Warlords and Merchants: The Lebanese Business and Political Establishment
by Kamal Dib
Reading: Ithaca Press, 2004. 333 pp. $49.50.
Reviewed by Marius Deeb
Johns Hopkins University
Middle East Quarterly
Dib, an economist by profession, has written an interesting book, especially with respect to the economy and business practices of Lebanese merchants and bankers. The author's survey of how the Lebanese banking sector emerged from the 1940s onwards is outstanding. The role of the powerful Intra Bank in the Lebanese banking sector and the financial crisis that engulfed it in 1966 are fully covered. Dib claims that the Lebanese political establishment plotted against Intra Bank, which had become by then the largest bank in Lebanon (with assets and reserves amounting to 56 percent of that of the whole Lebanese banking system's total) because it was predominantly owned and run by Christian Palestinians.
Despite the Intra Bank crisis, Lebanon's economic golden age continued until 1974. The lira, its mighty national currency, survived the first decade of the war in Lebanon and collapsed only in 1985. The author traces the destruction of the Lebanese economy as a result of the wars that overwhelmed Lebanon from 1975 until 1990. He also provides a very useful statistical appendix.
The political dimension of this book leaves much to be desired, however, as Dib either misinterprets events or simply omits them. He fails to explain the reasons for the fall of the Lebanese currency, in particular the political factors. He has no clue why battles raged between the various factions nor why leading politicians and major religious figures were assassinated. Finally, he hardly mentions that the Assad regime in Syria waged its terrorist war against the Lebanese polity for three decades.
Related Topics: Lebanon | Marius Deeb | Winter 2006 MEQ
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