Georges Corm's volume, originally published in French and expanded for the Italian edition, represents a useful introduction to the events of contemporary Lebanon, written with brilliance, resolution and a surprising wealth of detail, given the broadness of its documentation. An annotated chronology at the end of the volume, however, would have guided the reader through the events of an extremely tangled history which displays an extreme instability in its alliances and power relationships. After an extensive introduction which includes a perceptive self-assessment by the Lebanese, the narration unfolds from the time of the feudal organization of Mount Lebanon under Emir Fakhr ad-Din II (1572-1635), founded on the Druze-Maronite alliance against the Ottoman Empire. Fakhr ad-Din had previously established links with the West but it was only in the nineteenth century that the British, and especially the French, made their presence increasingly felt. After the terrible massacre between Maronites and Druze in 1840-1860 an autonomous region was created. This constituted the core of modern Lebanon which, further extended to include some coastal cities and the Beqaa Valley, would be assigned to France by the League of Nations at the end of WWI. After becoming independent in 1943, Lebanon enjoyed an increasing, if unequal, prosperity, abruptly interrupted by the outbreak of the civil war in 1975.
Initially, the opposition seemed to be between ("left-wing") OLP militants and ("right-wing") Phalangists; soon, however, the conflict was to involve all sections of society, with Lebanon becoming a battlefield for the local power-mongers, first of all Syria and Israel, and was accompanied by a series of interventions by international peacekeeping forces. After the 1990 Taif Agreement the country remained under Syrian control until 2005, except for the Southern region, finally abandoned by Israel in 2000. According to the usual narrative of Lebanese history, the key to understanding Lebanon lies in the inter-community balance, that is, the system of weights and counter-weights regulating the distribution of public offices (the Republic's President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunnite, the President of Parliament a Sciite). Corm's argument is that such a narrative misrepresents the available data. According to him, whilst the existence of different (neither ethnic nor national) communities is a fact, political communitarianism is a fruit of modernity resulting from the intervention of European powers in the affairs of the Ottoman Empire. According to this original interpretation, the author follows the development of the civil war and the wearisome post-war period, marked by the ascent of Prime Minister Hariri. In the last section the book reads like a chronicle .
Whilst losing detachment from the events, it nevertheless offers a wealth of information, particularly on the post-war reconstruction effort: the author was in fact Finance Minister between 1998 e il 2000. The final pages may be considered an indirect witness of the current polarization permeating Lebanese society, with its division into the March 8 and March 14 coalitions. In the absence of a shared vision, we must do with making piecemeal headway.
On the whole, this is an extremely rich work. Compared with the most recent Lebanon studies, its cut is certainly unusual, but precisely for this reason it deserves to be known and tested. Martino Diez
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