Lebanon's Quest: The Road to Statehood 1926-1939
by Meir Zamir
London: I. B. Tauris, 1997. 313 pp. £45.
Reviewed by Farid el-Khazen
American University of Beirut
Middle East Quarterly
The sequel to Zamir's Formation of Modern Lebanon,1 Lebanon's Quest provides a detailed account of Lebanon's political history during the mandate period. A major contribution to the study of modern Lebanese history, it is well-researched, comprehensive, and written in a clear and precise language. No understanding of Lebanon's multifaceted post-1920 political history is complete without reading Lebanon's Quest.
The focus is on political, religious, and economic elites engaged in incessant feuds for influence and recognition. Their story is a complex one, with intra- and inter-sectarian rivalries, Syrian-based Arab nationalist politics, and French policy in flux. Zamir skillfully puts together this intricate interplay, yet some of his conclusions are debatable. Relying mainly on French intelligence sources, for example, he downplays French responsibility for dysfunctional government institutions. Had other sources been accessible and used, such the Maronite Patriarchate archives and the minutes of parliamentary debates, the author's arguments would have been more nuanced.
In general, Zamir writes with an eye to the present; he intends to show that the negative features of today's political system were present since the Lebanese state was formed. But the anomalies Zamir attributes to the political process were neither unique to Lebanon nor conducive to system failure. Much of Syrian politics in the mandate period where no confessional system existed, exhibited similar traits to those of Lebanon (factionalism and power struggles affecting political choices), yet Syria has been since 1970 the polar opposite of Lebanon—a police state.
2 Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985.
Related Topics: History, Lebanon | June 1998 MEQ
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