In This Review

Lebanon: A Shattered Country
Lebanon: A Shattered Country
By Elizabeth Picard
Holmes & Meier, 1996, 202 pp.

Lebanon is often treated by its neighbors as if it no longer existed as an independent country. And yet, as this excellent history shows, Lebanon has developed a distinctive identity, despite the violence that has consumed the country over the past two decades. Each of Lebanon's major communal groups is given due attention, as is the period of French domination that established the borders of the state and set communitarianism up as the basis for political representation. The era of peace and prosperity after World War II is recalled, as is Lebanon's descent into communal violence in the mid-1970s amid the erosion of the authority of the state. This is the first serious study of Lebanon since the Taif accord of 1989, which helped bring the Lebanese civil war to an end, and the author's treatment of the new balances between Christians and Muslims established by that agreement is particularly valuable. In short, present-day Lebanon is struggling to rebuild with a political system that still enshrines communitarianism. The system has a somewhat more equal distribution of power, but with a dispersion of responsibility that gives the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament the chance to veto any major initiative. And that is just as the real power in Lebanon -- Syria -- wants it to be. A well-crafted, balanced, and sober assessment of Lebanon past and present.