In This Review

The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, 1967-1976
The Breakdown of the State in Lebanon, 1967-1976
By Farid El-Khazen
Harvard University Press, 2000, 432 pp

In 1975, Lebanon plunged into a civil war that lasted until 1990. In trying to unearth the war's roots, some scholars have argued that Lebanon's various religious pluralities failed to cohere into a state; others contend that the gap between the haves and have-nots was growing too great. For El-Khazen, however, neither was the case. Lebanon had survived earlier crises, and socioeconomic differences among the different religious communities were diminishing. In fact, he argues, the Arab-Israeli conflict destroyed the state. After the Palestine Liberation Organization was ejected from Jordan in 1970-71, Lebanon was the last available staging area for actions against Israel. Although other Arab governments had banned the plo from their territories, they were content to have it based in Lebanon. And Israel periodically assaulted Lebanon to force the state to do what it was incapable of doing: stop plo activities. These cumulative stresses polarized the Lebanese polity, split army and state asunder, and brought on the war. This narrative offers the best description of Middle East diplomacy from the perspective of a single state since Patrick Seale's The Struggle for Syria. An implicit theme is that Lebanese communal pluralism in a nonauthoritarian state might just work -- as long as outside pressures do not overwhelm it.