Lebanon: Studies in Society, Economy and Culture

30 November, 2021

The Arab Center of Research and Policy Studies has published Lebanon: Studies in Society, Economy and Culture, a joint effort from multiple authors and edited by Khalid Ziadeh. The 736-page book is a comprehensive survey of Lebanon, exploring its history, geography, population, economy, education, tourism, culture, politics and foreign relations. Chapters have been contributed by numerous professors, specialists and experts and aim to provide an in-depth introduction to Lebanon since the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon in 1920, when Lebanon became a pluralistic Arab cultural oasis, despite facing many crises. The book addresses both the Lebanese and the Arab reader, as an indispensable reference for every researcher who wants to take a closer look at the characteristics of Lebanon and its diverse experience. This book contains an introduction and nine chapters.

The first section deals with geography and the interaction between environment and population. The first chapter is an investigation of the physical geography of Lebanon, a study of all the natural phenomena affecting the topography of the country. The second chapter looks at the special features of human geography in Lebanon, including the population growth in spite of high emigration and decreasing fertility. It also considers variations in sects, healthcare access and employment, so that the chapter considers population, health and economic geography, reliant to a great extent on quantitative data.

The third chapter is a summation of the history of Lebanon from antiquity to modernity, starting with the Phoenicians and concluding with the modern, independent state. The chapter notes the cities of Tire, Sidon, Beirut, Byblos, Tripoli and Baalbek as among the most important Phoenician cities within the current Lebanese geography, continuing through the Greek, Roman and Byzantine eras. The chapter continues to detail the Islamization/Arabization of Lebanon ad the interactions of Islamic leaders with local Christians and Jews up until the Mamluk and Ottoman eras. Finally, it looks at the modern sectarian divides and conflicts that ended with the Syrian regime taking control.

The fourth chapter explains that Lebanon was distinguished from the countries of the region by its free economic system, especially in the 1950s and 60s, avoiding policies of state interference in the economy and making it a destination for funds and investments, without these funds contributing to the formation of a state of sustainable growth and economic development. This economic organization came to allow a free economy closely linked to the West and based on trade and finance, which impoverished the rural areas, introduced an agricultural crisis in agriculture, and led to a massive wave of migration towards the city. It also created monopolies in strategic sectors such as imports, which exacerbated unbalanced development and income inequality. The indicators and figures presented in the course of the chapter show that the national economy was at its height during the period leading up to the civil war. The war came to destroy all sectors and infrastructure. The productive sectors were not able to continue in peacetime, the economy remained semi-rentier, based on services with low productivity, and using remittances from expatriates for consumption, with the growth of the parallel economy (especially after the outbreak of the Syrian war).

The fifth chapter addresses the flailing tourism sector in Lebanon, noting that with the availability of new material, political, economic and civilized conditions since the end of the nineteenth century (the spread of railways as a main means of transportation, and the increase in inter-trade and travel movement), Beirut and Mount Lebanon became increasingly considered a destination for many Arab families to spend the summer there. This network of communication increased between the First and Second World Wars, and the results of that were the construction of dozens of Lebanese hotels in Beirut and mountain villages, some of which still exist today, after more than a hundred years. However, the tourist sector has been subject to great fluctuations with the multiple national and regional crises. This chapter presents a comprehensive historical account and analysis of the tourism sector and its contribution to Lebanese GDP.

The sixth chapter looks at Education and Scientific Research in Lebanon, providing a general historical overview and an evaluation of public education, higher education, vocational and technical education, and scientific research. First the author details public education in Lebanon in terms of the structure, curricula, students, members of the educational and administrative bodies, and schools, using the latest data. The second consideration is higher education and the establishment of the first public university in 1951, with an increase in universities recorded during the civil war. The author then explores vocational and technical education managed by the Ministry of Education and finally, the Lebanese efforts to conduct scientific research and the relevant funding and initiatives. The chapter concludes that the Lebanese education sector is in need of modernizing curricula, which have not been updated since 1997, and keeping pace with the times.

Chapter 7 looks at culture in Lebanon in the 21st Century, discussing the most important factors that led to the intellectual, social and literary renaissance in the early nineteenth century. It considers poetry, novel writing and Arab socialist trends over different eras and then looks at publication and the media as well as theatre, cinema and art. The author notes the importance of Lebanese culture in the Arab region, with many Arabs still seeing Lebanon as an indispensable cultural oasis.

Chapter 8 explores Lebanon’s political system more closely. First examining the limits of governance in the country, the author discusses the principle of separation of powers, the dialectic of accountability and the rotation of power and the powers of the constitutional authorities, such as the legislative authority of the Parliament, the Executive Council of Ministers, and the powers of the government and its president, all according to the Lebanese constitution, before moving onto the Taif agreement and the Doha agreement. The chapter went on to discuss the consociational system and its historical and social dimensions.

The ninth and final chapter discussed Lebanese foreign policy, starting from independence. The author discussed the main principles of foreign policy until the beginning of the civil war and the repercussions that followed the Taif Agreement on the general political level, regionally and internationally. It further traces the most important international resolutions that guarantee the independence and sovereignty of the Lebanese people (resolutions 2004/1559, 1680/2006, and 1701/2006 issued by the United Nations Security Council). These three international resolutions were, and still are, extremely important in terms of guaranteeing sovereignty and independence and also preserving the distinct Lebanese identity. This does not, of course, take away from the importance of Resolutions 425 and 426, which demand Israel's complete withdrawal from all Lebanese territories. Hence, the Lebanese diplomacy is focused on these guarantor international resolutions, as they are among the principles of Lebanese foreign policy.

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