The Emergence of Nonsectarian Political Movements in Lebanon

By Amanda Rizkallah
Submitted to Session P5349 (Identity and Political Mobilization in Contemporary Lebanon, 2018 Annual Meeting
Pol Science
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
In May 2016, Lebanon held its first municipal elections since the beginning of the Syrian civil war and the domestic trash crisis. For the first time in the city’s recent history, an independent nonsectarian volunteer-based campaign called Beirut Madinati presented the city’s voters with an alternative to sectarian political parties and their candidates. While the group did not win, it did succeed in winning about 40% of the vote. In the upcoming 2018 parliamentary elections, an unofficial offshoot of the group, LiBaladi, plans to present a similar nonsectarian grassroots alternative at the national level. This paper examines the rise of these two movements. In a moment when regional politics have polarized the Middle East along sectarian lines, and in a place where sect is the institutionalized currency of the political system, how did movements of cross-sectarian unity and resistance to the status quo emerge? To answer this question, this study traces the development of both interrelated campaigns. The article compares election to previous ones that took place in 2010 (municipal) and 2009 (parliamentary) in order to gain insight into how changes in key structural and organizational variables opened a window of opportunity for new political parties. Data are drawn from election results as well as structured in-depth interviews with key players in the movements, including founding members, candidates, volunteer coordinators, and legal advisers.