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Imagine the Nation IV: Calling Roll in Lebanon

September 16, 2012

When the independence of Lebanon was declared in 1943 it included the peripheries in the South, East and the North. There was a country called Lebanon, yet there was no nationality to go with it. People in the peripheries felt an attachment to other reality (see Syria) while other people bought into the legitimacy of the new nation called Lebanon. A look at the census which was conducted in Lebanon in 1932 (the last up until today) can shed some light on why some people imagined Lebanon while others failed to do so.

One of the mechanisms of power introduced by the colonial state to quantify and enumerate its members was the census. The novelty of this systematic quantification vis-a-via other attempt of counting subkects was that in the past only those liable for taxes and conscription were to be counted. By the time the colonial state appropriated the census  everybody – including women and children –  was to be counted. As discussed before the census crystallized identities – mainly religious and ethnic – which until that moment had been fluid. More importantly being counted into the census was the condition sine qua non to be invited into the History of the nation. When the census was conducted in Lebanon it counted some while others were not invited into the new nation. Those left out were a sizable proportion of the inhabitants of the annexed territories. The census  confirmed their status of marginalized.

Who is to Be Counted? In1932, during the French mandate, the authorities called for a census of the Lebanese population. The thorny question was who was to be included in the Lebanese population. Initially defined as an administrative exercise, the census developed into a mechanism which shaped the definition of citizen of Lebanon. The basis of the census was Resolution 2825 which was adopted as part of the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 to define the status of the former subjects of the Ottoman empire: it established the presence on the territory of Greater Lebanon by 1924 as condition to be listed as citizen of Lebanon. When the 1932 census was conducted, authorities lifted this condition and by so doing they defined the people who were to be member of the nation. The inclusion/exclusion of three categories of people were more controversial:

First, emigrants. The law of enumeration encompassed both resident and emigrants. The census happened at a time when the peripheries (Akkar, Bekaa, and the South) were annexed to the new entity called Greater Lebanon. The borders were being therefore enlarged to include regions previously part of another Sanjak and with a Muslim majority. The decision to count emigrants was political and dictated by the imagine the the local administration had of Lebanon. The concern of the Maronite administration was to “preserve and buttress Christian hegemony over the state”. The demographic balance with a Christian majority was to be kept by including more emigrants, whose background was mainly Christian.

Second, the refugees. Evidence from the procedures of the courts suggests that those with a Christian background were not asked to prove their residence in their country before 1924 while former Ottoman subjects, mainly with a Muslim background, were required to do so.

Lastly, foreigners were defined as those who could not present an ID card from the 1921 census. By this token many who were residing on the territory of Greater Lebanon in 1932 but did not possess an ID card were indirectly considered as foreigners. The deficiency of the census combined with innacurate personal registries and registries of birth created a group of person who became to be known as the concealed and the deprived. They were in most of the cases located in the border regions of the North and South who had been annexed in 1920 and had a Muslim background.

The importance of the census as a mechanism of power which buttress the imagination of nation is that it assigns to all its members a place on the paper. This fictions seeps into the everyday life of the residents of that country as the classification serves to define entry to education, army and administration. In Lebanon, the invitation letter into the history of the nation, through the registration in the census, was sent to somebody while somebody else was excluded. Those left out coincided in most of the case with those who protested for annexation into Syria and held aloft Syrian flags during manifestation when president Iddi returned after negotiation with France about the declaration of independence of Lebanon. These members of the society failed to imagine themselves as part of Lebanon and prominent members of the Adminstrative Council, who had formulated the first ideas of Lebanon, did not consider those inhabitants to be Lebanese. The 1932 census reinforced their status of concealed: the new nation for some never materialized.

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