Lebanon ended the twentieth century as the world's only satellite state, with an economy made stagnant by institutionalized corruption and political paralysis. The country's prospects for the twenty-first century would appear to be bleak. Not so, say the contributors to this volume of essays on what they call Lebanon's Second Republic (i.e., the government in place since 1990). Their optimism is unwarranted.
Some chapters make important contributions to knowledge about contemporary Lebanon. Ellis' own piece on U.S. policy toward Lebanon clearly explains how regional considerations shape U.S. decision-making (though he mistakenly has the pro-Damascus American Task Force for Lebanon devoted to "ending the occupation of Lebanon"). Fouad Hamdan's article on Lebanon's environmental crisis underscores how far removed government decision-making is from the public interest. For example, Lebanese authorities still allow the use of asbestos in the production of cement pipes for drinking water. Estimates find more than 50 percent of the country's water resources contaminated.
Most selections have some merit as descriptive overviews but conspicuously avoid taboo subjects or fail to offer penetrating explanations. Muhammad Sammak's essay on religion and politics is replete with trite observations (e.g., "The Lebanese have to get to know one another better and to discuss their disagreements with civility"), while Paul Nabil Sayah's suggestions on improving Christian-Muslim relations are fuzzy (e.g., "both Christians and Muslims must focus on the country as a whole rather than their individual communities"). Wassim N. Shahin offers an overview of Lebanon's economic malaise that, by his own admission, "eschews political considerations"—quite a limitation that leaves the chapter thin on analysis.
Other chapters are little more than propaganda. Michael F. Davie's scandalous whitewash of post-war reconstruction in Beirut contends that "the reconstruction project received unambiguous support from most parts of Lebanese and Beiruti society from 1992 to 1996." This is absurd; organized labor and the owners of land expropriated by the government were quite unambiguous in their opposition to the reconstruction project. Nabeel F. Haidar's paean of praise for Lebanon's educational system avoids any hint that government efforts to standardize the curriculum may be undermining it while his contention that Lebanon has rejuvenated its publishing industry and become "once again the print capital of the Arab world" is patently false. (Major publishing houses in Lebanon have experienced declining sales for many years running; Egypt now publishes twice as many books as Lebanon.)
As is often the case with edited volumes on the Middle East published by university presses, there is both wheat and chaff in this book—but mostly the latter. On the whole, Lebanon's Second Republic offers few insights into the seedy morass of Lebanese politics.