Dispossession by inaction: the Lebanese state and the last IDPs of Beirut

By Diala Lteif
Submitted to Session P6466 (State and the City: Presences and Absences in the Mashreq, 2021 Annual Meeting
Archit & Urb Plng
Urban Studies;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
An estimated one million people were displaced during the height of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990). The Ta'if Agreement, which brought an end to the fighting, was to address past forced migration and offer return to internally displaced people (IDPs). But more than three decades on, some of the most vulnerable Lebanese communities remain displaced, their plight largely absent from mainstream political and academic discourse.

This paper explores the struggle of the last remaining IDPs of East Beirut, Arab Al Maslakh, in their quest to return home. Arab Al Maslakh—or Arabs of the Slaughterhouse—were a nomadic tribe of cattle merchants and traders who settled in the late Ottoman era near Beirut’s slaughterhouse, in an area today known as Karantina. As a predominantly Muslim group, they were displaced to West Beirut in January 1976 following the civil war’s first massacres by Christian militias. In their absence, Karantina hosted the headquarters and training bases of these same militias—sites that were subsequently transferred to the Lebanese Army upon conclusion of the war. Arab Al Maslakh remain displaced from their homes and land, forced to negotiate with a Lebanese state apparatus whose both presence and absence has facilitated and perpetuated their ongoing displacement.

The visible spatial presence of the Lebanese Army within Karantina, perhaps counterintuitively, brings into stark relief the absence of a clear state interlocutor for Arab Al Maslakh. Despite years of advocating for a solution, the IDPs grievances remain unmet, their claims left in limbo through state inaction. In this paper, I argue that this inaction helps constitute a larger policy of mass dispossession targeting Lebanon’s most vulnerable. I present findings from 16 months of fieldwork, including from oral histories, archival research, and participant observation. In turn, I show how identitarian divisions intersect with state, space, and displacement, a social-material entanglement that is a lost part of Beirut’s urban history.