Electoral Politics in Beirut: Between Civic and Sectarian Identities

Friday, July 14, 2017
Turnbull Room (University of Glasgow)
Stephen Deets , History and Society, Babson College
In the 2016 municipal elections, the newly formed Beirut Madinati challenged the status quo of deep sectarianism by asserting an explicitly Beiruti identity, raising questions about localism as a way to (re)create civic identity in ways that state-level politics has not. With democratic backsliding and the rise of illiberal democracy in many countries, examining the nexus between nationalism, elections, and civic identity can elucidate several important areas of politics in a country. This paper uses recent urban politics in Beirut to examine the relationship between democratic elections and sense of citizenship in deeply divided societies. The cross-sectarian mobilization over the 2015 garbage crisis revealed the opportunity for organizing around quality of life issues and non-sectarian interests, but its failures revealed the ways sect, class, and generational lines can be important. After the failure of the protests, academics and technocrats formed Beirut Madinati to contest the 2016 municipal elections. Their campaign put forward the notion that they were citizens of Beirut, signaling a clear rejection of the sectarian politics. In response, every major sectarian party came together to form a joint list that sought to preserve the status quo and which ultimately won the elections. The final section of the paper will examine the short-term legacy of Beirut Madinati in terms of sparking similar organizations in other Lebanese cities and impact on the platforms for the June 2017 parliamentary elections. The conclusion will consider the possibilities and limits of urban politics as arenas for promoting civic identity in deeply divided societies.
  • Deets.CES.pdf (695.1 kB)