A National Vocation: Engineering Nature and State in Lebanon's Merchant Republic
- Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
- Duke University Press
- Volume 41, Number 1, May 2021
- pp. 71-87
- Additional Information
This article writes engineers into the history of Lebanese political-economic thought. Historians of Lebanon's postindependence period have emphasized how a narrow, elite "consortium" espoused a national ideology that authorized laissez-faire monetary and trade policies. These intellectuals and businessmen invoked environmental determinism to claim that trade, tourism, and services were Lebanon's national vocation. This article reveals that engineers formed an influential and underexamined countercurrent advocating statist developmentalism. Engineer-bureaucrats saw the postindependence era as an opportunity to claim their profession's status and redefine bourgeois culture and its relationship to governing institutions according to their conceptions of modernity. By reinterpreting the consortium's environmental narrative of Lebanese history, the hydrological engineer Ibrahim Abd-El-Al portrayed rational development of water resources and agriculture as an organic expression of national identity. These efforts cultivated a critical and technically literate reading public that favored statism and shaped how that public understood their national subjectivity and relationship to the natural world.