Chapter

Who wants to be a <i>Zaʿīm?</i>

in An Invitation to Laughter

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2007 | ISBN: 9780226434766
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226434759 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226434759.003.0016
Who wants to be a Zaʿīm?

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In Lebanon, charity is a private matter, an extension of and means to social power. There is hardly a charitable organization of any consequence that is not backed by a za'im, a top political leader whose power base extends beyond his immediate village. Through such apparent altruism, the rich acquire power, becoming “imams” or “emirs” surrounded by subordinates of all sorts, swearing allegiance to their person. Once they reach a visible level of power and influence, however, the rich ignore the charities they have established; their altruism becomes redundant. Wealth, charity, and power together qualify high status in society; they constitute a single syndrome, a trinity, each element of which is at once a means and a product of achieving the other. Perhaps one of the most unfortunate features of public life in Lebanon is that the exercise of politics is considered an aspect of celebrity, rather than a profession. In this chapter, the author shares his personal experience managing a philanthropic organization in Lebanon.

Keywords: Lebanon; za'im; charity; wealth; power; politics; celebrity; philanthropic organization; altruism

Chapter.  3843 words. 

Subjects: Anthropology

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