Everyday security in Beirut’s southern suburbs: mapping the capacity and legitimacy of state and non-state actors

The concept of armed non-state actors (ANSAs) is rooted in a Weberian understanding of the state, according to which states should have the monopoly on the legitimate use of force. However, in (post)conflict situations, especially in post-colonial contexts, this framework has little analytical value as both the legitimacy and the reach of state actors remain contested. State actors may have to compete or cooperate in complex hybrid assemblages with ANSAs who may be regarded as equally or more legitimate and more effective (Fregonese 2012; Hazbun 2016). Transnational relationships complicate these dynamics, for both state and non-state actors (cf. Sidaway 2003, 171 on “sovereign excess” in postcolonial states).

To better conceptualise the relationship between state actors, ANSAs and populations in the security field, we need a framework that does not presuppose a Weberian state and can accommodate varying hybrid security assemblages involving state and nonstate actors, including linkages with transnational (non)state actors. We ground our analysis in a Bourdieusian framework which can help to conceptualise the fluctuating roles the various actors play in shaping everyday security. A Bourdieusian framework, grounded in time, place and space, allows us to map the relative capacity and authority that different actors possess in different locations and in relation to the local population.

We focus on the southern suburbs of Beirut, known as Dahiyeh, but the questions raised and the conceptual framework proposed are relevant anywhere where there are multiple security actors in hybrid assemblages. Dahiyeh is a predominantly Shi‘a area south of Beirut, densely populated, a mixture of poor, informal and some more affluent neighbourhoods, and best known for being Hizballah’s headquarters. However, although Hizballah is the dominant security actor, numerous state actors, Amal, Hizballah’s Shi‘a rival/partner, armed clan factions, clan and family heads, and ordinary people are involved in everyday security practices as well.

Bourdieu’s conceptual framework

Bourdieu’s key concepts are capital, habitus and field, although in this short brief we will focus on capital. Fields are delineated spheres of social activity with their own stakes and rules, e.g. the security or political field. Actors come to fields with different amounts of capital: economic (money, investments), social (networks, social standing), cultural (tastes, rank), informational, and coercive (Bourdieu 1986, 1994, 4–5). When capital is no longer recognised as such but comes to be seen as legitimate authority, it becomes symbolic capital. How capital is valued depends on field, habitus and beliefs. Different fields value capital differently; coercive capital has higher value in the security than in the bureaucratic field, for instance. Habitus – dispositions into which we have been socialised – and taken-for-granted beliefs (doxa) also influence how capital is valued. Someone brought up in an environment where security has been routinely and effectively provided by local clans while state actors have been absent is likely to value the capital of clan elders over that of state actors.

Statist capital emerges out of the accumulation of the different forms of capital across multiple fields, enabling an actor to set the rules and how capital is valued within those fields (Bourdieu 1994, 4–5). State actors can draw on this type of meta-capital where the state’s hegemony (orthodoxa) is accepted; but so can ANSAs if they have accumulated sufficient amount of different types of capital across multiple fields and have established a level of counter-hegemony (heterodoxa) – though, crucially, not necessarily a claim to statehood. How statist capital (or capital more broadly) is valued can vary across space, depending on whether the dominant habitus and doxa are orthodox or heterodox.

Local capacity and legitimacy

For a forthcoming article (2020 forthcoming) we conducted over 70 interviews and ‘street chats’ with residents of Dahiyeh and with senior security, judicial and municipal personnel. The research underpinning this brief was carried out before the ‘17 October revolution’ of 2019, however, which may have long-term effects on people’s valuation of the various actors’ capital.

Although Dahiyeh has an (external) reputation for being dangerous, our respondents overwhelmingly said that they felt safe in Dahiyeh, crediting this to its strong sense of community, the presence of Hizballah, or the coordination between the various security actors. The exception were those living in or near ‘unregulated’ areas such as Laylaki or Ouzai.

‘Everyday security’ conceptualises security as relational, embodied, routine practices across space by ordinary people and more or less institutionalised groups; it refers to mundane, non-spectacular security incidents such as theft, drugs dealing, family disputes, celebratory shootings, not war, terrorist attacks or political contestation (cf. Higate and Henry 2010; Crawford and Hutchinson 2016). Focusing on the field of ‘everyday security’ in Dahiyeh, there are multiple actors operating alongside each other. We will focus on the Internal Security Forces (ISF), the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), Hizballah, clan elders and armed clan factions. The ISF has less social, cultural and symbolic capital in the area than the LAF – or indeed Hizballah. Its police stations are positioned around Dahiyeh’s rim, rather than throughout its interior. It has only around 100-125 local officers covering 1 million inhabitants, and relies heavily on departments outside Dahiyeh, lessening its local informational capital. It is regarded by many within Dahiyeh as ineffective, resulting in low symbolic capital – although recent improvements have made residents of some areas more positive in their evaluation of the ISF’s utility. The combination of low social and symbolic capital means that the ISF is associated with the state’s historic neglect of the area, limiting its ability to draw on statist capital.

Although the LAF has no permanent bases in the area, it has more social capital than the ISF in the form of better organisational efficacy and higher-level networks. Superior arms give it higher coercive capital. Better training, socially more highly valued ranks and more soldier ‘martyrs’ enhance its cultural capital. It has more informational capital through its own and Military Intelligence’s working relationship with Hizballah. The LAF has high symbolic capital, both locally and nationally, through its reputation for neutrality, professionalism, and effectiveness. As a result, it is associated with the Lebanese state ideal (rather than its presumed absence), allowing the LAF to draw more readily on statist capital. Because it can draw more easily on statist capital than the ISF and has superior social and coercive capital, it is typically called upon to arrest high-risk crime suspects – particularly in ‘informal’ or unregulated areas such as Laylaki, where both the ISF and Hizballah have less localised capital.

Among the ANSAs, Hizballah has the highest amounts of social, cultural and symbolic capital. It has more personnel to draw on within Dahiyeh than Amal, and many more than the ISF – it has over 100 members per ‘faction’ covering 4-5 neighbourhoods, with multiple factions making up each of Dahiyeh’s six municipalities (Daher 2019, 128; Harb 2010, 79); a much smaller number than this are dedicated security personnel, but Hizballah is able to draw on this wider membership for surveillance, mediation and influence. Its members typically have high local social capital, enhancing both the party’s capacity to act/control and its ability to be the first to hear about crime. It has a better organisational structure than Amal. Its reputation for effectiveness, including in the face of external threats (e.g. Israeli or militant jihadi attacks, US sanctions) and as a champion of Shi‘a interests, whether in government or through welfare organisations, give it high symbolic capital, further enhanced by the party’s many ‘martyrs’ and the veneration accorded to its Secretary-General, Hassan Nasrallah. More fundamentally, because of the accumulation of social, cultural, economic, informational and coercive capital, Hizballah has been able to build up meta-capital, enabling it to influence the rules and value of capital in multiple fields, including the security field. As this capital is more highly concentrated within Dahiyeh than that of the state actors, Hizballah is in a position to shape what happens. Consequently, state operations in Dahiyeh are usually cleared and coordinated with Hizballah.

However, statist-like meta-capital notwithstanding, Hizballah’s capital is limited, both in spatial coverage and in its capacity/willingness to deal with everyday crime. Spatially, Hizballah’s capital is less dense in some of the more informal/unregulated areas of Dahiyeh, such as Laylaki, Rouwaiss and Ouzai. Here, clans and armed clan factions play a larger role, with highly localised concentrations of social, cultural and symbolic capital. Because Hizballah needs the support of the clans in elections and as fighters, it cannot afford to alienate them. When dealing with clan disputes, Hizballah customarily leaves these to clan elders to mediate or works alongside them, constituting a security assemblage with complementary capitals. Clan loyalty, moreover, can trump party loyalty, making a direct confrontation costly. Faced with clan drug lords, Hizballah usually turns to the LAF, both to avoid unnecessarily losing valuable capital and in recognition of the LAF’s superior statist capital. In this, their capitals complement each other, with Hizballah providing informational and local social capital, the LAF statist and coercive capital.

Regarding its capacity/willingness to deal with everyday crime, Hizballah’s focus on reconstruction after the 2006 war with Israel, its increased role in government since 2008, its involvement in Syria and diminishing support from Iran have led Hizballah to ask the state to play a larger role in Dahiyeh’s everyday security (cf. Harb and Deeb 2012). As Hizballah’s capital was committed elsewhere, crime and drug trafficking have grown over the past decade, increasing the capital of some clan factions in parts of Dahiyeh, while undermining Hizballah’s symbolic capital. The ISF and the LAF are more active now, regularly arresting or subduing fighting parties, instantiating shifting hybrid security arrangements between the different actors.

The ‘17 October Revolution’ brings to the fore the question of whether, and if so, how the capital of the various security actors has been affected. As people first took to the streets, many residents from Dahiyeh joined, protesting socio-economic conditions and the way the government had failed to improve them, suggesting that the symbolic capital of both state actors including the LAF and the ISF and that of governing political parties, including Hizballah, was under pressure. However, contestation in the political field does not necessarily affect the symbolic capital of an actor in the field of everyday security. Further, as the protests evolved, Hizballah supporters became increasingly less involved and there were reports of some supporters participating in attacks against protesters, deepening existing cleavages. For those already opposed to Hizballah, its symbolic capital would have devalued further; for those generally supporting the party, its symbolic capital does not seem to have been significantly affected in the everyday security field in Dahiyeh, as evidenced by the fact that most stopped participating in the protests when Nasrallah asked them to stop. It is too soon to tell how events will affect the capital of the various actors or indeed the dominant habitus and rules governing the everyday security field in the long-term. But a Bourdieusian framework provides the flexibility to analyse fluctuations in capital, capital valuation and habitus in different fields, allowing us to better understand relational dynamics.

Transnational linkages 

Transnational linkages affect both state actors and ANSAs in Dahiyeh, but in different ways. Iranian financial and material support and Nasrallah’s role as Iran’s Supreme Leader’s formal representative in Lebanon, enhance Hizballah’s social, cultural, economic, coercive, informational and symbolic capital among that part of the population who subscribe to Hizballah’s orthodoxa. For those at the heterodox end of the political field – those in Dahiyeh who see Hizballah’s relationship with Iran as compromising Lebanon’s independence and/or who are sympathetic to the pro-US/Saudi camp – this transnational relationship lessens Hizballah’s capital (particularly its symbolic capital), underlining how capital’s value also depends on the habitus and beliefs of the audience. Hizballah’s relationship with the Syrian regime, and especially its role in the Syrian war, has had a more ambiguous effect on the party’s capital. Some have come to resent the high death tolls in Syria while many link the lack of socio-economic development at home to Hizballah’s investment in Syria; at the same time, the ability to project its capital regionally has enhanced Hizballah’s symbolic and statist capital among those who subscribe to Hizballah’s orthodoxa.

The capital of state actors has also been affected by transnational relationships. The LAF and ISF have received significant funding and training from the US, EU and European states, serving international interests. US and EU assistance to the LAF, for example, has been shaped by concerns over the spill-over of the Syrian conflict, the growing influence of Hizballah within Lebanon, while upholding Israel’s military dominance, shaping the kind of aid and weapons offered (cf. Tholens 2017). This affects their relative capital vis-à-vis ANSAs, and not just in terms of the limits on coercive capital these restrictions impose. Among those supporting Hizballah’s orthodoxa, the ISF’s symbolic capital is considerably reduced by the perception that its leadership is in the pro-US/Saudi camp, which in turn affects its access to informational capital in Dahiyeh. Although the LAF also receives funding and training from the US and the EU, its reputation for domestic neutrality and its working relationship with Hizballah appears to outweigh this, illustrating how the effect of transnational linkages is entangled in domestic politics.

Clans can also derive capital from transnational linkages. The recent growth in capital among some of Dahiyeh’s clan factions is in many instances related to the transnational linkages they have through being part of the large clans in the Biqa Valley along Lebanon’s eastern border and the increase in cross-border drugs trade and smuggling since the outbreak of war in Syria (cf. Global Initiative 2017). Dahiyeh’s position next to Beirut’s international airport and close to Beirut’s harbour, coupled to the large presence in Dahiyeh of clan members whose families’ origins are in the Biqa, makes it an attractive conduit for the drugs and smuggling networks straddling the Lebanese-Syrian border – particularly while Hizballah’s locally available capital was diminished by its role in Syria and the LAF’s capital was overstretched. Local actors are thus enmeshed in both local and transnational security fields and the flows of capital between them, giving shape and complexity to the capital of each of the actors discussed.

Some final thoughts

A Bourdieusian framework provides the ‘thinking tools’ to look past rigid dichotomies (state/non-state, local/transnational) and map the relative capacity/legitimacy of hybrid security actors embedded in local and transnational networks. State actors and ANSAs alike are impacted by transnational linkages, especially in post-colonial situations, and their relationship with local populations fluctuates depending on both how much capital they have and how this is valued by local populations. ANSAs can build up statist-like meta-capital; state actors can lack symbolic capital which can in turn limit their ability to access statist capital. Gaining better insight into these relationships will help answer questions about how ANSAs and state actors impact each other and how everyday security practices are negotiated.

Jeroen Gunning is Professor of Middle Eastern Politics and Conflict Studies in the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London.

Dima Smaira is an Independent Researcher based in Beirut, Lebanon.



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