Political Theatre: Football and Contestation in Beirut

Al-Masri, Muzna. 2016. Political Theatre: Football and Contestation in Beirut. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores the relationships between political elites and their constituencies, looking specifically at the emergence and production of a new type of political elite in post-war Lebanon. Based on micro-level ethnographic research amongst Beirut’s Sunni communities, mainly within Nejmeh Sports Club, I explore the crystallisation of the model of an ‘entrepreneurial elite’ as exemplified by the late Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, who came to be the club’s patron. The most popular football club – and indeed sports club – in Lebanon, Nejmeh embraced members from different social classes, sectarian affiliations and political camps. It therefore provided a rare fieldwork site from which to observe the negotiation of clientelistic relationships, and to do so over an extended period, including times of heightened political – and occasionally violent – conflict. The stadiums provided a theatre for the spectacular performance of politics, wealth and power, and the events which took place in them mirrored the interplay of both local and global transformations occurring over the span of almost two decades.

My research argues that the post-war period ushered in a new ‘glocal’ model of political elite which combined a corporate background and the performative use of wealth with well-tried tactics of ascendance to power, namely philanthropy, sectarianism and clientelism. It is a model which amalgamated seemingly contradictory rhetoric and practice. Its rhetoric of professionalism, democracy, championing of state institutions, and nonviolence often paralleled practices of corruption, vote-buying, and the support of strong-arm racketeering. This model of an elite functioning at the highest level of Lebanese politics, moved the locus of power, as well as economic opportunities, into the control of an ever smaller number of people, marginalising both the power and roles of those actors operating further down the class and clientelistic hierarchy of relationships. Within such a hierarchy, public demonstrations of loyalty performed by those in the lower echelons of society served to simultaneously lay claim to the elite’s favours and to suppress alternative or dissident voices.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Political Anthropology, Lebanon, Elite, Clientelism, Patronage, Football, Sports

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 April 2016

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

13 May 2016 10:22

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 11:38



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