Posts Tagged With: State

Winking at Humanitarian Neutrality: The Liminal Politics of the State in Lebanon (June, 2019)

What does it happen when local residents of the Beirut southern suburbs speak of the Lebanese state offering Lebanon “on a silver tray” and Syrian refugees in the northern region of Akkar mention the Lebanese state as a repressive political actor allied with supposedly neutral humanitarian agencies which manage their everyday life?

In this article, just published in the main Canadian Anthropological journal Anthropologica 61(1): 83-96 (University of Toronto Press), I rethink liminality in anthropology and I identify in liminality the behavioural politics of the Lebanese state, whose enmity is perceived by refugees and local citizens, both frustrated by failed attempts at befriending the central state throughout Lebanon’s history.

Here below you can find the abstract in English and French, as well as the link from where to access my article.

Abstract: Drawing on the July 2006 Israel–Lebanon War in Beirut’s southern suburbs and the Syrian refugee influx into the villages of Akkar in northern Lebanon, I suggest that the Lebanese state aspires to officially assert itself as a liminal space in a bid to survive crises and preserve its political capital, therefore aborting the attempts made by citizens and refugees to leave such liminality. I look at how professed state liminality meets with humanitarian neutrality, which is a principle of several international humanitarian agencies that assisted the internally displaced in 2006 and Syrian refugees from 2011 in Lebanon. Although in anthropology liminality has mostly been approached as anti-structural and an embodiment of the mar-gins, by proceeding from people’s perception of state enmity and their frustrated aspirations to befriend the state, I suggest that state liminality rather captures the structural peculiarity of the Lebanese state’s agency and violent presence, made of repressive and neglectful politics.

Keywords: refugees, Lebanon, humanitarianism, welfare, NGOs

Résumé : Partant de la guerre israélo-libanaise de juillet 2006 dans la banlieue sud de Beyrouth et de l’afflux de réfugiés syriens dans les villages du Akkar au nord du Liban, j’émets l’hypothèse que l’État libanais cherche à s’affirmer officielle-ment comme espace liminaire afin de survivre aux crises et de préserver son capital politique, faisant ainsi échec aux efforts de citoyens et de réfugiés pour quitter cette liminarité. J’exa-mine l’intersection de la liminarité étatique proclamée et de la neutralité humanitaire, ce dernier principe étant mis en avant par de nombreuses agences humanitaires internationales qui ont assisté les déplacés internes en 2006 et qui accompagnent les réfugiés syriens au Liban depuis 2011. Si en anthropologie la liminarité est généralement abordée comme un phénomène anti-structurel et comme une incarnation des marges, je m’ap-puie sur la perception qu’ont les gens de l’inimitié étatique et de leurs aspirations frustrées à se rapprocher de l’État pour avancer que la liminarité étatique permet plutôt d’appréhender la particularité structurelle de l’agencéité et de la présence violente propres à l’État libanais, lesquelles sont marquées par une politique conjointe de répression et d’abandon.

Mots clés : réfugiés, Liban, humanitaire, protection sociale, ONG

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

About the Syrian Revolution: bio-politics, state failure and security (by Estella Carpi – June 2012)

Estella Carpi: The Syrian Revolution and Global Inaction


In the wake of the putative failure of the Syrian political opposition and the debates that this sort of political miscarriage engendered, an element of the international think-tank has insisted further on the need for securing the Syrian state and its “Axis of Resistance” with Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, in a bid to advocate for Palestinian rights and regional balance.

The world looked to the UN Security Council to take action, but members of the Council, yet again, failed to agree that large-scale systematic violations of human rights committed against its own people by a government intent on maintaining its power was no longer an endogenic matter of state sovereignty. Despite the hype surrounding the “responsibility to protect”, the international community remains substantially inactive when faced with mass atrocities.

Such global inaction has often been disguised by a pool of off-the-cuff news analysts, and the US factual passivity, even in light of current mild UN steps, has not been tackled.

Therein, new illusive rhetoric has stemmed from the split between a geopolitical and a biopolitical approach: the wellbeing of the state and the wellbeing of people seem to be at loggerheads. To secure the former would imply observation and inaction alongside revolutionaries or, in the best of cases, humanitarian action alongside civilians, victims of anti-regime “armed terrorists” and of the rumoured impending “civil war”.

While human security and dignity have not been pursued as aprioristic goals in the political agenda of international players, with the recent armament of rebels and the consequent massacres from both the regime and resistance fighters, everyone apparently now cares for human security in the country.

The security of citizens should be the responsibility of their state. When the state does not play this role, or even menaces the wellbeing of its citizens, the responsibility to protect passes to the so-called international community. This time, however, the need to secure humans for their benefit has not attracted a great deal of policy or humanitarian interest.

The reluctance to intervene in the Syrian crisis also denounces the increasing politicisation of non-state networks of aid and relief: the principle of protecting human security is increasingly used, abused and neglected at will.

In such a frame, political realists who think that the state remains the primary object to be secured are back on the road. Likewise, when contingencies of life and unavoidable risks are not meeting international interests, state sovereignty still prevails on the sentimental effort for transnational governance in a world where the principle of non-interference is largely going awry.

By defining biopolitics as a technology of life that operates at the level of the population and promotes human security, the biopolitical concern has played a controversial role in the security of the Syrian state and the maintenance of the regional balance in a sadly wide landscape of international journalists, pseudo-leftist activists and scholars, who readily plunged into a Syrian Revolution smear campaign. Rather, to guarantee the security of the State, meant as a concomitantly negotiated contract subscribed by its own citizens, would also mean to assure the security of the Syrian population itself, whatever its stance on the Assad regime. The Syrian case, therefore, should shift future research to the collapse of the state-centred/population-centred security dichotomy.

Shockingly, the time of exclusive state sovereignty seems now to have returned. To consider unreliable the Syrian National Council (SNC) has been the official pretext not to delegitimate the current regime and not to declare Syria a de facto “failed state”, as a result of a suddenly enlightened counter-rhetoric around the biased pathologisation of Middle Eastern governments and societies.

In a similar vein, the awkward nature of some alignments with Assad’s regime at the grassroots level has never been explored. The ongoing support for the Assad regime from a sector of the Syrian population has always been considered socially grounded, and never instead been interpreted as a mere panic-stricken attempt to maintain the status quo and kill the transitional germs that would give birth to a series of traumatic changes – necessarily traumatic as in any other dictatorship that has never given space for political opposition and alternative governmental experiences.

As a result of this blurred advocacy for the regime’s solidity, the state is basically invoked in its abstract and ideological construction as a psycho-social reaction to the fearful absence of points of call that the Syrians should face in the case of Assad’s departure. On this purpose, I would not like to presume the intimate will of all Syrians to topple the current regime, in a bid to bring grist to my own ideological mill. That would mean to play the same cringeworthy game as those who considered the Arab conscience – as though it were a single one – incapable of desiring and struggling for democratic change. To presume an understanding of what masses of people really want would be inappropriate for a researcher not-based in Syria (as I currently am), as well as for someone witnessing the current events.

The requests of marginalised and impoverished Syrians, backed by the calls of several Syrian intellectuals and artists, were initially representing the margins. Today, the Assad’s supporters ideologically strive to preserve the centrality of the regime that is inevitably shifting out and that, paradoxically, is emerging as a new margin of the Syrian state. As Talal Asad would say, the “margins” have been pervading the entire state since March 2011 when protests initially flared up, in the sense that the sovereign force of the regime has been expressed throughout the months in its continual attempts to deny the margins themselves.

In a state that has become its own margins, I wonder how the need for securing people’s lives correlates to the need for maintaining the Syrian state as a political entity.

Then, what should be rehabilitated is the authentic technology of protest, that is to say the political, social, and economic claims for change that had been advocated for since the very beginning of the Syrian Revolution.

But once again, humanitarian sentimentalism produced and supported, deconstructed and denied “humans” at will.

Estella Carpi is a PhD Candidate at The University of Sydney. Contact her at:

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

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