Football and politics in the shadow of the cedars, 2000-2015

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In recent years, Lebanon has been in the headlines as a result of internal conflicts among its various ethnic groups and hostilities between Hezbollah and Israel. However, throughout this time, the country's vibrant social and cultural life has continued — a fact that has received limited attention from academic researchers. One cultural element of Lebanese life is football, the world's most popular sport.

There have been many instances when football played a central role in social and political conflicts, but how does the sport function under fire? For this purpose, I have chosen to look at the way football has interacted with the intercommunal conflicts in Lebanon and its fraught relations with neighbors. These conflicts have often spread to the pitch and stands in the stadiums, and conversely, connections have sometimes developed into alliances outside the sport. The encounter within the stadium has become an opportunity to find ideological partners and forge connections under the regime's radar.

This article examines the Lebanese football scene in the period 2000–15 to address the function football plays and what ends it serves. How does the sport influence civilian life, foreign relations and the economy? Does football protect the regime or is it rather an “own goal” that unites its opponents? Is football controlled by the regime, or is it an egalitarian autonomous sphere? Can a study of what goes on in the stands reveal anything about events outside the stadium?

My analysis will show that football is a significant dimension in the day-to-day life of the Lebanese man in the street as well as the regime, which exploits the sport to achieve its aims. Similarly, by analyzing video segments and correspondence in online fan forums, primarily social networks, I will show that the voices of Lebanese football fans, including their methods of expressing support of favorite teams — cheers, songs, publications and chants at rallies — are platforms for transmitting messages and methods of expression that deserve scholarly attention. They are sometimes the fans' only opportunity to express themselves in public.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)64-85
Number of pages22
JournalMiddle East Policy
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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