Uneven democratization is a common yet poorly understood legacy of civil war. In the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), wartime processes of displacement interacted with Syria's intervention to transform local postwar political orders. In Beirut's suburbs, the bonds built between armed actors and displaced populations created opportunities for displaced people to extract responsiveness from local institutions, despite their vulnerability. But the power of displaced populations in their host community hinges on the fate of the locally dominant armed actor. If the armed actor is an ally of the intervening power, it can maintain political control over its strongholds, marginalizing traditional local elites while empowering its core constituents, displaced people. By contrast, if an armed actor is repressed by the intervening power, the ensuing power vacuum creates an opportunity for pluralistic party politics to emerge. Traditional prewar elites reassert their role in local political life, empowering their core constituents, the prewar residents. Drawing on dozens of in-depth interviews with key informants in the suburbs of postwar Beirut, the findings show how displacement transformed localities in ways that transcend religious identity. Over 80,000 people have been displaced from southern Lebanon because of fighting since October 7, 2023. If Hezbollah provides services and security to these displaced persons, the current conflict will strengthen Hezbollah's grip on the south of Lebanon when the displaced populations return, or further consolidate its influence in those localities in south Lebanon where displaced populations settle.

In the southern suburbs of Beirut, Lebanon, Hezbollah is the dominant party. It faces little competition from challengers and has virtually complete control of local government—a local version of authoritarianism. It is for good reason that the southern suburbs of Beirut are known as the group's stronghold. And yet, only a few miles down the road, in the eastern suburbs of Beirut, the story is quite different. Multiple political parties compete for the support and attention of local voters and local elites. In these neighborhoods, local family-based elites are powerful, and local politics reflect the complex negotiations between these elites and several parties. These two neighborhood clusters, even though just a fifteen-minute drive apart, operate under fundamentally different postwar political orders.

This kind of uneven political development is not unique to Beirut or Lebanon. Scholars identify subnational authoritarianism and uneven democratization as key features of local politics in Latin America and Russia. They point to a combination of institutional and electoral structures,1 local-level rentierism,2 control over the local economy,3 and elite strategies of boundary control that isolate challengers from national allies as ways that political actors maintain control over authoritarian enclaves.4 This subnational authoritarianism literature rarely examines postwar contexts,5 however, even though this pattern of subnational authoritarianism is common in the wake of civil wars. Perhaps the most vivid example is the American South after the Civil War, but modern examples such as Bosnia and Iraq abound.

I argue that military intervention by foreign powers to end wars is a significant part of the story. Although United Nations peacekeeping missions or liberal international interventions may be the most studied and discussed type of military intervention, many military interventions to end conflicts and broker peace are undertaken by biased and invested foreign powers—usually neighbors, sometimes great powers.6 Little is known about the long-term effects of military interventions, and even less is known about their local effects. In this article, I demonstrate how military intervention can create differential local effects, interacting with the facts on the ground, particularly the wartime networks forged by processes such as population displacement and armed group governance, to shape the postwar political order at the local level.

Civil wars inevitably set in motion numerous social and political changes. One of the most significant is internal displacement, a process that fundamentally reorganizes communities. In this context, military intervention to end a civil war is a critical juncture, one that is essential to understanding whether and how wartime population displacement and the accompanying changes in social and political networks will shape local politics in the postwar era.

Using an inductive theory-building approach supported by evidence from five months of fieldwork in Lebanon, this study yields three main findings. First, wartime displacement systematically alters social and political networks. Populations internally displaced during civil war develop stronger ties to armed actors that may have provided them safe haven than populations that do not experience displacement. The latter group tends to remain more connected to prewar traditional local elites. These relationships can be critical in understanding postwar politics. Counterintuitively, relationships between displaced persons and armed actors are not simply exploitative. My findings indicate that in the postwar era, displaced persons can leverage their relationships with armed actors to exercise their political voice, to put non-electoral pressure on local government, and to extract responsiveness, even when they lack the right to vote in their new host communities.

Second, external military intervention, particularly when it shapes the war's final settlement, does more than simply determine winners and losers at the national level. External intervention affects local politics by empowering the intervener's allies with resources and freedom both to maintain their local wartime networks and to exert control over local governments in their wartime strongholds. In regions controlled by armed actors allied with the intervener, local dominant party systems emerge in the postwar era and prewar traditional local leaders are sidelined. In contrast, in regions where the intervener represses and politically marginalizes local armed actors, the power vacuum enables local pluralism and competitive party politics to emerge. Part of this pluralism includes traditional local elites reestablishing their role in local politics, which permits some political continuities with the prewar era.

Together, these two findings generate a third insight—whether displaced people can use their wartime political networks to extract responsiveness hinges on the fate and relative power of the armed actor to which they are connected. In localities controlled by the external intervener's allies, displaced people are embedded in political networks that are strengthened by the war's settlement, and as a result, they have real postwar power. In contrast, when armed groups that are enemies of the external intervener are repressed, their networks atrophy and weaken in the postwar period. The displaced people among their constituents lack the power to demand the same level of responsiveness from the local government.

The article draws on a comparison of the densely populated southern and eastern suburbs of postwar Beirut. The two suburban areas share similar prewar characteristics, went through multiple phases of armed group control during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), and became refuges for displaced populations, particularly during periods of wartime sectarian sorting and cleansing. Displaced populations developed stronger ties to armed actors, whereas residents who did not experience displacement remained embedded in their prewar communities and more closely linked to prewar local elites.

Despite these similar paths, decisive military action by neighboring Syria in 1990 to end the war affected the two suburbs differently. Hezbollah, the armed actor in control of the southern suburbs at the end of the war, was allied with Syria, the enforcer of the postwar peace in Lebanon. Being a beneficiary of the war's final settlement allowed Hezbollah to monopolize political power in its localities and empower its core constituents, displaced people. The Aounist faction of the Lebanese Army, the armed actor in control of the eastern suburbs at the end of the war, was militarily defeated by Syria and politically marginalized. The war's end created a political power vacuum in Aounist localities and produced a competitive and pluralistic postwar political environment. Prewar elites reasserted their role in local politics and empowered their constituents, the prewar residents.

Although it focuses on the dynamics within a handful of urban neighborhoods in greater Beirut, this study makes several contributions to the literatures on international intervention and on wartime displacement. It also has policy relevance beyond the Lebanese case. Classic research on postwar politics tends to focus on the macro level—the interventions, settlements, and peace deals that end wars and shape a country's future at the national level. More recent civil war scholarship focuses on microlevel developments during a war. Both lenses are important. This study demonstrates how the national-level outcome of a war interacts with local networks to produce systematic differences in local political orders, local leadership, and the relative power of displaced people in different neighborhoods.

More practically, uneven political development occurs in many countries, but particularly in postwar environments. International intervention to structure the outcome of the war and to create winners and losers is a main contributor to this local variation. International intervention creates authoritarian strongholds in some places and more pluralism in others. Furthermore, in relatively authoritarian postwar environments, military interventions that empower armed actors with strong networks among displaced people can counterintuitively provide these generally vulnerable populations with ways to elicit local responsiveness. This dynamic can occur even when giving voice to the marginalized was never an objective of the intervention.

This study also advances the understanding of the long-term political consequences of displacement. While internally displaced people often receive less attention than international refugees, they form the majority of forcibly displaced persons globally. The Lebanese case of displaced populations settling permanently in urban areas is becoming the norm worldwide. By the end of 2021, an unprecedented fifty-five million internally displaced persons were living in Afghanistan, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Syria, Ukraine, and Yemen.7 These are among the most vulnerable people in the world, precisely because they are still in their own countries and may still be subject to violence and threats by the regimes and armed actors that caused their displacement. Policymakers and analysts often focus on return as the most durable and preferrable solution to the plight of internally displaced people.8 But recent trends indicate an increasing number of displaced persons, fewer of whom are returning home and more of whom are settling in cities rather than camps.9 Urban resettlement introduces new relationships with host communities, as scarce resources catalyze social tensions between new and old inhabitants.10

Practitioners in humanitarian and development agencies already recognize that aid targeting forcibly displaced people must start to adopt a “people-in-place” approach.11 Instead of focusing on service delivery to discrete individuals, organizations must incorporate a deeper understanding of the urban contexts in which displaced people reside. In practice, this holistic relief effort means addressing the infrastructural needs of an urban neighborhood as well as the economic, social, security, and human development needs of both displaced people and their host communities.12 This study's exploration of the political dynamics and tensions between displaced residents and prewar residents and between political parties with histories as wartime armed groups and prewar local elites sheds light on both the obstacles that development organizations may face and the potential partnerships they may forge as they seek to serve these communities effectively. In host cities for internally displaced people, such as Mosul (Iraq), Maidaguri (Nigeria), Mogadishu (Somalia), and Idlib (Syria), it is essential to map out the local political landscape to understand the complex web of networks and loyalties that will impede or facilitate the international community's ability to help the most vulnerable.

This article proceeds as follows. After a review of the relevant civil war literature, the second section presents an inductive theory of how internal displacement reshapes political networks and interacts with the outcome of the war to influence patterns of local control after the war. The third section provides a description of the comparative case study research design and data collection process. Next, the article addresses the common process of forced displacement and network transformation that took place in the southern and eastern suburbs of Beirut. Section five examines the postwar contrasts between the southern and eastern suburbs, demonstrating how Syria's intervention produced divergent local political orders. The penultimate section considers alternative explanations, and the conclusion discusses both the limits of foreign intervention and its potential to reshape local political life and empower displaced populations when interveners ally with legitimate local actors.

The theory presented in the following section brings together two disparate strands of research on civil war, one on international intervention and one on wartime displacement as a process that reshapes local communities. Some scholars go beyond the typical focus on the international community's purportedly liberal interventions to end civil wars and instead examine the effects of a biased and invested foreign intervention by a powerful neighbor in a civil war. These kinds of interventions have significant effects on the duration, dynamics, and outcome of a war.13 Unilateral foreign state interventions often produce victory or a settlement that favors the intervener's allies, allowing them to influence the agenda of the postwar government and generally create a postwar government that is less responsive to citizens and less concerned with their welfare.14

Beyond these macro-level findings, little is known about how and through which channels international interventions shape postwar politics at the local level. Some evidence suggests that foreign aid makes armed organizations more likely to survive to the end of war,15 and that foreign military intervention can weaken local governance.16 Armed groups that receive foreign aid from one actor with a single agenda are more likely to establish consolidated local governance than those that receive support from a fragmented coalition.17 This study builds on and contributes directly to this emerging body of work.

This article's argument also contributes to scholarship on the long-term social and political legacies of internal displacement. Instead of focusing on the effect of displacement for discrete individuals, the argument emphasizes the importance of local community experiences, relationships, and organizations in producing the postwar political order, and in explaining local variations in that order. This is in line with a growing area of research that finds that aspects of postwar political life—including the outcomes of elections, the resilience of political organizations, and the possibility of future violent and nonviolent mobilization—are all to some degree legacies of community-level wartime social and political processes. Some of these consequential wartime processes include experiences of wartime violence,18 patterns of local territorial control,19 and local histories of mobilization and network formation.20 To these processes, I add displacement and population change as precursors and catalysts for network formation and reformation.

Most of the research on internal displacement focuses on its causes,21 how it affects the dynamics of wartime violence,22 its economic effects,23 or the factors that make return more likely.24 Few scholars examine its political legacies. Elizabeth Jean Wood and Stephanie Schwartz point out these lacunae in our understanding.25 Little is known about the ways in which internal displacement shapes new identities, creates new social cleavages, and restructures political and social networks.

There are some notable exceptions. Abbey Steele offers important insights into the profound implications of displacement for state building. She chronicles how forced displacement during Colombia's La Violencia (1948–1958) segregated populations politically and led to the settling of rural areas in patterns that increased polarization and enabled the organization of the insurgency in Colombia's contemporary conflict. Steele also suggests that the segregation produced by wartime displacement can potentially create electoral strongholds that empower wartime actors in the postwar period, all while exacerbating national-level polarization and fomenting future instability.26 Schwartz argues that new social divisions arise where displaced people return home. These divisions can become antagonistic if postwar institutions and policies provide different dividends to those with different experiences of displacement.27

My argument combines insights from work on international intervention and on local wartime processes to explain how the local postwar political order is an outcome that hinges on both local ties and macro-level factors, such as foreign intervention, that end civil war and structure the distribution of access to state and international resources.

In this section, I introduce a two-part inductive theory that explains how foreign intervention to end a civil war interacts with patterns of wartime displacement and network transformation at the local level to shape the local postwar political order. The result is local variation in political party control, in the power of local elites, and in the political power of internally displaced people.

First, I argue that internal displacement restructures ties to places, builds bonds with armed protectors, and ruptures or weakens displaced populations’ ties with traditional prewar leaders. As populations leave their towns of origin, they are unmoored from prewar political networks. The fact of displacement means that prewar local patrons and political figures have been co-opted, marginalized, or transformed in ways that make them unable or unwilling to protect and provide for fleeing populations. The vulnerability of internally displaced people combined with experiences of victimization by opposing armed groups drives the former to seek safety in areas under the control of sympathetic armed actors. This dynamic makes internally displaced people more receptive to the appeals of armed groups claiming to protect them. By providing safety and services, and by stoking communitarian fears that arise from experiencing displacement, armed actors cultivate support and secure recruits from displaced people.

Despite their initial vulnerability and the originally exploitative nature of their ties to armed actors, displaced people do not lack agency. Displaced people exercise a “double agency” because they must vote in their hometowns of origin according to Lebanese election law, but they are demographic majorities in their new urban neighborhoods. This circumstance makes them doubly valuable to armed actors making the postwar transition to political parties and seeking to nurture and maintain the bonds built during wartime. In turn, displaced people use the wartime relationships and networks built with parties with an armed history to extract responsiveness from local political institutions in the urban areas where they have settled but where they cannot vote.

In their new (usually urban) neighborhoods, displaced people have agency through their sheer numbers. Over time, and particularly as the war ends, they become an important engine of local economic activity and therefore an important source of tax revenue for the municipality. Many displaced people also work in low-wage civil service jobs, essentially staffing the local bureaucracy. If parties with an armed history invest in strengthening their networks among displaced people, they can use them to influence local politics in non-electoral ways. Parties can leverage the economic contributions of displaced people and their positions in the bureaucracy to influence how municipal policies are both created and implemented. Parties can also solve collective action problems among displaced people, mobilizing them for demonstrations and street-level activities to place greater pressure on the municipality. In contrast, displaced people have agency in their hometowns of origin because they still maintain the right to vote where they are formally registered. Parties stand to benefit electorally from coordinating the vote of displaced people and facilitating their return home on election day.28

The transformed social and political ties of displaced people differ from those of prewar residents who remain embedded in their local networks and more closely linked to prewar local elites. Prewar residents may, of course, still be courted by political parties with an armed history, but any ties are likely to be weaker. The prewar residents do not have the displaced population's experience of receiving protection from the parties in a critical moment of vulnerability. In fact, the prewar residents are more likely to have been dismayed by the rising influence of armed actors, the wartime loss of influence of their traditional local elites, and the transformation of their neighborhoods into crowded urban spaces. But prewar residents directly influence local politics because they can vote in municipal elections. Figure 1 summarizes this part of the argument.

Figure 1:

How Wartime Displacement Shifts Local Political Networks

Figure 1:

How Wartime Displacement Shifts Local Political Networks

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The second part of the argument addresses whether parties with an armed history will succeed in reinforcing their wartime networks with displaced people and incorporating them into a strategy for maintaining postwar control over wartime strongholds. These parties are the postwar manifestations of armed groups that stoked communitarian fears while providing safety and services during the war. Maintaining postwar control depends on parties’ ability to nurture and maintain networks with supporters in the area. Having the political and financial resources to do so hinges on the armed group's position vis-à-vis the foreign power brokering an end to the war. Armed groups that are allied with the intervener, and are therefore beneficiaries of the war's final settlement, are at a distinct advantage. The foreign power's support is a key that opens several doors of opportunity. Parties with an armed history can participate in the state's policymaking institutions, have access to government resources, enjoy international political and financial support, and operate freely and mostly autonomously in the regions that they control.

The beneficiary group's resources allow them to invest in strengthening wartime networks with local populations, especially displaced populations who have settled in their wartime strongholds, resulting in consolidated control over these geographic areas. In these localities, the ruling party with an armed history can apply non-electoral pressure on local institutions, mobilizing its supporters for collective action such as demonstrations, road closures, shirking taxes, or slowing down local bureaucracies in which their supporters might be employed. The party also uses its resources to influence any traditional elites remaining in the area after the war. My findings indicate that by using a mix of co-optation and pressure, the party turns some into allies and discourages others from running for office, such that those traditional elites who remain active in local politics are an ineffectual minority. Overt intimidation of municipalities may not even be necessary, as local elections become less meaningful because fewer candidates compete for office. The party controls local government, and consequently the voices and influence of its core constituents, most notably displaced people, are amplified. The prewar residents lose influence despite their ability to vote in local elections.

In contrast to armed groups that are beneficiaries of the war's final settlement, armed groups that are defeated and excluded from the war's final settlement, usually because they oppose the foreign power's intervention and terms for ending the conflict, lose their geographic control after the war. They are unable to reinforce wartime relationships to the same degree as settlement beneficiaries, even while they might still attempt to organize. Defeated groups lack access to state institutions, and the financial support that they receive from foreign patrons decreases or disappears. Sometimes they are legally banned from organizing.29 Core supporters may still politically align with the armed group-turned-party, and the affective ties of displaced populations to the group that provided them safe haven during the war may remain. Wartime networks atrophy without resources, however, and ties with populations weaken as the benefits of affiliation decline and the costs of continued support rise in a hostile postwar environment.

Localities formerly controlled by defeated groups experience a fundamentally different postwar trajectory. The vacuum created by the repression of the wartime armed group in control of the area produces a more pluralistic postwar political environment. No one party is dominant. Multiple parties and political organizations will try to assert influence. The local power vacuum and ensuing political competition empower local traditional elites, who become valuable to rival party organizers. They can advertise themselves to parties as important assets who have valuable local knowledge and who are embedded in traditional networks of prewar residents. This is particularly important to any parties looking to control municipal politics, as the prewar residents are registered to vote in the area and are likely to have engaged in local electoral politics. Traditional prewar networks become reinvigorated by parties funneling resources to prewar elites who might partner with them. Relationships between parties and traditional elites are reciprocal, each using the other to gain leverage. Prewar residents are courted by competing factions. Their vote matters in local politics and it is their voice, not that of the displaced residents, that is amplified in this pluralistic environment. Figure 2 summarizes the key outcomes of this second part of the argument.

Figure 2:

Local Postwar Political Orders

NOTE: The table depicts the three main elements of the local postwar order: political parties, local elites, and residents. For simplicity and given the permanent nature of their displacement, internally displaced persons are referred to as “new residents,” and prewar residents are referred to as “registered residents.”

Figure 2:

Local Postwar Political Orders

NOTE: The table depicts the three main elements of the local postwar order: political parties, local elites, and residents. For simplicity and given the permanent nature of their displacement, internally displaced persons are referred to as “new residents,” and prewar residents are referred to as “registered residents.”

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While this study is grounded in the Lebanese case, some of its findings also apply to other cases of conflict. First and foremost, its findings illuminate the local effects of foreign intervention, particularly military interventions that have clear political agendas. Interventions are likely to empower allied armed actors and parties, but they also indirectly influence those allies’ ordinary constituents in local politics. The intervener's allies must be legitimate local actors, however, who have a popular base and who are embedded in local social and political networks. In the Lebanese case, Syria sponsored several political allies in Lebanese elections and politics,30 but only those with a wartime organization and local networks had staying power. Both the intervener's support and the local wartime networks are needed to build a postwar political machine that extends to the local level and supplants or co-opts local elites. These insights help to explain why two states had varying success in influencing Iraqi politics: the United States struggled to make a lasting impact, whereas Iran maintains considerable influence because of its established relationships with local actors.31

The findings are most relevant to wars in which armed groups controlled particular territories, and where a war ended with a multiparty negotiated settlement or some form of elections. Conflicts that have a territorial component are common and have been increasing in the post–Cold War era. Of the sixty-one cases of major civil war that began in the years from 1991 to 2014, 72 percent have a clear territorial component.32 In territorial wars, new networks and informal organizational structures between armed groups and displaced people are more likely to arise where sympathetic armed groups help these vulnerable populations resettle into safe havens under their control. This study is about the conditions under which these networks continue into the postwar period.

Ending these territorial wars with elections and some form of democratic politics motivates parties with an armed history to maintain and strengthen networks among displaced residents in order to transform them into postwar constituencies. Postwar cases like Bosnia,33 Tajikistan,34 and Iraq35 all feature prominent parties with an armed history that politically benefit from popular networks initially formed during times of conflict.

Finally, these findings also speak to cases of outright victory that ended in postwar authoritarianism, although in more limited ways. For example, Hezbollah offered safe haven to Shia displaced populations, engineered those populations’ permanent residence in the southern suburbs, co-opted local government to serve the interests of this constituency, and mobilized this constituency for both electoral and extra-electoral political action. Other postwar authoritarian regimes are likely to use such strategies to consolidate their power. This is already happening in Syria.36

An extended case study of the suburbs of Beirut provides an opportunity to study the long-term transformation of local political orders in the wake of the Lebanese Civil War. Rather than seeking to test hypotheses, this inductive approach to theorizing37 emphasizes understanding causal mechanisms, namely how war and its resolution restructure networks.38 Outcomes from this complex process include variation in the power and relevance of prewar local elites, in the relationships between prewar elites and postwar parties with wartime histories, and in the agency and political role of constituencies with different wartime experiences.

The research design proceeds in two stages. In the first empirical section of the article, I trace the prewar, wartime, and postwar demographic and political transformation of a suburban ring of neighborhoods south and east of Beirut. This exercise uncovers a common pattern of network transformation across the suburbs. The war forged new networks between displaced people and parties with an armed history, while those who remained in their prewar communities retained the continuity of their prewar ties to traditional local elites.

The second empirical section takes a comparative approach. Nested within this suburban ring is a paired most-similar systems comparison39 of two clusters of neighborhoods, one in the southern suburbs and another in the eastern suburbs of Beirut (see figure 3). I draw interview subjects from four municipalities in the southern suburbs and two municipalities in the eastern suburbs. In the southern suburbs, the municipalities of Haret Hreik and Mreijeh were majority Christian before the war. During the war, they became majority Shia Muslim. The other two municipalities, Burj al-Barajneh and Ghobeiri, remain unchanged: both are majority Shia.40 By examining both types of municipalities, the study demonstrates how displacement transformed localities in ways that transcend religious affiliation and identity. In the eastern suburbs, I select two municipalities that remain unchanged: Dekwaneh and Sin el Fil are both majority Christian areas.41

Figure 3.

The Southern and Eastern Suburbs of Beirut

SOURCE: The underlying map is from Dilip Hiro, Lebanon—Fire and Embers: A History of the Lebanese Civil War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), xiv.

Figure 3.

The Southern and Eastern Suburbs of Beirut

SOURCE: The underlying map is from Dilip Hiro, Lebanon—Fire and Embers: A History of the Lebanese Civil War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993), xiv.

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Before the war, the southern and eastern suburbs were remarkably similar. Both were collections of small villages that hosted Palestinian refugee camps. Traditional notable families dominated local politics. These families had local autonomy and ran local municipal councils, but at the national level and in the context of parliamentary elections, they were clients of patrons from the main prewar national parties, which were predominantly Christian.42 These relationships to elites in the capital allowed local families, both Christian and Shia, to provide constituency services to their own clients residing in the village and to generate economic opportunities that were absent in rural areas farther from Beirut.43

During the war, both areas experienced significant and similar levels of wartime destruction.44 According to the International Center for Transitional Justice's report on violent incidents during the Lebanese Civil War, thirty-five significant incidents occurred in the southern suburbs and thirty-one occurred in the eastern suburbs. These included battles, massacres, as well as shelling and abuses against civilians.45 Massacres took place in Palestinian refugee camps in both areas. In the eastern suburbs, the Tel el-Zaatar and Jisr el-Basha camps were razed in 1976. In the southern suburbs, the infamous massacres at the Sabra and Shatila camps took place in 1982.46 Violence spiked in both suburbs in both the first two and the last two years of the war.47 This comparable level of violence is important because other research suggests that the level of wartime disruption is an important factor in understanding the postwar influence of traditional notable families,48 which is a key outcome of concern in this analysis.

Both areas changed demographically during the war. Some prewar residents from certain religious groups became displaced early in the war, and many displaced populations from other parts of the country resettled in both the southern and eastern suburbs.49 As the war progressed and armed groups became increasingly sectarian rather than ideological, this pattern of religion-based sorting intensified. Both sets of neighborhoods became permanent safe havens for internally displaced persons in the Lebanese Civil War. Both areas also experienced significant periods under the control of sectarian militias, most notably the Amal Movement (southern suburbs) and the Lebanese Forces (eastern suburbs). In fact, in both the southern and eastern suburbs, Hezbollah and the Aounist faction of the Lebanese Army, respectively, consolidated control in 1988 and staked their local popularity and legitimacy on being a disciplined and principled antidote to the excesses of sectarian militias such as Amal and the Lebanese Forces.50

In the postwar era, these once small villages have become congested, politically and economically important suburbs mostly comprised of people who did not live in the area before the war.51 In both the southern and eastern suburbs, a massive influx of displaced persons during and after the war caused the number of residents who live and work in the area but have no voting rights in it to far outnumber the so-called registered residents. This imbalance exists because the government severely restricts people's ability to change where they are registered to vote in postwar Lebanon. In general, citizens must vote in their prewar town of origin, regardless of where they currently live.52 In interviews with local journalists, historians, retired council members, and longtime residents in the southern suburbs, many respondents estimate that only 10–15 percent of the resident population are registered residents who can vote in the area, with displaced people and their descendants making up the majority. According to one respondent, Burj al-Barajneh's population was about 10–15,000 before the war compared to roughly 150,000 now.53

In terms of municipal governance, the fifteen-year-long civil war interrupted local elections in both areas. The last municipal elections before the war occurred in 1963, and elections were not held until thirty-five years later in 1998. Elected representatives to municipal councils have historically been drawn from powerful local families. These families constitute a traditional form of authority, critical both in local patronage networks and in formal politics, that political parties must contend with to exert influence in municipal elections.54 Municipal governments lost much of their influence during the war years.

Despite robust de jure powers under which any “work having a public character or interest” is within their jurisdiction, local governments are heavily constrained in their ability to implement policies and carry out local projects.55 Municipalities’ capacity to collect taxes is quite low. They are highly dependent on the center for resources, particularly the national-level Independent Municipal Fund. The center also allocates funds for particular local projects.56 This authorization requirement reduces municipalities’ autonomy vis-à-vis national-level parties, an important point that I discuss in detail in the next section.

Despite their prewar and wartime similarities, the southern and eastern suburbs were affected differently by this study's critical intervening variable that mediates the effect of the war on the postwar political order: the foreign intervention that determined the outcome of the war, and by extension, the postwar fate of the armed actors that controlled the suburbs on the eve of the war's settlement. Hezbollah, the armed actor controlling the southern suburbs, was a beneficiary of the peace settlement, whereas General Aoun's faction of the Lebanese Army, the actor controlling the eastern suburbs, was defeated by the Syrian military and its leader exiled. This research design allows me to assess the importance of this macro-level intervention for institutionalizing postwar party dominance in some areas but not others.

data collection

I draw on a set of more than thirty in-depth semi-structured interviews that I and two local research assistants conducted with key informants in the southern and eastern suburbs.57 Respondents did not perceive any member of the research team as a local to the immediate neighborhood, which may have helped create more openness in discussing sensitive distinctions between prewar and displaced new residents. The religious diversity of our three-person team allowed us to generate many co-religionist pairings between interviewers and respondents when possible. Most of the interlocutors were either witnesses of or participants in the wartime and postwar transformation of their neighborhoods.58 These interviews were conducted as part of a larger project that included interviews with more than fifty respondents during five months of fieldwork in Lebanon, undertaken primarily in 2013 and 2014.

Interviewees were selected through a non-probability snowball sampling method that started with identifying key contacts in academia and civil society who could provide connections to local figures. This sampling method was necessary given the sensitive content of the interview questions.59 Asking about sectarian demographic change, wartime displacement, and the mechanisms and methods that parties and their constituents use to exert influence over municipal politics usually arouses suspicion in the Lebanese context. All interviews began by giving respondents an opportunity to describe their role in the community and to tell their perspective of whether and how the neighborhood has evolved. Respondents were also asked about experiences accessing or providing municipal services, the presence and role of parties with an armed history in their communities, the changing composition of residents, the relationship of different types of residents to the community, and, for displaced residents, to their villages and towns of origin. Being connected to the researcher through a trusted third party was critical to navigating sensitive questions. The result was that a vast majority of interviewees were willing to answer most questions. When they hesitated or spoke in euphemisms, this also provided the researchers with valuable information. Despite the limitations of the snowball sampling method, there was a high degree of convergence between respondents on basic factual questions about neighborhoods, which I suggest provides some indication as to the reliability of the interview content.60 I supplemented and, when possible, cross-validated interview material with historical surveys, maps, civil war violence data, and the rich secondary literature on the Lebanese Civil War.61

This empirical section explores the similarities between the southern and eastern suburbs, namely that residents’ wartime experiences of displacement shape their political networks and political preferences. Through the remainder of this article, I refer to those who have lived in the neighborhood since before the war and who are registered to vote in the neighborhood as the “registered residents.” I refer to those who experienced wartime displacement and settled in the neighborhood for safety, but who do not have the right to vote in the neighborhood, as the “new residents.”62 I use this categorization with the understanding that these newer residents are permanent members of the community and have lived in the suburbs for decades, many since the late 1970s.

In both suburbs, wartime displacement reshaped the networks and political preferences of new residents, whereas the prewar networks and political preferences of registered residents remained more intact. In both areas, the historical and primary political attachment of registered residents is to traditional, local prewar family elites. Despite their wartime political marginalization, the notable families have long-standing social networks among registered voters who survived the war. In the postwar era, new parties with an armed history seeking to extend their influence to the municipal level must partner with local family-based traditional elites and target them for co-optation in order to then gain the support of their constituents, the registered residents, in national elections.63

In contrast to the registered residents, the new residents have little attachment to the local prewar political families. Overall, new residents are more likely to support parties with an armed history, and to do so directly rather than through relationships with the area's traditional families. With no formal voice in municipal politics in the localities where they live, new residents use two informal methods to influence their local government bodies. First, they use their economic power to induce responsiveness from local leaders. More than three-quarters of the postwar population (75–85 percent) is comprised of new residents who own small businesses, pay taxes, and drive economic growth in the area. Second, they appeal to the national parties to informally pressure and influence the municipal councils in their new communities. In return, many new residents return to their hometowns to vote for the national parties and their local supporters in elections there. A smaller segment of new residents also demonstrates its loyalty through extra-electoral support, such as by participating in street demonstrations or using its leverage as civil servants in the local bureaucracy. In both groups of suburbs, new residents have political ties to parties with an armed history. This connection bolsters the role of those parties in local municipal politics and gives the new residents a mechanism to extract responsiveness without formal representation.

variation in residents’ political networks and preferences

Interview responses indicate that new residents and registered residents differ in their political preferences, political linkages, and voting behaviors. As previously mentioned, registered residents are more skeptical of parties with an armed history and have strong ties to traditional family-based local elites who were particularly influential before the war. New residents are more sympathetic to parties with an armed history. Reasons for this support emerge from their prewar and wartime experiences.

The first significant wave of migration to the suburbs actually began in the early 1950s, before the war.64 Unemployment and the economic marginalization of rural areas brought people to the city in search of opportunities. This population was unmoored from rural social networks and living in a precarious economic situation. Moreover, they were not registered as voters in the area. When the war began and as it progressed, multiple additional waves of people displaced by violence joined these migrants in the suburbs.65 These populations were also, and more suddenly, detached from their prewar social and political networks. The vulnerability of both types of newcomers left them more open to the appeals of sectarian armed groups. Experiences of victimization by opposing armed groups and of supposed protection by co-religionist armed groups contributed to the greater politicization of those displaced by the war. Historians identify this as a common pattern in the wider Lebanese conflict, in which militias provided welfare support to displaced people and resettled them in appropriated buildings. But they also kept displaced people in precarious conditions to gain the support of charitable organizations and to exploit their presence for advantages in political negotiations.66

In the postwar era, parties with an armed history continued using displaced people for political leverage. They provided and maintained housing for them in urban and suburban areas of strategic importance to the party, and they lobbied for their ability to return to their villages and towns of origin. It is important to note that “return” in the Lebanese context often means being able to reclaim land, a historic family home, the right to vote in the area, and the ability to return to home regions for the weekend.67 During the week, most displaced Lebanese work in the urban economy of Beirut and its metropolitan area. They are thus unable to return full-time to their regions of origin for financial rather than for political reasons.68 By ensuring that displaced people can both remain in their new suburban homes and vote in their home regions, parties with an armed history can benefit from having constituents in two geographic areas. In the suburbs, they can leverage this massive nonvoting constituency to exert influence over municipal politics.

political preferences in the southern suburbs. In the southern suburbs, one respondent explains that armed groups protected displaced people and helped them settle in the area. Hezbollah provides social services to these new residents both in the suburbs and in their home regions.69 The party also provides them with free transportation to their home regions during elections, where they vote for Hezbollah in large numbers. Another respondent remarked, “On election day, you will notice that the area is completely empty. All the people go back to Baalbek or the south to vote in their villages.”70

In contrast to the new residents, the registered residents have different political preferences, even within the same sect.71 Shia new residents support Hezbollah more than Shia registered residents. The registered residents are on average less political and less sympathetic to particular parties, and were initially much less receptive and even hostile to Hezbollah.72 In the first postwar municipal elections in 1998, Shia registered residents in Burj al-Barajneh and in Ghobeiri resisted Hezbollah's control over local politics and favored the traditional local families and their candidates.

An important caveat to these findings is that these distinctions in political preferences between new residents and registered residents are not necessarily static over time. Since the Lebanese Civil War ended, there have been two important turning points that had the potential to change preferences. The first is the 2006 Israeli war against Hezbollah, which decimated large parts of the southern suburbs. Hezbollah's centralized control over the process of rebuilding the southern suburbs, with meticulous attention to spatial organization before the 2006 destruction, is well documented.73 The party worked swiftly to restore displaced populations to the area. While the consensus is that the war and reconstruction effort won Hezbollah the loyalty of Shia residents, the attitudes of registered residents are more mixed. Although we did not prompt respondents to speak directly to the effects of 2006 during our interviews, one registered resident mentioned their frustration with the reconstruction project, noting, perhaps hyperbolically, if “a building that was destroyed had 3 floors, it was rebuilt with twelve. A building with one apartment now has two. There is absolutely no state [presence] here.”74 Reconstruction, they complained, proceeded with no regard to zoning laws, congestion, or livability; its purpose was to consolidate the party's territorial based and keep its supporters in the neighborhood.75

The second turning point is the politicization of the Sunni-Shia divide in the wake of the wars in Iraq (2003–2011, with continued political violence) and Syria (starting in 2012) and increasing tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Political differences between new and registered Shia residents have attenuated, with a greater acceptance of Hezbollah's leadership of the community among registered residents.76 Although these two events boosted Hezbollah's popularity overall, the variation in political preferences between registered and new residents existed when we conducted interviews in 2013.

political preferences in the eastern suburbs. In the eastern suburbs, this difference in political preferences between registered and new residents also exists. The new residents of the eastern suburbs are more likely to be supporters of or sympathetic to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), the party associated with General Aoun and the faction of the Lebanese Army controlling the eastern suburbs in the last phase of the war.77 One respondent from the southern suburbs estimates that 60 to 65 percent of the Christian registered residents who were displaced from the southern to the eastern suburbs support the FPM.78

Yet, the new residents are not a monolith. While one respondent describes the FPM as the most influential and popular group in the eastern suburbs, many also support the Lebanese Forces, the group that controlled the area in earlier phases of the war and that actively cultivated relationships among displaced people.79 Before elections, Christian parties with an armed history mobilize supporters among the new residents living in the eastern suburbs to return to their hometowns for elections. This mobilization is often successful and most new residents do return home to vote.80

In contrast to the new residents, the registered residents maintain strong links to the local political families who were influential in the prewar years. They are also much more likely to support the Kataeb (Phalangist) Party, which was historically dominant and popular in the area in the prewar era and the early war years. Even though the war severely weakened the Kataeb Party and its role in national politics, enduring support for this weak party in the postwar period is evidence of a political continuity among the registered residents. In fact, many registered residents have multigenerational family ties to the Kataeb, with many of their grandfathers81 supporting the prewar party bloc in the 1930s.82

This article's finding that registered residents and displaced residents held different political preferences in the postwar period is consistent with other research on Lebanese municipal politics.83 While not directly addressing displacement, a 2019 survey of Lebanese voters shows that respondents whose households experienced violence during the war were 15 percent more likely than those who had not experienced direct violence to base their votes for 2016 municipal council candidates on affiliation to sectarian parties, many of which have wartime histories as armed groups.84

registered residents’ mechanisms for exercising agency

The wartime experiences of populations and their networks that ensued shape not only their political preferences but also the mechanisms through which they exercise agency and have voice in their communities. Overall, registered residents vote in their municipality and have a straightforward relationship with its bureaucracy. The exceptions are Mreijeh and Haret Hreik, the two municipalities in the southern suburbs that were majority Christian before the war but are now majority Shia. In these cases, Christian registered residents were themselves displaced and no longer live in these areas because of the sectarian sorting that took place during the war.85 Their relationship to the municipalities is largely “on paper” and symbolic. Although Christians have generally not returned to live in these areas since the end of the war, about 40 percent do return to vote, but mostly to elect the Christian mukhtar [local village chief], whom they still need to visit to notarize certain documents and legally register births, deaths, and marriages.86 Unlike Shia registered residents in the southern suburbs or Christian registered residents in the eastern suburbs, Christian registered residents in these two southern suburbs do not pay taxes to the municipality or receive everyday services through it, and the parties that they are likely to support are not politically relevant.

In the two Shia-majority municipalities in the southern suburbs, Burjal-Barajneh and Ghobeiri, registered residents remained in the area throughout the war. In these two areas, the registered residents are active in local electoral politics and have a formal and, in the words of a retired council member, “traditional” relationship with the municipality given that they vote in the area.87 They also pay taxes to and receive services from the municipality. In the Christian-majority (about 90 percent) eastern suburbs, the relationship of the registered residents to their municipal government is like that of Shia registered residents living in the southern suburbs—not only do they vote in the municipality, but they also live there, paying taxes and receiving services.

new residents’ mechanisms for exercising agency

The relationship between the new residents and the municipality in both the southern and eastern suburbs does not operate through an electoral transaction. One of the ways that new residents influence the municipality is through daily operations of the local bureaucracy. New residents hold most jobs in the civil service, the administration, and perhaps more importantly, the local police force.88 Thus, even though they cannot hold elected office and they have no formal influence in the municipality, the new residents help to implement local policies and enforce law and order.

Another avenue for new residents to influence the municipality is through taxation.89 Irrespective of whether they vote in the area, business and property owners in the locality are required to pay taxes to the municipality. Despite municipalities’ poor capacity to collect taxes, the sheer size of the new resident population means that municipal governments depend on the financial success of this nonvoting community. As a result of this financial tie, the municipality encourages development and supports the business-owning class among the new residents to incentivize them to keep their factories and shops in the area.90 For instance, in the first postwar decade, local governments helped new residents buy land, start businesses, and build houses by not obstructing their efforts with excessive red tape.91 As taxpayers, new residents are just as entitled as voters to benefit from public services.92 Of course, business owners and wealthier new residents also influence politics more directly by making campaign contributions to candidates for local office.93

new residents and party networks. In addition to staffing the bureaucracy and paying taxes, the main way that new residents have voice and influence in both the southern and eastern suburbs is through their ties to national parties with an armed history, the central focus of this study.94 Although these relationships are undoubtedly exploitative, the reality is more complex. The new residents, not simply the parties, benefit from this arrangement, as it gives them a mechanism to induce local responsiveness in the neighborhoods where they spend most of their lives. One respondent from the eastern suburbs explains that new residents who support a political party use the party organization to influence the decision-making of officeholders affiliated with that party. Consequently, if the mayor is affiliated with a certain party, then new residents who are supporters of that party will have relatively more influence than other new residents during that mayor's tenure in office. Likewise, new residents who support an opposing party use their party connections to work against the mayor and to encourage challengers affiliated with their party.95

This party pressure on municipalities is possible because the municipalities are financially dependent on a central state that is controlled by these parties. In this way, the parties with an armed history informally enfranchise the new residents. Of course, the success of parties with an armed history in solidifying the continuity of this relationship with the new residents in the postwar period varies greatly. The following section on families and parties discusses the contrasts between the southern and eastern suburbs and demonstrates how this success depends on the position of the party with an armed history in the outcome of the war.

This empirical section explores the differences between the southern and eastern suburbs. While the two areas share similar prewar characteristics and played similar wartime roles as final destinations for displaced people, Syria's intervention to determine the outcome of the war created fundamentally different local postwar political orders in the southern and eastern suburbs. The dramatic divergence in the position of the controlling armed group vis-à-vis the Syrian military and the final settlement of the war explains the southern suburbs’ persistent control by Hezbollah as a dominant party, whereas the eastern suburbs experience party pluralism and a resurgence of local prewar elites. The differing fates of Hezbollah, an ally of Syria, and the Aounists (the political movement that became known as the FPM in 1994),96 an enemy of Syria, have important implications for the relative influence of the registered and new residents embedded in their networks.

In the southern suburbs, Hezbollah uses its hierarchical control of municipal politics to marginalize or co-opt local elites. As a result of its status as a beneficiary of the peace agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War, Hezbollah gained the freedom to operate with near autonomy in its regions of control, the ability to participate in state policymaking institutions, and the continued political and financial support of Syria and its ally, Iran. These benefits allowed Hezbollah to continue building its political, social, and military organization.97

Hezbollah's control over the nomination of candidates for municipal elections, the municipal councils’ lack of independence, and the party's central role in maintaining order and security and resolving disputes are all evidence of its firm control over local politics. In this power configuration, the local families and municipal councils in the southern suburbs are entirely subordinate to the party. An implication of this local balance of power is that displaced new residents, particularly those with stronger connections to Hezbollah, are more empowered than the registered residents. Municipal governments prioritize the demands and interests of the new residents.98

In the eastern suburbs, local elites filled the power vacuum left by the Aounists’ military defeat and surrender. The Aounists lost access to state institutions, their financial support from external patrons dried up, and they were banned from operating as a political organization.99 The Syrian military effectively took political control of the area, creating political opportunities for the traditional families, particularly those who were willing to tacitly cooperate with Syrian forces. The resurgence of the families produced a political continuity with the prewar period.

In 2005, the Aounists and the Lebanese Forces, two main losers of the war, reentered Lebanese politics in the wake of Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon. The former armed groups began working to reconstitute their organizations and political networks as political parties. Years of repression, lack of external patrons, and the reassertion of traditional families in municipal politics in the intervening years meant that they were operating from a fundamental deficit compared with a group like Hezbollah. They were in no position to monopolize local politics. This outcome produced a pluralistic environment, which allowed traditional local families to function more independently from national-level parties.

The pluralistic and competitive political landscape results in a reciprocal relationship between local elites and national parties. Political parties use the municipal council members’ networks to strategically funnel state resources into the distribution of clientelist goods.100 Local elites also mobilize voters for parliamentary elections. National parties assure local elites that their neighborhoods will not be neglected, that they will receive access to scarce state funds, and that their municipal projects will move forward.101 Parties and families negotiate which candidates to nominate to councils, which frequently are comprised of candidates with ties to a variety of parties. If these negotiations break down, competitive elections take place. The result is an independently functioning municipality more responsive to the registered residents who elect municipal council members. An implication of this power configuration is that registered residents—the voters—have more relative political power despite being a small proportion of the resident population.

a local dominant party system: the southern suburbs

All respondents in the southern suburbs gave similar responses about the balance of power in their municipalities, whether they were personally sympathetic to Hezbollah or not. They emphasized that political control in the area extended beyond the composition of formal organs of power such as the municipal councils. In fact, respondents suggested that these institutions have been politically ineffective for decades.102 Hezbollah is widely characterized as a party that monopolizes the local political landscape. No other parties with an armed history or traditional families can contest its control over either formal municipal politics or informal street politics. Hezbollah remains in control even in the historically Christian municipalities (Mreijeh and Haret Hreik), where many of the council seats are still reserved for Christians. It controls the process for nominating candidates, co-opting amenable members of traditional Christian families. Even when registered Christians return to the area to vote, the nomination process has already limited their choices to pro-Hezbollah candidates.103

In the first postwar municipal election in 1992, one respondent from a Shia-majority municipality had attempted to run on an electoral list of independent traditional families. Despite getting the support of a sizable number of Shia registered residents, their list's campaign was dwarfed by the resources that Hezbollah was able to marshal to ensure its candidates’ victories. The respondent explained that the municipal councils had become rubber stamps that allocated the municipal budget to projects according to the party's directives. “They [the municipality] do not even have meetings and discussions. They [implying Hezbollah] basically give the council a lecture in which they tell the council members to sign off on whatever they want them to do. It does not matter what the council members think. If you like it, or you do not like it, tough.”104 Hezbollah's control over the southern suburbs was so complete that the state needed its approval to even appoint a police officer or a civil servant to the area. The smallest details of local political life were under the party's control.

It is important to note that several respondents, including registered residents, viewed Hezbollah's monopoly over political power in the southern suburbs as positive rather than problematic. Hezbollah's extensive grassroots networks, organizational capacity, and disciplined cadres allow the party to prevent potential conflicts among residents. Hezbollah's well-developed dispute resolution mechanisms shift the responsibility for and burden of providing security from the municipalities to the party.105

In this political context, traditional families have lost most of their political influence, although some maintain a social role as members of a philanthropic class. Respondents explain that in the prewar era, local electoral success depended on the candidates’ relationships to the families. After the war, the families have been systematically replaced by the party as the key actor whose support is necessary for electoral success. In the words of one respondent, “In the past, it was always the families, they had complete control over the municipality … but now the parties control the area in every way. Chief among them is Hezbollah…. [In response to a follow-up question] Of course the party has influence on the municipality. It is the main controller of the municipality!”106 The municipal councils are often populated with members of traditional families, but these families are co-opted. Their loyalty is with Hezbollah, the party organization that empowers them.107 For example, Hezbollah allows the independent families to keep one-third of the seats on a municipal council, whereas party allies control two-thirds of the seats. Using this conciliatory approach, Hezbollah prevents any serious rifts from occurring within the Shia community. And yet, controlling two-thirds of a council means that the party can have a quorum without the families and does not need them to make decisions. One respondent explains, “I go to the council meetings, but I do not have a real say in what happens, nor can I object to the dominant opinion.”108 All respondents identify the balance of political power between traditional elites and Hezbollah as completely in the party's favor.109

Respondents are also nearly unanimous in how they characterize the relative influence of new and registered residents. In the words of one respondent, “the residents that are really determining the politics of the area, including the political affiliations of those in formal power, are the new residents.”110 Another explains that the new residents who arrived in the area because of the war and the armed actors who controlled the “street [Hezbollah]” at the end of the war are in full control of the southern suburbs.111 The new residents dominate, not just because of their sheer numbers, which are an important factor, but also because their latent demographic power is organized and mobilized by the party apparatus. Many new residents use their influence to skip or delay paying rent on municipality-owned housing units, with few to no consequences. One respondent even claims that only 10 percent of those living in municipal housing in Burj al-Barajneh consistently pay their rent to the municipality. Without party approval, the municipal council has no mechanism for enforcing such regulations.

In contrast, new residents frequently make demands of the municipality, informing it of problems with roads or with access to water. Their expectations of responsiveness, both by the party and the municipality, are high.112 Although scholars document a pervasive prejudice against and resentment of the new Shia residents of the southern suburbs among other religious communities,113 it should be noted that several Shia respondents who consider themselves part of the registered residents share these views, albeit using more indirect language.114

A large percentage of registered residents who do not support the party are effectively disenfranchised and relegated to an apolitical status.115 Many of them choose to stay home on election day, recognizing that local elections do not present them with options that represent their political preferences. One respondent explains that the municipality has no incentive to be responsive to the interests of these registered residents.116 Much of the municipality's tax revenue is spent on development projects that serve partisan priorities.117 Respondents from the southern suburbs, particularly those from the traditional families, repeatedly describe the registered residents as largely powerless over decision-making in the municipalities.118

Yet there are indications that the party is responsive, particularly when a demand is made by both the registered and the new residents. For example, one respondent explains that Hezbollah established checkpoints to maintain security after a series of bombings targeted the area in 2013. “They were mere boys, those manning these checkpoints, who were trigger happy and brainwashed. Then there were enough complaints from Dahiyeh's [the southern suburbs’ collective name] residents and an uproar. That is why they [Hezbollah] wisely felt that they had to hand over the checkpoints to the Lebanese Army, which was more professionalized and efficient and not rude with people like the teenage boys…. So Hezbollah is responsive to things like that, for their own sake.”119 Despite being in full control, the party is still sensitive to local discontent and is responsive to local populations.

In sum, Syria's intervention to end the civil war empowered Hezbollah and created a local dominant party system in the southern suburbs. Yet Hezbollah does not maintain this control only by sheer force. It is also responsive to its central constituents, the new residents, and it has co-opted formal institutions, such as the municipal councils, to serve the interests of these new residents, despite their inability to vote in the area. What also emerges from my interviews is that the attitudes of the registered residents (particularly those who are Shia Muslims) toward Hezbollah are complex, ambivalent, and varied.

local pluralism: the eastern suburbs

Respondents from the eastern suburbs gave dramatically different answers than those in the southern suburbs concerning the local balance of power. Nearly all respondents mentioned the high level of party competition in the eastern suburbs, which accords with historical accounts of political changes after the 2005 Cedar Revolution, the Syrian military's withdrawal from Lebanon, and the return of the Christian sectarian parties to Lebanese politics.120 Unlike Hezbollah, the Aounists do not have the capacity to reassert full control over the area that they controlled in the final stage of the war, despite their popularity with a large segment of the population. For both major Christian armed groups, their military and political defeat as well as the ensuing repression decimated much of their respective organizational infrastructure and weakened the networks that they had built during the war. After 2005, they began rebuilding, but neither of them has been able to dominate their former regions of control in the way that beneficiaries of the war settlement have been able to.121

Since 2006, the Aounists’ about-face and realignment with Syria and Hezbollah has predictably strengthened their position in municipal politics.122 But the Aounist FPM remains a weaker and qualitatively different organization than Hezbollah, unable to exert full control over the eastern suburbs despite its alliance with the latter. The Aounists have consistently had to compete with other parties and contend with the power of traditional families who reasserted themselves in the Christian political vacuum of the first fifteen postwar years (1990–2005). In the long term, the Aounists may consolidate control over the eastern suburbs, but much of this consolidation depends on their continued access to state resources and support from both Hezbollah and Syria, none of which are guaranteed. As of 2024, the legacy of the war's outcome persists and the Aounists operate as one of several parties within a pluralistic landscape.

One outcome of this pluralism is that the relationship between families and parties is more complex and reciprocal than in the southern suburbs. Respondents explain that there are four main political forces operating in the eastern suburbs: the families, the Kataeb (the historic prewar party of the area), the Lebanese Forces, and the FPM.123 This competition means that families can choose which parties to align with in municipal elections. They can make political decisions with relative freedom, and they have enough autonomy to opt not to associate with any parties. For parliamentary elections, families can choose to back the political groups that provide them with the greatest support at the local level.124 In exchange, the families mobilize their supporters to vote for particular parties in national elections.

The traditional families control the day-to-day decision-making of the municipality and represent the continuing influence of the registered residents.125 The parties are only concerned about local politics when they need to mobilize voters for national elections.126 According to several respondents, local political power did not fundamentally change between the prewar era and the contemporary period. The system is still controlled by a handful of families in each municipality.127 While there have been shifts in which families are more powerful in certain localities, the families are still the most important local players. In one municipality, for instance, the mayor is the son of the previous mayor.128 Other families sometimes contest this clan's hold on the municipal government, but often they simply work with the central family. The families often negotiate power-sharing arrangements to divide the seats on the municipal council and the positions of mukhtar.129 Changes in family power usually entail shifts in family wealth that allow them to buy local influence.130

One respondent provides evidence of how traditional families take precedence over parties in local elections. The mayor of one municipality, who is not clearly partisan, ran on an electoral list that included local elites from various parties, including the Kataeb, Lebanese Forces, and FPM. Another group of Kataeb headed up a competing list but ended up losing the election. Kataeb partisans ultimately based their decisions to support a certain list on personal or familial connections to the candidate running for mayor. National leaders permitted this local-level division within the party as something normal and non-threatening.131 Because these parties have begun to rebuild only since 2005, they know that they must depend on the families’ networks to mobilize support in national elections. This dependence makes them more willing to compromise and follow the families’ lead on local matters.132 According to one respondent, families and parties accommodate one another and work together. But local politics is ultimately about families, he reiterates, and this system is one that existed before the war.133

Yet, such examples do not necessarily signify that families have not changed and that they are always cohesive. While such cohesion may have been the case in the prewar period, when families reliably operated as one bloc under the leadership of a patriarch, families are now considerably more fragmented. Within the same family, members may align with either the FPM or the Lebanese Forces. Even brothers may align with different parties. These alliances largely depend on mutual interests and the content of transactional deals made with the parties.134

Respondents explain that the municipal governments of the eastern suburbs are generally responsive to both registered and new residents, although important distinctions exist. By paying taxes that generate revenue for the municipality, new residents maintain some influence through their economic activities.135 But the registered residents maintain certain privileges and are treated preferentially compared to the new residents.136 New residents are a second priority. For example, it is easier for a registered resident to get a particular license or to have a local official notarize a document. According to one new resident:

When I took some paperwork to the municipality to get some official work done, I was immediately asked where I was from, what family I was from, where I voted. They made it difficult for me. I have a cousin who lives in Dekwaneh. He is married to someone from Dekwaneh [meaning a registered resident] … my cousin's wife's parents still vote in Dekwaneh. So I sent him to help expedite my matter. So when he went and did it, it took a half an hour, but for me it was going to take three days of hassle.137

There are also more subtle privileges that the registered residents enjoy. For example, if a new resident or other outsider illegally parks their car in the neighborhood, the local police would naturally confront the person about the violation. But a registered resident is unlikely to be confronted, as the families would be reluctant to irritate a resident whose vote they may need in an upcoming election.138 This relatively greater responsiveness to the registered residents is in stark contrast to the marginalized position of the registered residents in the southern suburbs.

In sum, the political landscape that emerges in the eastern suburbs is one of fragmentation and competition among Christian parties with an armed history. These parties had arranged themselves against the Syrian military's presence in Lebanon and were therefore among the military and political losers of the war. This loss allowed traditional families to reclaim the political space that they had previously occupied in the area, resulting in remarkable local-level political continuity. Once these parties were permitted to reenter politics in 2005, they had to rebuild. None of them have ever monopolized the eastern suburbs, and it is precisely this political competition that allows the families and the registered residents to influence national political parties.

The most important alternative explanation to this argument is that an armed group's fate in the outcome of the war is endogenous to its strength and performance as an organization during the war, and that these organization-level characteristics are in turn the most important determinants of a group's ability to consolidate and maintain political control over its territories in the postwar era. Specifically in the case of Lebanon, the alternative argument might contend that Hezbollah is unusually cohesive and ideologically sophisticated. Its organizational capacity makes it structurally different from the Aounist faction of the Lebanese Army and these wartime features of the organization explain its postwar dominance.

It is reasonable to describe Hezbollah in this way. Indeed, the wartime networks formed between the organization and its supporters are key to my argument. The party's success in maintaining, reinforcing, and expanding those networks after the war, however, can only be explained by Syria's military intervention and the larger regional context in which the war was resolved. An alternative explanation rooted only in organizational characteristics may be compelling for civil wars that ended without significant international intervention. In the case of Lebanon, however, the role of Syrian intervention stands out.

Although Hezbollah and Aoun's faction of the Lebanese Army have organizational differences, their respective relationships with Syria as it became the architect, guarantor, and enforcer of the peace in Lebanon better explains their success and failure, respectively, in consolidating postwar party dominance over their regions of wartime territorial control. The outcome of the war has much less to do with how militias were performing on the ground in relation to one another. Even in scholarly accounts in which local dynamics are the central focus, Syria's intervention is cited as the key determinant of the fortunes of Hezbollah, Aoun's faction of the army, and other domestic armed actors operating in the last phase of the war.139

Using evidence gathered from primary interviews in the field and the robust secondary literature on the Lebanese Civil War, I argue that it is this dramatic divergence in position vis-à-vis Syria and the war's final settlement that produces the contrasting local postwar political orders in the southern and eastern suburbs, despite a similar pattern of wartime displacement and network formation in both areas. Without the political freedom and resources that came from an alliance with Syrian occupying forces, Hezbollah's ideological appeal and organizational strength would have declined, much as it did for losing parties.

This study examines the local effects of foreign intervention to end civil war, particularly when that intervention is by a biased and invested power. It provides a novel explanation for why uneven democratization or subnational authoritarianism often develop in postwar contexts. When foreign intervention shapes the war's final settlement, it not only determines winners and losers at the national level but also produces distinct forms of political order and authority at the local level.

Syria's intervention (1976–2005) in Lebanon, particularly its role in ending the country's civil war (1975–1990), shaped local politics by empowering Hezbollah, its ally, with resources and freedom to both maintain its local wartime networks and to monopolize control over local government in the southern suburbs of Beirut. A local dominant party system emerged in the postwar era, and prewar traditional local leaders were sidelined. In contrast, Syria's defeat and repression of the Aounist faction of the Lebanese Army created a power vacuum in the eastern suburbs. This power vacuum allowed pluralism and competitive party politics to emerge at the local level. It also created an opportunity for traditional elites to reassert their role in local politics, allowing for some political continuities with the prewar era.

Yet this study is not simply about the power of a foreign intervention to shape local politics. Foreign interventions interact with local wartime processes of displacement and network transformation that fundamentally change neighborhoods and communities in conflict. Internal displacement restructures displaced people's ties to geographic places, builds bonds between them and armed protectors, and ruptures their ties with traditional local leaders, undermining the authority of these traditional local elites during the war. The result is that displaced populations are more likely to support and be embedded in the political networks of parties with an armed history, whereas the prewar residents of a community are more likely to support and maintain their ties with traditional local prewar elites.

This network transformation has implications for the postwar political orders generated by foreign intervention. In areas once controlled by groups that have been repressed by the intervener, the power vacuum permits the reemergence of local elites. Party pluralism makes local elites valuable partners for national political actors. Consequently, registered residents exercise more political power than new residents because they have ties with traditional local elites and can vote locally. In contrast, it is the displaced people—the new residents—who exercise more political power in areas under the control of the intervener's allies because of their ties with the ruling party with an armed history. This influence exists regardless of whether they are permitted to vote in the area. This is the most counterintuitive finding of the study. Despite their vulnerability, displaced people, in the long term and under certain conditions, exercise some agency and extract political responsiveness from parties with an armed history.

These findings have timely implications for Lebanon. As of January 2024, over 80,000 people have been displaced from southern Lebanon because of the Israel-Gaza war that began on October 7, 2023.140 No systematic research has yet been done on whether or to what extent Hezbollah is involved in providing or arranging for humanitarian assistance to those fleeing from southern areas under its control. If this turns out to be the case, the findings of this study suggest that the current fighting between Israel and Palestine will strengthen Hezbollah's grip on the south of Lebanon if the displaced populations return there. Likewise, Hezbollah will likely extend its influence in those areas where displaced populations decide to settle instead of returning to south Lebanon.

The study also has two important policy implications more generally. First, foreign interveners have a remarkable ability to shape postwar political life in the places where they intervene, but much of this influence hinges on an intervener's alliance with legitimate local actors—actors who have preexisting local networks and a popular base of support. A close examination of interveners’ local relationships will help policymakers anticipate the likely political outcomes of foreign interventions in conflict zones. These insights help to make sense of why the United States struggled to implement its political agenda in Iraq, but Iran was relatively successful in doing so.

Second, across the globe, the number of internally displaced people is rising and the number who return home is declining. Displaced people are increasingly choosing to resettle in cities, becoming a permanent part of their host communities. This study enriches the understanding of the long-term political and social consequences of the internal displacement and urbanization that accompany most civil wars. This study also illuminates the implications of varying local postwar political orders for the relative power and influence of prewar residents and new wartime arrivals, even decades after the end of a conflict. The return of internally displaced populations is a worthy goal. But policymakers and practitioners must plan for the ways in which their peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction efforts will influence the enfranchisement and integration of permanently displaced residents, as well as their relationships with their new neighbors, the prewar residents.

This research was supported by the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Department of Political Science, the UCLA Graduate Division, the Project on Middle East Political Science (POMEPS), the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation (IGCC), and the Belfer Center at the Harvard Kennedy School. The author is grateful to Melani Cammett, James DeNardo, Barbara Geddes, Francesca Grandi, Stathis Kalyvas, Adam Moore, Sarah Parkinson, Michael Ross, Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Christopher Sullivan, and the participants of the Yale Order, Conflict, and Violence (OCV) Conference on Micro-Comparative Studies of 20th Century Conflicts, the participants of the Yale OCV Workshop, and the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and discussion. All interviews conducted for this study were conducted under Institutional Review Board (IRB) protocol #13-001372, approved by UCLA. The ideas in this article were presented in “Coffins and Castles: The Political Legacies of Civil War in Lebanon,” PhD dissertation, UCLA, 2016.


See Allyson Lucinda Benton, “Bottom-Up Challenges to National Democracy: Mexico's (Legal) Subnational Authoritarian Enclaves,” Comparative Politics 44, no. 3 (2012): 253–271, https://doi.org/10.5129/001041512800078931; Inga A. L. Saikkonen, “Variation in Subnational Electoral Authoritarianism: Evidence from the Russian Federation,” Democratization 23, no. 3 (2016): 437–458, https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2014.975693.


See Carlos Gervasoni, “A Rentier Theory of Subnational Regimes: Fiscal Federalism, Democracy, and Authoritarianism in the Argentine Provinces,” World Politics 62, no. 2 (2010): 302–340, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0043887110000067; Saikkonen, “Variation in Subnational Electoral Authoritarianism.”


See John T. Sidel, “Economic Foundations of Subnational Authoritarianism: Insights and Evidence from Qualitative and Quantitative Research,” Democratization 21, no. 1 (2014): 161–184, https://doi.org/10.1080/13510347.2012.725725.


See Edward L. Gibson, Boundary Control: Subnational Authoritarianism in Federal Democracies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013).


See for an exception Damir Kapidzib, “Subnational Competitive Authoritarianism and Power-Sharing in Bosnia and Herzegovina,” in Damir Kapidzib and Vëra Stojarová, eds., Illiberal Politics in Southeast Europe: How Ruling Elites Undermine Democracy (New York: Routledge, 2021), 79–99.


For prominent examples, see Barbara F. Walter, “The Critical Barrier to Civil War Settlement,” International Organization 51, no. 3 (1997): 335–364, https://doi.org/10.1162/002081897550384; Michael W. Doyle and Nicholas Sambanis, Making War and Building Peace: United Nations Peace Operations (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2006); Virginia Page Fortna, Does Peacekeeping Work? Shaping Belligerents’ Choices after Civil War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).


United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Global Report 2021 (Geneva, Switzerland: UNHCR, 2021).


For examples, see: Erin Mooney and Amalia Fawcett, When Displacement Ends: A Framework for Durable Solutions (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2007); United States Institute of Peace and United States Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, Guiding Principles of Stabilization and Reconstruction (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace, 2009); Niels V. Harild, Asger Christensen, and Roger William Zetter, Sustainable Refugee Return: Triggers, Constraints, and Lessons on Addressing the Development Challenges of Forced Displacement (Washington, DC: World Bank Group, 2015), 1–162.


UNHCR, Global Report 2020 (Geneva, Switzerland: UNHCR, 2020).


Anna Wellenstein, Mariko Yamamoto, and Soraya Goga, “Managing Urban Forced Displacement to Build Resilient Communities,” Sustainable Cities (blog), World Bank, December 18, 2018, https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/managing-urban-forced-displacement-build-resilient-communities; Ede Ijjasz-Vasquez, Soraya Goga, and Ellen Hamilton, “Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Cities—the ‘Hidden’ Side of Forced Displacement,” Sustainable Cities (blog), World Bank, May 22, 2019, https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/refugees-and-internally-displaced-persons-cities-hidden-side-forced-displacement.


Wellenstein, Yamamoto, and Goga, “Managing Urban Forced Displacement”; Ijjasz-Vasquez, Goya, and Hamilton, “Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Cities.”


Wellenstein, Yamamoto, and Goga, “Managing Urban Forced Displacement”; Ijjasz-Vasquez, Goya, and Hamilton, “Refugees and Internally Displaced Persons in Cities.”


For examples, see: Patrick M. Regan, “Third-Party Interventions and the Duration of Intrastate Conflicts,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 46, no. 1 (2002): 55–73, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002702046001004; Dylan Balch-Lindsay, Andrew J. Enterline, and Kyle A. Joyce, “Third-Party Intervention and the Civil War Process,” Journal of Peace Research 45, no. 3 (2008): 345–363, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343308088815; Stephen E. Gent, “Going in When It Counts: Military Intervention and the Outcome of Civil Conflicts,” International Studies Quarterly 52, no. 4 (2008): 713–735, https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2478.2008.00523.x; Adam Lockyer, “Foreign Intervention and Warfare in Civil Wars,” Review of International Studies 37, no. 5 (2011): 2337–2364, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0260210510001488; Noel Anderson, “Competitive Intervention, Protracted Conflict, and the Global Prevalence of Civil War,” International Studies Quarterly 63, no. 3 (2019): 692–706, https://doi.org/10.1093/isq/sqz037; Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl, Quagmire in Civil War (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2020).


Sang Ki Kim, “Third-Party Intervention in Civil Wars and the Prospects for Postwar Development,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 61, no. 3 (2017): 615–642, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002715590873.


Abdulkader H. Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2011), 281–304.


Melissa Dell and Pablo Querubin, “Nation Building through Foreign Intervention: Evidence from Discontinuities in Military Strategies,” Quarterly Journal of Economics 133, no. 2 (2018): 701–764, https://doi.org/10.1093/qje/qjx037.


Marina Eleftheriadou, “Non-State Armed Actors and Contested Sovereignties in Internationalized Civil Wars: The Case of Yemen's Civil War (2015–),” International Politics 60 (2021): 1–20, https://doi.org/10.1057/s41311-021-00279-3.


Michael E. Allison, “The Legacy of Violence on Post–Civil War Elections: The Case of El Salvador,” Studies in Comparative International Development 45 (2010): 104–124, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12116-009-9056-x; Arturas Rozenas, Sebastian Schutte, and Yuri M. Zhukov, “The Political Legacy of Violence: The Long-Term Impact of Stalin's Repression in Ukraine,” Journal of Politics 79, no. 4 (2017): 1147–1161, https://doi.org/10.1086/692964.


John Ishiyama and Michael Widmeier, “Territorial Control, Levels of Violence, and the Electoral Performance of Former Rebel Political Parties after Civil Wars,” Civil Wars 15, no. 4 (2013): 531–550, https://doi.org/10.1080/13698249.2013.853424.


Sarah Elizabeth Parkinson, “Organizing Rebellion: Rethinking High-Risk Mobilization and Social Networks in War,” American Political Science Review 107, no. 3 (2013): 418–432, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055413000208; Stefano Costalli and Andrea Ruggeri, “Forging Political Entrepreneurs: Civil War Effects on Post-Conflict Politics in Italy,” Political Geography 44 (January 2015) 40–49, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polo.2014.08.008; Sarah Zukerman Daly, Organized Violence after Civil War: The Geography of Recruitment in Latin America (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Francisco Villamil, “Mobilizing Memories: The Social Conditions of the Long-Term Impact of Victimization,” Journal of Peace Research 58, no. 3 (2021): 399–416, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343320912816; Amanda Rizkallah, “The Paradox of Power-Sharing: Stability and Fragility in Postwar Lebanon,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 40, no. 12 (2017): 2058–2076, http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01419870.2017.1277031.


Abbey Steele, “Electing Displacement: Political Cleansing in Apartadó, Colombia,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 55, no. 3 (2011): 423–445, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002711400975; Yuri M. Zhukov, “Population Resettlement in War: Theory and Evidence from Soviet Archives,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 59, no. 7 (2015): 1155–1185, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002713520590; Laia Balcells and Abbey Steele, “Warfare, Political Identities, and Displacement in Spain and Colombia,” Political Geography 51 (2016): 15–29, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2015.11.007; H. Zeynep Bulutgil, The Roots of Ethnic Cleansing in Europe (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016); Mara Redlich Revkin, “Competitive Governance and Displacement Decisions under Rebel Rule: Evidence from the Islamic State in Iraq,” Journal of Conflict Resolution 65, no. 1 (2021): 46–80, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022002720951864; Mathias Czaika and Krisztina Kis-Katos, “Civil Conflict and Displacement: Village-Level Determinants of Forced Migration in Aceh,” Journal of Peace Research 46, no. 3 (2009): 399–418, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343309102659.


Laia Balcells, “Dynamics of Internal Resettlement during Civil War: Evidence from Catalonia (1936–39),” Journal of Peace Research 55, no. 2 (2018): 236–251, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343317750464; Robert Muggah and Edward Mogire, “Arms Availability and Refugee Militarization in Africa—Conceptualizing the Issues,” in Robert Muggah, ed., No Refuge: The Crisis of Refugee Militarization in Africa (London: Bloomsbury, 2008); Abbey Steele, “IDP Resettlement and Collective Targeting during Civil Wars: Evidence from Colombia,” Journal of Peace Research 55, no. 6 (2018): 810–824, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343318763706; Adam G. Lichtenheld and Justin Schon, “The Consequences of Internal Displacement on Civil War Violence: Evidence from Syria,” Political Geography 86 (2021): 102346, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2021.102346.


For examples, see: Juan S. Morales, “The Impact of Internal Displacement on Destination Communities: Evidence from the Colombian Conflict,” Journal of Development Economics 131 (2018): 132–150, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jdeveco.2017.10.003; Valentina Calderón-Mejía and Ana María Ibáñez, “Labour Market Effects of Migration-Related Supply Shocks: Evidence from Internal Refugees in Colombia,” Journal of Economic Geography 16, no. 3 (2016): 695–713, https://doi.org/10.1093/jeg/lbv030; Jean-François Maystadt and Philip Verwimp, “Winners and Losers among a Refugee-Hosting Population,” Economic Development and Cultural Change 62, no. 4 (2014): 769–809, https://doi.org/10.1086/676458.


María Alejandra Aria, Ana María Ibáñez, and Pablo Querubin, “The Desire to Return during Civil War: Evidence for Internally Displaced Populations in Colombia,” Peace Economics, Peace Science and Public Policy 20, no. 1 (2014): 209–233, https://doi.org/10.1515/peps-2013-0054; Kara Ross Camarena and Nils Hägerdal, “When Do Displaced Persons Return? Postwar Migration among Christians in Mount Lebanon,” American Journal of Political Science 64, no. 2 (April 2020): 223–239, https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12500; Faten Ghosn et al., “The Journey Home: Violence, Anchoring, and Refugee Decisions to Return,” American Political Science Review 115, no. 3 (2021): 982–998, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0003055421000344.


Elizabeth Jean Wood, “The Social Processes of Civil War: The Wartime Transformation of Social Networks,” Annual Review of Political Science 11 (2008): 539–561, https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.polisci.8.082103.104832; Stephanie Schwartz, “Home, Again: Refugee Return and Post-Conflict Violence in Burundi,” International Security 44, no. 2 (Fall 2019): 110–145, https://doi.org/10.1162/isec_a_00362.


Abbey Steele, “Seeking Safety: Avoiding Displacement and Choosing Destinations in Civil Wars,” Journal of Peace Research 46, no. 3 (2009): 419–429, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343309 10266.


Schwartz, “Home, Again.”


Voter registration in hometown of origin is a feature of Lebanese politics that undoubtedly increases the benefits to parties from cultivating links to the displaced new residents of urban communities. The usefulness to parties of maintaining their wartime links to displaced people in their new neighborhoods, however, extends beyond voting considerations. These wartime networks allow parties to generate extra-institutional political pressure on municipal councils. In short, the theory is generalizable to postwar cases that do not have this mismatch between where displaced people reside and where they vote.


For accounts of how the war's ending shaped the fortunes of the settlement's losers, see Rola El-Husseini, Pax Syriana: Elite Politics in Postwar Lebanon (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2012); Amanda Rizkallah, “Coffins and Castles: The Political Legacies of Civil War in Lebanon” (PhD diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 2016); Joseph P. Helou, Activism, Change and Sectarianism in the Free Patriotic Movement in Lebanon (Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2019).


El-Husseini, Pax Syriana; Rizkallah, “Coffins and Castles,” 50–77.


Marina Ottaway, “Nation-Building in Iraq: Iran 1, the United States 0,” Insight Turkey 17, no. 2 (Spring 2015): 9.


Using Uppsala Conflict Data Program data, I categorize a war as having a territorial component if the conflict summary (in the Uppsala Conflict Data Program Countries in Conflict data dashboard) mentioned one of the following: territory being held by groups, clearly delineated strongholds for various groups, or parts of the country being controlled by divergent groups. Uppsala Conflict Data Program, UCDP Conflict Encyclopedia, Uppsala University, accessed May 2016, https://ucdp.uu.se.


See Michael Pugh, “Postwar Political Economy in Bosnia and Herzegovina: The Spoils of Peace,” Global Governance 8, no. 4 (2002): 467–482, https://www.jstor.org/stable/27800359; Carrie Manning, “Armed Opposition Groups into Political Parties: Comparing Bosnia, Kosovo, and Mozambique,” Studies in Comparative International Development 39 (2004): 54–76, https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02686315.


See Kirill Nourzhanov, “Saviours of the Nation or Robber Barons? Warlord Politics in Tajikistan,” Central Asian Survey 24, no. 2 (2005): 109–130, https://doi.org/10.1080/02634930500154867.


See Michiel Leezenberg, “Iraqi Kurdistan: Contours of a Post–Civil War Society,” Third World Quarterly 26, no. 4/5 (2005): 631–647, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3993712; Ches Thurber, “Militias as Sociopolitical Movements: Lessons from Iraq's Armed Shia Groups,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 25, no. 5/6 (2014): 900–923, https://doi.org/10.1080/09592318.2014.945633.


The Syria Institute (TSI), No Return to Homs: A Case Study on Demographic Engineering in Syria (Washington, DC: TSI; Utrecht, the Netherlands: PAX, 2017), https://scm.bz/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/pax-tsi-no-return-to-homs.pdf; Sasha Ghosh-Siminoff, “Demographic Engineering in Syria Sets the Stage for Future Conflicts,” New Lines Institute, March 13, 2020, https://newlinesinstitute.org/state-resilience-fragility/demographic-engineering-in-syria-sets-the-stage-for-future-conflicts/.


James Mahoney, “Process Tracing and Historical Explanation,” Security Studies 24, no. 2 (2015): 200–218, https://doi.org/10.1080/09636412.2015.1036610.


Parkinson, “Organizing Rebellion.”


Sidney Tarrow, “The Strategy of Paired Comparison: Toward a Theory of Practice,” Comparative Political Studies 43, no. 2 (2010): 230–259, https://doi.org/10.1177/0010414009350044.


According to the best available prewar population data, Mreijeh was a predominantly Christian village and Haret Hreik was roughly 80 percent Christian and 20 percent Shia Muslim. See Klaus-Peter Hartmann, Untersuchungen zur Sozialgeographie christlicher Minderheiten im Vorderen Orient [Studies on the social geography of Christian minorities in the Near East] (Wiesbaden, Germany: Ludwig Reichert Verlag, 1980). Burj al-Barajneh and Ghobeiri were predominantly Shia Muslim with small Christian minorities of roughly 10 percent and 5 percent, respectively. See: Hartmann, Untersuchungen zur Sozialgeographie; author's interview 18 with a local journalist, southern suburbs of Beirut, December 2013. Burj al-Barajneh also hosted a Palestinian camp by the same name.


According to best available prewar population data, residents of Dekwaneh and Sin el Fil were predominantly Christians. See: Hartmann, Untersuchungen zur Sozialgeographie. There was a minority Sunni bedouin community that had come from Baalbek in the Bekaa Valley. In Dekwaneh, where this group was concentrated, one respondent estimates that Sunnis had about 450 votes out of the roughly 3,000 prewar registered voters in the municipality (about 15 percent). Research assistant interview 38 with a retired municipal employee, eastern suburbs of Beirut, January 2014.


It may seem surprising that local Shia leaders were embedded in the networks of what are often thought of as Christian prewar parties. These ties were not ideological, however, but clientelist. The Shia political mobilization that was so prevalent in postwar Lebanon was still in its infancy and did not begin in earnest until the eve of the civil war in the early 1970s. Shia elites and their clients were frequently members of Christian-led parties. Those who were against the sectarian system in prewar Lebanon expressed their political views in class terms and joined organizations such as the Communist Party. See Theodor Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon: Decline of a State and Rise of a Nation, trans. John Richardson (London: IB Tauris, 1993); Samir Khalaf, Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon: A History of the Internationalization of Communal Conflict (New York: Columbia University Press, 2002).


Author interview 18; author interview 8 with a retired council member, southern suburbs of Beirut, November 2013; research assistant interview 43 with long-time resident and civil society member, southern suburbs of Beirut, March 2014.


Robert Kasparian and André Beaudoin, eds., La population déplacée au Liban: 1975–1987 [The displaced population in Lebanon: 1975–1987] (Québec, Canada: Institut d’études en Sciences Sociales Appliquées, 1992); Lynn Maalouf et al., Lebanon's Legacy of Political Violence: A Mapping of Serious Violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law in Lebanon, 1975–2008 (Washington, DC: International Center for Transitional Justice, 2013).


Maalouf et al., Lebanon's Legacy of Political Violence.




Coded using mentions of the suburbs in general or the neighborhoods in the study by Maalouf et al., Lebanon's Legacy of Political Violence. This source does not claim to be an exhaustive list of wartime violations, but it is the most comprehensive source available. See Nils Hägerdal, Friend or Foe: Militia Intelligence and Ethnic Violence in the Lebanese Civil War (New York: Columbia University Press, 2021) for a prominent example of scholarship on the Lebanese Civil War that uses this data source.


Christiana Parreira, “The Art of Not Governing: Local Political in Postwar Lebanon” (PhD diss., Stanford University, 2020).


Displacement during the Lebanese Civil War was a widespread phenomenon. One-third of the Lebanese population had to flee at least once during the war but eventually returned. Another third of the population was expelled or forced to flee with little possibility of return. See Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon; Khalaf, Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon. Many of the internally displaced people resettled in the urban periphery, with approximately equal numbers settling in the southern and eastern suburbs. See Kasparian and Beaudoin, La population déplacée au Liban.


See Judith Harik, The Public and Social Services of the Lebanese Militias, vol. 14 (Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1994); Mona Harb, Le Hezbollah à Beyrouth (1985–2005): De la banlieue à la ville [Hezbollah in Beirut (1985–2005): From the suburb to the city] (Paris: Karthala Editions, 2010); Helou, Activism, Change and Sectarianism.


These areas are former small villages that have become urban and congested spaces. But in Lebanon (and most developing countries), they are called “suburbs” because they form a ring around the (usually) more affluent historic core of the city.


See Hägerdal, Friend or Foe, chap. 3, for an extensive discussion of the issue of voter registration in Lebanon.


Author interview 18.


Lama Mourad and Laure-Helen Piron, “Municipal Service Delivery, Stability, Social Cohesion and Legitimacy in Lebanon: An Analytical Literature Review,” Refugee Research and Policy in the Arab World Working Paper 38, American University of Beirut, 2016, http://hdl.handle.net/10938/21212.




Parreira, “The Art of Not Governing.”


Nearly all those interviews conducted by research assistants were audio recorded in full.


A few interlocutors were younger local experts on a particular subject related to the wartime study (e.g., local urban planning and changes, or displacement) who did not themselves experience the Lebanese Civil War.


Several measures were taken to protect the privacy of respondents. Respondents chose when and where interviews were conducted. Most often interviews occurred at homes or private offices. Respondents gave consent orally rather than signing documentation that would create a paper trail, which is a common and appropriate strategy for conducting interviews in the Middle East. Respondents were given the option to opt out of an audio recording of the interview, in which case the team took notes instead. Respondents were instructed to refrain from using their names and other identifying information while recording. We followed the respondents’ desires to start and stop recordings. Respondents were reminded that they were welcome to stop the interview at any time. Recordings and transcriptions of recordings were given an identification number and stored separately from an interview key that associated numbers with identities. All materials were stored on password encrypted devices in locked offices.


Nissim Cohen and Tamar Arieli, “Field Research in Conflict Environments: Methodological Challenges and Snowball Sampling,” Journal of Peace Research, 48, no. 4 (2011) 423–435, https://doi.org/10.1177/0022343311405698.


See Hartmann, Untersuchungen zur Sozialgeographie; Éric Verdeil, Ghaleb Faour, and Sébastien Velut, Atlas du Liban: Territoires et société [Atlas of Lebanon: Territory and society] (Beirut: Presses de l'Ifpo, 2007); Maalouf et al., Lebanon's Legacy of Political Violence; Dilip Hiro, Lebanon—Fire and Embers: A History of the Lebanese Civil War (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1993); Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon; Khalaf, Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon; Farid el Khazen, “Political Parties in Postwar Lebanon: Parties in Search of Partisans,” Middle East Journal 57, no. 4 (Fall 2003): 605–624, https://www.jstor.org/stable/4329942; Marie-Joëlle Zahar, “Power Sharing in Lebanon: Foreign Protectors, Domestic Peace, and Democratic Failure,” in Philip G. Roeder and Donald Rothchild, eds., Sustainable Peace: Power and Democracy after Civil Wars (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2005), 219–240; Reinoud Leenders, Spoils of Truce: Corruption and State-Building in Postwar Lebanon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012).


I do not use terms like “original” or “historical” residents to avoid implications that they have a more legitimate claim to belonging in the community. I also use “new” resident to reflect the permanent nature of displacement and the fact that the “new” residents are a legitimate part of their communities.


Christiana Parreira's field interviews independently confirm that council candidates in the postwar period are overwhelmingly from notable families, and that they tend to be already engaged in providing social services and with the largest social networks among registered voters. See Parreira, “The Art of Not Governing.”


Research assistant interview 45 with a local activist and civil society member, southern suburbs of Beirut, March 2014.


See Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon.


See Elizabeth Picard, “The Political Economy of Civil War in Lebanon,” in Steven Heydemann, ed., War, Institutions, and Social Change in the Middle East (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000), 292–322; Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon.


See Camarena and Hägerdal, “When Do Displaced Persons Return?”




Author interview 18.


Author interview 8.


Research assistant interview 42 with a longtime resident, southern suburbs of Beirut, March 2014.


Research assistant interview 46 with a local real estate developer, southern suburbs of Beirut, April 2014.


See Mona Fawaz, “Hezbollah as Urban Planner? Questions to and from Planning Theory,” Planning Theory 8, no. 4 (2009): 323–334, https://doi.org/10.1177/1473095209341327; Mona Fawaz, “The Politics of Property in Planning: Hezbollah's Reconstruction of Haret Hreik (Beirut, Lebanon) as Case Study,” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 38, no. 3 (May 2014): 922–934, https://doi.org/10.1111/1468-2427.12114; Huwayda Al-Harithy, ed., Lessons in Postwar Reconstruction: Case Studies from Lebanon in the Aftermath of the 2006 War (London: Routledge, 2010).


Research assistant interview 42.


Author interview 18; Fawaz, “The Politics of Property in Planning.”


Research assistant interview 48 with a retired council member, southern suburbs of Beirut, March 2014.


Author interview 41 with a longtime resident, eastern suburbs of Beirut, July 2014.


Research assistant interview 43.


Author interview 7 with a social historian, eastern suburbs of Beirut, November 2013.


Author interview 41; author interview 51 with a mukhtar, eastern suburbs of Beirut, July 2014.


Elections took place under the French mandate (1923–1946), with two-thirds of parliament elected through universal male suffrage and one-third appointed by the French authorities. Women did not get the right to vote until the 1950s. See Paul Salem, “Skirting Democracy,” Middle East Report, no. 203 (1997), https://merip.org/1997/06/skirting-democracy/.


Author interview 50 with local ethnographer, eastern suburbs of Beirut, October 2013.


Parreira, “The Art of Not Governing.”




Wartime sectarian sorting transformed Haret Hreik and Mreijeh in the southern suburbs from Christian-majority to Shia-majority. In these cases, registered Christian residents have not lived in the area for decades. But they are the only places where these Christian residents are entitled to vote, to register births, deaths, and marriages, and to obtain official documents. In all the other study sites, the registered residents still live in the area, and the sectarian identity of the majority remains unchanged. Research assistant interview 43.


Ibid.; research assistant interview 44 with a longtime resident and relative of municipal council members, southern suburbs of Beirut, March 2014; research assistant interview 46. Mukhtars are a modern version of a local village chief. They usually handle procedures related to vital records and prepare identification cards. Mukhtars are close to the people, and there are typically several of them in larger municipalities, usually one for each sectarian community in more diverse areas. Mukthars are distinct from a municipality's mayor, who handles policy and public works projects and runs the municipal council. Both types of position are elected.


Author interview 8.


Research assistant interview 44; author interview 40 with a longtime resident, eastern suburbs of Beirut, December 2013.


Author interview 8.


Author interview 41; author interview 50.


Research assistant interview 39 with a longtime resident and local historian, eastern suburbs of Beirut, January 2014.


Research assistant interview 43; research assistant interview 49 with retired council member, southern suburbs of Beirut, April 2014.


Author interview 50.


Author interview 41; research assistant interview 43.


Author interview 41.


Helou, Activism, Change and Sectarianism.


For scholarly accounts documenting Hezbollah's dominance in the southern suburbs during the postwar transition and in the years that followed, see: Harik, The Public and Social Services; Harb, Hezbollah à Beyrouth.


Author interview 8; research assistant interview 42.


For a scholarly account documenting the Aounist movement's repression during the postwar transition and the activist networks that survived this repression and formed the basis of the Free Patriotic Movement's emergence in 2005 after Syrian withdrawal, see: Helou, Activism, Change and Sectarianism.


Parreira, “The Art of Not Governing.”




Research assistant interview 45.


Research assistant interview 42.




Research assistant interview 49.


Research assistant interview 43; author interview 47 with a retired council member, southern suburbs of Beirut, March 2014.


Research assistant interview 45.


Author interview 8.


Research assistant interview 45 is one example.


Author interview 8.


Research assistant interview 42.


Research assistant interview 44.


Hiba Bou Akar, For the War Yet to Come: Planning Beirut's Frontiers (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018), 105–144; research assistant interview 44.


Author interview 8; research assistant interview 42.


Author interview 8; research assistant interview 42; research assistant interview 44.


Research assistant interview 47.


Research assistant interview 42; research assistant interview 48.


Research assistant interview 47.


Author interview 8.


For a description of the Cedar Revolution in 2005 and its effects on party politics in Lebanon, see: Helou, Activism, Change and Sectarianism, 131–162; El-Husseini, Pax Syriana.


Author interview 7.


Parreira, “The Art of Not Governing.”


Research assistant interview 37 with a longtime resident, eastern suburbs of Beirut, January 2014; author interview 41.


Author interview 41.


Research assistant interview 37; research assistant interview 38.


Research assistant interview 48; author interview 41; author interview 52 with a longtime resident, eastern suburbs in Beirut, July 2014.


Research assistant interview 38; author's interview no. 50.


Research assistant interview 38.


Author interview 52.




Author interview 51.


Author interview 7.


Author interview 50.


Author interview 51; author interview 52.


Author interview 51.


Author interview 52.


Author interview 50.




For some examples, see Hiro, Lebanon; Hanf, Coexistence in Wartime Lebanon; Khalaf, Civil and Uncivil Violence in Lebanon; Khazen, “Political Parties in Postwar Lebanon”; Zahar, “Power Sharing in Lebanon”; Leenders, Spoils of Truce.


Olivia Le Poidevin, Jaimee Haddad, and Guilhem Dorandeu, “100 Days of Conflict in Southern Lebanon: Key Facts,” L'Orient Today, January 15, 2024, https://today.lorientlejour.com/article/1363529/100-days-of-conflict-in-southern-lebanon-key-facts.html.