Infrastructure crises in Beirut and the struggle to (not) reform the Lebanese State
Arab Studies Journal
84 - 112 p.
Beitut (Lebanon), policy instruments, urban inequalities, infrastructure
This article considers infrastructure as a site for the examination of governance and society in Lebanon, in a context of failure of the state to provide basic public services. The argument is threefold. First, public infrastructure is a site of political struggle. Political actors seek to make infrastructure serve certain political and social interests, demonstrating their belief that these state institutions and instruments produce a range of effects worth competing for. Second, the article challenges the view that that neoliberalism and sectarianism are radically narrowing and marginalizing the state and its institutions. Third, despite failing to deliver the expected service outcomes, the complex assemblage of more-or-less reformed infrastructural policy instruments produces strong social effects in terms of wealth distribution. These instruments accentuate Lebanese society’s gaps and inequalities. This outcome is largely unintended, as is often the case with public policy instruments. It is a product of the work of state institutions, however, and not proof of their absence. To make this argument, this article explores urban services in Beirut through the main types of instruments that successive governments and their advisers—commonly from the World Bank and other international organizations—have adopted for their reform: the geographic boundaries of the zones where urban services are organized; the services’ financing instruments, such as subsidies and pricing public-private partnerships.