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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 November 2019

Sabiha Allouche*
Sabiha Allouche is a Lecturer in Middle East Politics, University of Exeter; e-mail:


This article draws on a year of ethnography conducted among cis heterosexual couples in contemporary urban Lebanon in order to argue that, in the absence of a serious project of national reconciliation, intersectarian love, despite its short lifespan, constitutes restorative instances in post–civil war Lebanon. Intersectarian hetero desire emerges as a counter-discourse that threatens the masculinist foundations of the Lebanese state. By tracing the timeline of love in the life of Lebanese citizens, this article places personal narratives of “impossible” intersectarian love stories in conversation with queer temporality scholarship in order to recognize the political, albeit limited, potential of romantic love. Here, societal expectations of married life are replaced by an ephemeral unity that operates in contra to hegemonic interpretations of “man and wife.”

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2019 

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Author's note: I would like to thank the IJMES anonymous referees, editor Akram Khater, and the copyediting team for their valuable recommendations. I wish to dedicate this article to Dr. Caroline Osella, my PhD supervisor, and to the 2018–19 cohort of students I taught at SOAS. Thank you for keeping up with my constant digressing about my work!

1 The names of all my interlocutors have been changed to guarantee their anonymity. The names I choose are random and do not necessarily reflect one's sect. In addition, some nicknames, chosen by my interlocutors themselves, were used in lieu of common names, per their request.

2 Khutūba is the step that precedes marriage in Lebanon. Khutūbah marks the event from which the couple emerges as “official” in the eyes of society. It neither religiously sanctioned nor necessarily an indication that marriage is imminent.

3 Aline, interview with the author, February 2014, Beirut.

4 In their examination of leisurely activities among Shiʿi youth in southern Beirut, Lara Deeb and Mona Harb show how their young interlocutors reconcile their religion, their attachments to the political party Hizbullah, and leisurely activities. See Deeb, and Harb, , Leisurely Islam: Negotiating Geography and Morality in Shi'ite South Beirut (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2013)Google Scholar.

5 Aline, interview with the author, February 2014, Beirut.

6 Ibid.

7 Mikdashi, Maya, “Queering Citizenship, Queering Middle East Studies,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45 (2013): 350CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

8 Ibid.

9 Ibid.

10 Mikdashi, Maya, “Sex and Sectarianism: The Legal Architecture of Lebanese Citizenship,” Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa, and the Middle East 34 (2014): 279–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

11 Ibid., 281.

12 Ibid., 283.

13 Ibid.

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18 Similar paradigms are raised in critical investigations of homosexual desire. See Altman, Dennis, Global Sex (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Duggan, Lisa, “The New Homonormativity: The Sexual Politics of Neoliberalism,” in Materializing Democracy: Toward a Revitalized Cultural Politics, ed. Castronovo, Russ and Nelson, Dana N. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2002), 175–94Google Scholar.

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23 Duggan, The New Homonormativity, 175–94.

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27 See Gopinath, Gayathri, Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asia Public Cultures (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2005)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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37 For an extended literature review on the notion of love, see Enguix, Begonya and Roca, Jordi, “Introduction,” in Rethinking Romanic Love: Discussions, Imaginaries, and Practices (Newcastle Upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2005), 128Google Scholar.

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44 For the context of India, see Mody, Perveez, The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi (London: Routledge, 2008)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For South Korea, see Baldacchino, Jean-Paul, “Eros and Modernity: Convulsions of the Heart in Modern Korea,” Asia Studies Review 32 (2008): 99122CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For China, see Zang, Xiaowei and Zhao, Luci Xia, Handbook on the Family and Marriage in China (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For Jordan, see Adely, Fida, “A Different Kind of Love: Compatibility (Insijam) and Marriage in Jordan,” Arab Studies Journal 24 (2016): 102–27Google Scholar; and El-Dine, Sandra Naseer, “Love, Materiality, and Masculinity in Jordan: Doing Romance with Limited Resources,” Men and Masculinities 21 (2018): 423–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar. For Egypt, see Samuli Schielke, Egypt in the Future Tense: Hope, Frustration, and Ambivalence before and after 2011 (Bloomington, Ind.: Indiana University Press, 2015); and Kreil, Aymon, “The Price of Love: Valentine's Day in Egypt and Its Enemies,” Arab Studies Journal 24 (2016):128–46Google Scholar. For Morocco, see Menin, Laura, “The Impasse of Modernity: Personal Agency, Divine Destiny, and the Unpredictability of Intimate Relationships in Morocco,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 21 (2015): 892910CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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50 Najmabadi, Afsaneh, “Crafting an Educated Housewife in Iran,” in Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, ed. Abu-Lughod, Lila (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 91125CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Najmabadi, , Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005)Google Scholar.

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52 Ibid.

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56 See Shafik, Viola, Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class, and the Nation (Cairo: American University of Cairo Press, 2007)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Abu-Lughod, Lila, Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008)Google Scholar; and Joubin, Rebecca, The Politics of Love: Sexuality, Gender, and Marriage in Syrian Television Drama (Plymouth: Lexington Books, 2013)Google Scholar.

57 Garlick, Steve, The Nature of Masculinity: Critical Theory, New Materialisms, and Technologies of Embodiment (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2016), 48Google Scholar.

58 Deborah Thien, “Love's Travels and Traces: The ‘Impossible’ Politics of Luce Irigaray,” Gender and Feminist Geographies Research Group, accessed 16 December 2018,

59 Hermez, Sami, War is Coming: Between Past and Future Violence in Lebanon (Philadelphia, Pa.: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2017)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

60 Menin, The Impasse of Modernity, 894.

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62 Cited in Morrison et al, Critical Geographies, 515.

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65 Salih, Bodies That Walk, 746.

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68 Yuval-Davis, Nira, “Nationalism and Racism,” Cahiers de Recherche Sociologique 20 (1993): 186Google Scholar.

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70 Mikdashi, Sex and Sectarianism, 289.

71 Anzaldúa, Borderland/La Frontera, 42.

72 Adely, A Different Kind of Love, 111.

73 Ibid, 104.

74 Lubna, interview with the author, March 2014, Jbeil.

75 Izza, interview with the author, July 2014, Beirut.

76 Nur, interview with the author, September 2014, Beirut.

77 Suad Joseph, “Civic Myths, Citizenship, and Gender in Lebanon,” in Gender and Citizenship, 107–36.

78 Joseph, Suad, Intimate Selving in Arab Families: Gender, Self, and Identity (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999)Google Scholar.

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81 Jana, interview with author, August 2014, Beirut.

82 Haddad, Simon, “Christian-Muslim Relations and Attitudes towards the Lebanese State,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 21 (2001): 131–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Lucia Volk, “Martyrs at the Margins: The Politics of Neglect in Lebanon's Borderlands,” Middle Eastern Studies 45 263–82. “BT” is the French abbreviation for brevet de technicien, often translated as “technician certificate” in English. BT degrees are reflective of the enduring legacy of the French Mandate for Syria and the Lebanon, which lasted from 1923 until 1946.

83 There are indications in traditional and emergent media that this trend is slowly changing, with an increasing number of projects, notably “ecotourism” ones, being advertised. In addition, in recent years there has been a revival of musical events in the summer, with a great number of cities and towns attracting large audiences.

84 Jana, interview with author, August 2014, Beirut.

85 Anzaldúa, Gloria, “Preface: (Un)Natural Bridges, (Un)Safe Spaces,” in This Bridge We Call Home: Radical Visions for Transformation, ed. Anzaldúa, Gloria and Keating, Analouise (New York: Routledge, 2002), 15Google Scholar.

86 Jana, interview with author, August 2014, Beirut.

87 Freeman, Time Binds, 3.

88 Lara, interview with the author, June 2014, Tripoli.

89 Jomana, interview with the author, Beirut, May 2014.

90 Mireille, interview with the author, near Beirut, April 2015.

91 Kibbeh nayyih is a Levantine dish that consists of finely processed raw meat seasoned with a mix of herbs. In the vegetarian/vegan version, meat is replaced with potato.

92 Jomana, Skype interview with the author, March 2016.

93 Allouche, Sabiha, “Love, Lebanese Style: Toward an Either/And Analytic Framework of Kinship.” Journal of Middle East Women's Studies 15 (2019): 157178CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

94 Aline, interview with the author, September 2014, Tripoli.

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97 Clara, interview with the author, September 2014, Tripoli.

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100 Salih, Bodies that Walk, 746.

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102 Ibid., 6.

103 Morrison et al, Critical Geographies, 507.

104 Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 1.

105 Georgis, The Better Story.

106 Muñoz, Cruising Utopia, 1.

107 Edelman, No Future.

108 I use the pronoun “they” to refer to those individuals who embrace non-normative practices.

109 Mikdashi and Puar, Queer Theory and Permanent War, 217.

110 Lila, Abu-Lughod. “The Romance of Resistance: Tracing Transformations of Power Through Bedouin Women,” American Ethnologist 17 (1990): 42Google Scholar.

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114 Ibid., 584.

115 Mahmood, Saba, “Feminist Theory, Embodiment, and the Docile Agent: Some Reflections on the Egyptian Islamic Revival,” Cultural Anthropology 16 (2001): 203CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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