The Lebanese Sunni Community: Bombed into Communal Consciousness

Much of the literature on Lebanon has focused on the Christian and Shiite communities. There is not much written on the Sunni community.  Today much of the attention to the Sunni Lebanese community is within the context of the “threat” of the so-called Sunni Muslim fundamentalism. One of the few books to focus on the Sunni Lebanese, albeit the Beiruti Sunni Lebanese is Michael Johnson’s Class and Client in Beirut (1986). Johnson’s is a thorough study of the Beiruti Sunnis, their zaims and the clientelist system of a bygone era. Johnson had access to the Sunni zaims, in his book thanking the father of the current Prime Minister Tamam Salam, Saeb Salam.

An interesting observation/conclusion that Johnson makes as to the Lebanese Sunnis is the following excerpt:
 “The Sunnis, by contrast, had not developed a communal consciousness comparable to that of the other major confessions. They had always tended to look to Arab nationalism for their political inspiration; and though this was still an essentially confessional orientation, the Arab community with which they identified was much larger, and therefore more nebulous, than the concentrated and parochial communities of the Maronites and Druze. Even the Shi’ites, who were fragmented spatially (the northern Bekaa, South Lebanon and Beirut) and also divided over their degree of commitment to the Iranian revolution, were mainly influenced by a parochial communalism which emphasized their grievances as a deprived and disinherited, specifically Lebanese community. The attachment of the Sunni menu peuple to the values of Arabism had meant that the divisions of the Arab world had become replicated in the damaging intra-confessional conflicts between their various militias, thus leaving them with a weak sense of communal solidarity at a time when a confessional balance of military forces seemed to be the most likely framework for an end to the civil war. Thus, in a political sense, the Sunnis were the war’s main casualty among the larger Lebanese confessions, and they had to accept a decline in power and status similar to the one they had suffered with the imposition of Greater Lebanon in 1920. But their political and socio-economic resources had been much stronger during the French Mandate than they were in 1985. With the rise of the Shi’ites to a position of prominence, it was likely that they rather than the Sunnis would be the major partners of the Maronites in any new Lebanon which might conceivably emerge from the long nightmare of civil war.”
Pg. 213-214
Communal Consciousness. Imposed.
The Sunni community, given the upheaval that started with the Hariri assassination, is a changed community. It is not a radicalized community. But there is definitely a growing communal consciousness that is the outcome of a series of setbacks and challenges that began with the assassination of PM Hariri and did not end with the October 2014 clashes in Tripoli.


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