This paper explores the nature of social power in Iraq and Lebanon, and its implications for understanding the role of the state in both countries. The paper argues that the very concept of the ‘state’, as often understood by Western policymakers, implies a binary division between official and unofficial structures – between state and non-state – that does not reflect more fluid on-the-ground realities.
In both countries, state power resides to a large degree in horizontal relationships among elements of the elite, in vertical relationships between the elite and citizens, and in interactions between these two axes. Political parties, armed groups and societal leaders compete and cooperate with each other, while relying on ideology, economics and violence to maintain and exercise power.
Western policymakers need to take into account these systems of social power, acknowledge their resilience, and stop thinking in terms of state ‘failure’ but rather in terms of accountability when engaging with governance and security issues in Iraq and Lebanon.