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The Best of Books 2016

 

The Sunni Tragedy in the Middle East: Northern Lebanon From al-Qaeda to ISIS

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The Sunni Tragedy in the Middle East: Northern Lebanon From al-Qaeda to ISIS
By Bernard Rougier
Princeton University Press, 2015
288 pp.
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Rougier masterfully guides readers deep into the complex terrain of northern Lebanese politics. It is a wondrous, if difficult, voyage. He argues that the convoluted politics of the Sunni-dominated northern part of the country and its capital city, Tripoli, serve as a paradigm for the plight of Sunnis throughout the Levant. In 1982, during the Lebanese civil war, Syria asserted control over the region, but it withdrew its forces in 2005 after the assassination of Lebanon’s Sunni prime minister, Rafiq Hariri. Soon thereafter, Hariri’s son Saad tried to assert what Rougier calls “institutional” Sunni control over the north but was humiliated when the Shiite militant group Hezbollah took over several neighborhoods in West Beirut in 2008. In the absence of strong Sunni political leadership, hard-line Salafi sheiks filled the void, and the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) later began to pitch its international jihadism to the region’s youth. Today, northern Lebanon represents a vital strategic arena for the protagonists in Syria’s civil war. Control of the Tripoli-Qalamoun-Qusayr corridor is existentially important for the alliance formed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Hezbollah, and Iran and also crucial for the Sunni jihadist groups that seek to overthrow Assad. The struggle for control has produced a crucible of political intrigue and religious zealotry. Throughout the region, this Sunni-Shiite rivalry is unfolding with equal viciousness.

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