Conspiracy, sectarianism, and the failure of the uprising
in Rebel populism
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The final chapter examines how Syrian labourers in Beirut circulated, from the edges of the civil war, a range of “conspiracy theories” that purported to make sense of what – by 2014 – appeared a chaotic and persistently tragic series of events. Arguments ranged from accusations concerning masonic plots ushering in the end of times to the suggestion of an elaborate Shia plan to engulf the entire region.

As foil to Chapter 1 and 2, this final chapter shows how the arguments men made during after-dinner conversations still, even at this late stage, attempt to retain and reinforce core populist political identities carved out during 2011’s populist rupture: al-shaʿb [the people] and al-niẓām [the regime]. But these conspiracy theories, especially when they take on sectarian logic, tidy up loose ends despite evidently complicated political splintering.

I show how these popular political theories worked to constitute and extend political borders, identities, and territories from the Syrian conflict into workers’ daily lives in Lebanon. But also, how, as the revolution was lost, political theories from the 2011‒2012 period, that men once based around dignity, class, solidarity, and rural resentment, became increasingly anchored in notions of “Shia plots,” sectarian duplicity, and reified socio-religious identities. I conclude that this is an evident degeneration in political beliefs and commitments and represents a late-stage, conflict-driven mutation of rebel populism itself.

Rebel populism

Revolution and loss among Syrian labourers in Beirut

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