadlallah – called marji‘ at-taqlid (the “point of reference for tradition”) – widely contributed to the empowerment of women in terms of religious roles: he used to say that women can attain the highest level of jurisprudential training and interpret religious tenets, despite the absence of such a norm in Shi‘a jurisprudence (Lara Deeb, “Emulating and/or embodying the ideal. The gendering of temporal frameworks and Islamic role models in Shi‘a Lebanon”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 36, No.2, p. 251). Even so, the normative moral womanhood was majorly represented by Fatima, a model of calm, maternalism and patience, in opposition to the westernised women in Iran in 1971, as specified by Iranian scholar ‘Ali Shari‘ati. In that frame, women were called to actively participate in political life only during moments of crisis, and this implied a changing gender role for women in daily life, with respect to the more static figure of Hussein, who epitomises the inspirational model for Shi‘a manhood.

[38] Lara Deeb, “Emulating and/or embodying the ideal. The gendering of temporal frameworks and Islamic role models in Shi‘a Lebanon”, American Ethnologist, Vol. 36, No.2, 2009, p. 250.

[39] Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam. Musa al-Sadr and the Shia of Lebanon, New York, Cornell University Press, 2012.

[40] Interview with Mr Faruq Rizq, al-Mabarrat headquarter, al-Ghobeiry, Beirut, October 18, 2012.

[41] Interview with Mohammed, a local shop owner, Haret Hreik, February 2, 2012.

[42] This also occurs as the provider-recipient relationship is based on a social contract or reciprocity in Dahiye. The politicisation of services, therefore, merely expresses the already existing moral and social relationships between the two parts. In particular, during Lebanon’s civil war, Fadlallah used to speak up for the necessity of creating a “human state” – dawlat al-insan – that would provide the resources for people to help themselves and one another. He was known for considering public funds as ownership of the people and for capturing this ethics when he said that he was not looking for “followers” but “partners” (Ken Silverstein, Hezbollah’s Strength derives from the Strong Social Fabric that they have woven over the years, 2007, available at:http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Soc/soc.culture.iranian/2007-03/msg01663.html [Last accessed October 3 2011]. It is this specific political logic which allowed the Hezbollah party to foster its politics of inclusion.

[43] Interview with Mr Faruq Rizq, al-Mabarrat headquarter, al-Ghobeiry, Beirut, October 18, 2012.

[44] Interview with al-Hadi Association (al-Mabarrat’s branch), Tariq al-Matar, Beirut, October 29, 2012.

[45] Fouad Ajami, The Vanished Imam: Musa al-Sadr and the Shi‘a in Lebanon, New York, Cornell University Press, 2012.

[46] Joshua L. Gleis and Benedetta Berti, Hezbollah and Hamas: A Comparative Study, Baltimore, MD, JHU Press, 2012.

[47] Interview with Ms Maliha as-Sadr, Imam as-Sadr Foundation, Ouzai, Beirut, December 4, 2012.

[48] Mr Mohammed Bassam, for instance, said that at the Imam as-Sadr Foundation the use of hishma at school is obligatory (the “decent” school uniform used to homologate social classes and discipline the dress code in their institutions).

[49] Conversely, some INGOs act instead on the basis of cooperation efforts, which do not imply the dismantlement of the structure in the territory of intervention, but rather aim to further mutual assistance and knowledge exchange between different countries (Interview with the head of an Italian NGO. Beirut, February, 2013).

[50] Erik Abild, Hezbollah. A Contextual Study focusing on Human Freedom, BA Thesis in Development Studies, University of Oslo, 2007.

[51] Interview with al-Hadi Association (al-Mabarrat’s branch), Tariq al-Matar, Beirut, October 29, 2012.

[52] Haret Hreik, January 18, 2012.

[53] Interview with Mohammed Bassam, Tyre, October 8, 2012.

[54] Imam as-Sadr Foundation, Tyre, October 8, 2012.

[55] It is interesting to notice that some local development projects fail for cultural reasons, according to Bassam (i.e. Lebanese Shi‘a women trained for entering the hoteling market and unlikely to follow up with the acquired skills). Or, again, foreign models are sometimes not ideal for targeting the local nuances of human vulnerability.

[56] Imam as-Sadr Foundation, Tyre, October 8, 2012.

[57] Interview with Mohammed Bassam, Tyre, October 8, 2012. In this respect, it is interesting to notice that communal tensions were discussed as more likely among aid providers than aid recipients.

[58] The return has often been criticised as too hastened by scholars and scientists, as the living conditions could not be restored in a short time. Sulphur levels, for instance, were much higher in the air than before the reconstruction process (Farah el-Jam Makkouk, Assessment of Airborne Particulate Matter Elevation in Haret Hreik (Beirut) after the Israeli Bombardment of July 2006, MA Thesis, Beirut, Lebanon, AUB, 2008, p. 72).

[59] Interview with Amel Association conducted in Wata al-Mossaitbeh, Beirut, October 11, 2011.

[60] Interview with Amel Association conducted in Wata al-Mossaitbeh, Beirut, October 11, 2011.

[61] Interview with Mr Kamel Mohanna conducted at the Amel Association headquarter: Wata el-Mossaitbe, Beirut, October 24, 2011.

[62] Leader of the Education Committee of Bourj al-Barajneh. Municipality Bulletin 2013.

[63] It is also interesting to note that the term martius in ancient Greek means “witness”, where, therefore, a sense of agency is totally maintained despite the suffering and the humiliation that war causes.

[64] October 19, 2011.

[65] In Haret Hreik, for example, I met wholesalers who used to donate part of the items they used to purchase to the local needy, rather than selling them on the retail market.

[66] Saree Makdisi, “Laying Claim to Beirut: Urban Narrative and Spatial Identity in the Age of Solidère”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 23, No. 3, 1997, pp. 664-705.

[67] I am using here “z” and “y” to refer to two religious communities in Lebanon. I do not deem it necessary to specify which communities were involved in the event.

[68] Interview with a Lebanese social worker, Sin el-Fil, October 18, 2011.

[69] Fassin, Didier. 2009. “Les économies morales revisitées.” Annales HSS 6: 1237–1266.

[70] Interview conducted with an American NGO worker in Mar Mikhael Annahr, Beirut, February 21, 2012.

[71] Samir Khalaf, Heart of Beirut: reclaiming the Bourj, London, UK, Saqi Books, 2006, p. 120.

[72] And this is the most common opinion that faith-based and secular aid providers who had worked in harb tammuz used to have about Lebanon. Confessional provision of services is in fact seen as an unavoidable reflection of Lebanese confessional society. Interview with a UNDP officer, Beirut Downtown, November 24, 2011.

[73] UNDP, Guidelines on Engaging with Faith-Based Organizations and Religious Leaders, October 2014, available at: http://www.undp.org/content/dam/undp/documents/partners/2014_UNDP_Guidelines-on-Engaging-with-FBOs-and-Religious-Leaders_EN.pdf [Last accessed July 14, 2016].

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Necro-politiche della disuguaglianza nel sud del Libano (July 2016)


Sarafand cimitero nuovo

(di Estella Carpi, per SiriaLibano). Siamo spesso erroneamente portati a credere che un cimitero ospiti solo morti, ricordi, rimorsi, gioie mai più ripresentatasi e sentimenti di questo tipo.

A Sarafand, la cui origine fenicia è Zarephath – piccola località costiera nella regione di Sahel az Zahrani tra Sidone e Tiro, nel sud del Libano – c’è un cimitero nuovo e uno vecchio. Basta una chiacchierata con gli abitanti della cittadina per rendersi conto che la gestione degli spazi cimiteriali rivela questioni di sovranità territoriale, una diversa dignità morale degli abitanti, e i poteri formali e informali esistenti che decidono della vita come della morte di tanti.

Il cimitero è solo una delle tante forme di politica dello spazio a Sarafand. In una realtà come il Libano in cui, ogniqualvolta si ripresentino crisi politico-umanitarie, la gestione dei servizi pubblici viene condotta da attori in gran parte esterni (agenzie Onu e organizzazioni non governative), la gestione delle morti e il diritto allo spazio e al riconoscimento socio-morale che ne deriva tornano nelle mani delle municipalità locali. E di queste si rispolverano così le croniche carenze amministrative e finanziarie. Questo accade in misura ancora più evidente a Sarafand, dove l’azione umanitaria delle agenzie internazionali si focalizza molto meno frequentemente.

Sarafand è abitata da lungo tempo da lavoratori siriani, spesso impiegati in lavori manuali, nella pulizia delle strade, nel settore edile e agricolo. Alla luce della crisi politica del 2011, migliaia di questi migranti hanno portato in Libano le loro famiglie estese. Il numero dei rifugiati siriani a Sarafand – di cui troppo spesso si fa un fascio d’erba unico – si dice ora superi quello della popolazione locale. Il comune di Sarafand e il capo dell’Unione delle municipalità di Sahel az Zahrani, evidenziano entrambi le difficoltà di trovare spazi per seppellire i morti. Un problema che precede di gran lunga la crisi siriana.

Secondo alcuni cittadini locali, i rifugiati siriani che abitano a Sarafand ormai da qualche anno sarebbero stati sul punto di organizzare un sit-in di carattere politico per rivendicare spazio per seppellire i propri morti. Conversando con i rifugiati di Sarafand, si tocca con mano la frustrazione che la vita nel Paese ospitante riserva ai profughi di guerra e violenze, e la condanna alla morte sociale di queste componenti demografiche. Se in tempo di crisi cibo, medicine, materassi e servizi forniti dalle agenzie umanitarie non possono di certo compensare la graduale perdita quotidiana della precedente normalità, essere riconosciuti come abitanti con dignità al diritto di sepoltura, di ricordo e di riconoscimento sociale post mortem solleva le medesime responsabilità umane.

In seguito a queste rivendicazioni e per evitare che le richieste assumessero infine la tinta di una protesta politica, il cimitero nuovo di Sarafand è stato allargato di qualche ettaro.

Secondo alcuni abitanti libanesi, la comunità palestinese locale è stata disposta a concedere parte del proprio spazio ai nuovi arrivati siriani per la sepoltura dei loro defunti. La comunità palestinese, dal proprio canto, non si è sentita invece interpellata in tale decisione municipale. Una giovane donna palestinese commenta che “essere figli di uno Stato non riconosciuto, di nessuna amministrazione, costringe alla limitazione dei propri diritti… Ci è stato forse chiesto cosa volessimo concedere? Non vi è nessun rappresentante della comunità palestinese né tantomeno nessuno è stato interpellato a questo riguardo… e ancora la definiscono una nostra concessione”.

Molti dei rifugiati siriani di Sarafand vivono in edifici nuovi, apparentemente costruiti per ghettizzare la popolazione non locale in spazi definiti e lontani dal resto della realtà urbana. C’è chi ritiene la municipalità efficiente e disponibile, ma impossibilitata a risolvere la questione dello spazio cimiteriale perché non all’interno delle proprie capacità giuridiche. C’è chi invece accusa la municipalità di riuscire ad avviare progetti ambiziosi di riciclaggio e preziose partnerships con agenzie internazionali, senza voler risolvere la questione dello spazio cimiteriale. “Nessuna speranza per ricordare. Nessuna speranza per morire in pace! La municipalità rifiuta la concessione di spazi per i nostri morti perché spera di liberarsi di noi… Ho provato a cercare in tutto il Libano un modo per non mandare il corpo di mia madre in Siria… Non ritornerò facilmente lì dove son cresciuto… Dovrei lasciarla appassire lontana dal mio ricordo e dalla mia devozione? Non è facile neanche ottenere un’ambulanza per un siriano durante le ore del coprifuoco serale… Il maltrattamento che subiamo all’ordine del giorno non renderà la nostra permanenza temporanea”, afferma in modo significativo un uomo siriano di mezza età.

Secondo alcune voci locali, tuttavia, non sarebbe lo status legale e neppure la nazionalità del defunto a garantire una degna sepoltura e una degna devozione da parte dei propri familiari. È piuttosto lo status sociale a determinare la dignità del vivo come del morto. “L’unica cosa che importa” – mi dice un venditore di schede telefoniche sulla strada principale di Sarafand –  “è che tipo di siriano sei, che tipo di palestinese sei, e così via… qual è il tuo status sociale, insomma”.

Della stessa opinione è un altro residente di Sarafand che accenna al fatto che “per seppellire il corpo di una persona illustre, miracolosamente, lo spazio si trova!”. Una cittadina libanese di Sarafand in modo analogo esclama: “La municipalità aveva appena negato la possibilità di nuove sepolture nel cimitero nuovo anche per noi libanesi, quand’ecco che un imprenditore ha avuto modo addirittura di farsi spazio in quello vecchio!”.

Classe sociale, status legale, wasta locale. I fattori che danno diritto a vivere e morire sono diversi quanto le narrative locali della diseguaglianza che ho dovuto digerire in un solo pomeriggio.

Con sgomento del grande Totò, neanche la morte, a Sarafand, è ‘na livella.

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