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An Invitation to LaughterA Lebanese Anthropologist in the Arab World$
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Fuad I. Khuri and Sonia Jalbout Khuri

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780226434766

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226434759.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 11 April 2021

Who wants to be a Zaʿīm?

Who wants to be a Zaʿīm?

The agony of fame

(p.156) Fifteen Who wants to be a Zaʿīm?
An Invitation to Laughter
University of Chicago Press

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

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