We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Reconstructing Beirut

Memory and Space in a Postwar Arab City

By Aseel Sawalha

Publication Year: 2010

Once the cosmopolitan center of the Middle East, Beirut was devastated by the civil war that ran from 1975 to 1991, which dislocated many residents, disrupted normal municipal functions, and destroyed the vibrant downtown district. The aftermath of the war was an unstable situation Sawalha considers “a postwar state of emergency,” even as the state strove to restore normalcy. This ethnography centers on various groups’ responses to Beirut’s large, privatized urban-renewal project that unfolded during this turbulent moment. At the core of the study is the theme of remembering space. The official process of rebuilding the city as a node in the global economy collided with local day-to-day concerns, and all arguments invariably inspired narratives of what happened before and during the war. Sawalha explains how Beirutis invoked their past experiences of specific sites to vie for the power to shape those sites in the future. Rather than focus on a single site, the ethnography crosses multiple urban sites and social groups, to survey varied groups with interests in particular spaces. The book contextualizes these spatial conflicts within the discourses of the city’s historical accounts and the much-debated concept of heritage, voiced in academic writing, politics, and journalism. In the afterword, Sawalha links these conflicts to the social and political crises of early twenty-first-century Beirut.

Published by: University of Texas Press

Series: Jamal and Rania Daniel Series in Contemporary History, Politics, Culture, and Religion of the Levant


pdf iconDownload PDF (44.6 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more

A Note on Language

pdf iconDownload PDF (48.7 KB)
pp. ix-x

To transliterate Arabic words, I have used a modified version of the International Journal of Middle East Studies (IJMES). Some of the Arabic words are transliterated using the classical Arabic; others are transliterated using the Lebanese Arabic dialect. Arabic words commonly used in English are spelled the way they appear in English publications (e.g., Hizballah). ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (62.1 KB)
pp. xi-xii

This book would not have been possible without the support, guidance, and hospitality of friends and colleagues across multiple cities and spaces. Here I will be able to mention some names, while many others need to Starting with the cuny Graduate Center, I would like to thank my dissertation committee, especially Vincent Crapanzano, my advisor and...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (52.1 KB)
pp. 1-6

This book is an ethnographic study of time, place, and memory in the aftermath of the devastating civil war that ravaged Beirut, Lebanon, from 1975 to 1991. It focuses on the rebuilding efforts of the city and describes how the residents of Beirut used individual and collective memories of their celebrated architectural past to compete and negotiate...

read more

Chapter One. Beirut: A City In Transition

pdf iconDownload PDF (3.5 MB)
pp. 7-22

During my first trip to Beirut, in the summer of 1995, I chose the neighborhood of Zqaq el-Blāţ as a fieldsite to conduct my research for a doctoral dissertation.1 At that time, I believed Zqaq el-Blāţ was an ideal site for anthropological inquiry for several reasons. It was one of the oldest and liveliest neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown area, then under...

read more

Chapter Two. Downtown in "The Ancient City of the Future"

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.2 MB)
pp. 23-50

This chapter discusses the discourses surrounding Solidere’s reconstruction project in Beirut’s Central District (BCD). After a brief description of Solidere’s plans to reconstruct the downtown area, I present the responses of two groups who were excluded from participating in defining the future of the city. The first group consisted of intellectuals, historians...

read more

Chapter Three. 'Ayn El-Mreisse: The Global Market and the Apartment Unit

pdf iconDownload PDF (5.6 MB)
pp. 51-68

In the previous chapter I discussed debates that emerged in response to Solidere’s plans to rebuild Beirut’s Central District. I now trace the effects of reconstruction on the daily lives of the residents of ʿAyn el-Mreisse, an adjacent neighborhood. This chapter illustrates the postwar temporality at the local community level. ...

read more

Chapter Four. "Beirut Is Ours, Not Theirs": Neighborhood Sites and Struggles in 'Ayn El-Mreisse

pdf iconDownload PDF (7.6 MB)
pp. 69-88

In Chapter Three, I mapped out the major postwar power actors who organized and appropriated space in ʿAyn el-Mreisse. In this chapter, I describe the formal and informal collectives organized to advocate for the rights of the less powerful residents to continue to have access to the spaces they had frequented before and during the war. ...

read more

Chapter Five. Caf

pdf iconDownload PDF (113.9 KB)
pp. 89-106

This chapter examines the relationships of Beirutis to specific urban public spaces and the sense of place they provided before, during, and after the war. In particular, it analyzes the ways the social understanding of time and place is expressed through memory at a time when competition over space reached its height in the unpredictable postwar environment. ...

read more

Chapter Six. Placing the War-Displaced

pdf iconDownload PDF (1.3 MB)
pp. 107-132

In an attempt to establish legitimacy after the chaos of the long war in Beirut, the Hariri government tried to restore state institutions and re-claim its role as a legitimate authority. The new government, in addition to the functions of its day-to-day operations, had to resolve a host of byproducts of the war, including giving financial aid to the thousands...

read more

Afterword. Reclaiming Downtown Again

pdf iconDownload PDF (76.9 KB)
pp. 133-140

Although the rebuilding of Beirut’s Central District has been completed, life in the city has not returned to normal. The recent turmoil that resulted from the assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005,1 the Cedar Revolution in March 2005, the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in April 2005, and the Israeli bombing of Beirut in...


pdf iconDownload PDF (84.6 KB)
pp. 141-150


pdf iconDownload PDF (120.6 KB)
pp. 151-166


pdf iconDownload PDF (74.3 KB)
pp. 167-176

E-ISBN-13: 9780292792838
E-ISBN-10: 0292792832
Print-ISBN-13: 9780292721876
Print-ISBN-10: 0292721870

Page Count: 190
Illustrations: 15 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Jamal and Rania Daniel Series in Contemporary History, Politics, Culture, and Religion of the Levant