Jeffrey Karam

Jeffrey G. Karam

Visiting Research Scholar at the Crown Center and Lecturer of International Relations and Middle East Studies at Boston University.


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Beyond Sectarianism: Understanding Lebanese Politics through a Cross-Sectarian Lens

Jeffrey G. Karam
Middle East Brief 107, April 2017


In October 2016, after two and a half years of failed attempts to fill the post of the President of Lebanon, Saad Hariri, the Sunni former Premier, nominated Michel Aoun, the Christian Maronite former commander in chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces and ally of Shii Hezbollah. Hariri’s initiative both ended the Lebanese presidential crisis and began to mend the political rift between Aoun’s mostly Christian Free Patriotic Movement and Hariri’s predominantly Sunni Future Movement.  This development is not consistent, however, with the common perception of Lebanon as dominated by sectarianism, which is seen as the root cause of the country's wars, underdevelopment, and chronic instability. In this Brief, Jeffrey Karam offers an alternative to that conventional understanding of Lebanese politics. He argues that cross-sectarian compromises between political elites, such as this one that solved the presidential crisis, have recurred throughout the history of modern Lebanon, providing a surprising degree of stability to the Lebanese political system. Nonetheless, such deals primarily serve the interests of elites and hinder reforms that could fix the country's myriad problems. The Brief concludes with an assessment of grassroots organizations that are attempting to break across these cross-sectarian alliances in order to bring about fundamental change in Lebanon.

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