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  • Sabiha Allouche (a1)


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.”



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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).

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): 350.

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): 279–93.

11 Ibid., 281.

12 Ibid., 283.

13 Ibid.

14 Comaroff, Jean, and Comaroff, John L., “Theory from the South: Or How Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa,” Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology 22 (2012): 113–31.

15 Mikdashi, Maya and Puar, Jasbir, “Queer Theory and Permanent War,” GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies 22 (2016): 215.

16 Hayes, Jarrod, Higonnet, Margaret R., and Spurlin, William J., Comparatively Queer: Interrogating Identities across Time and Cultures (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).

17 Bakshi, Sandeep, Jivraj, Suhraiya, and Posocco, Silvia, Decolonizing Sexualities: Transnational Perspectives, Critical Interventions (Oxford: Counterpress, 2016).

18 Similar paradigms are raised in critical investigations of homosexual desire. See Altman, Dennis, Global Sex (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); 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), 175–94.

19 Padilla, Mark B., Hirsch, Jennifer S., Muñoz-Laboy, Miguel, Sember, Robert, and Parker, Richard G., Love and Globalization: Transformation of Intimacy in the Contemporary World (Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 2008), ix.

20 Berlant, Lauren and Warner, Michael, “Sex in Public,” Critical Inquiry 24 (1998): 547–66.

21 Edelman, Lee, No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2004).

22 hooks, bell, All about Love: New Visions (New York: William Morrow, 2000).

23 Duggan, The New Homonormativity, 175–94.

24 Freeman, Elizabeth, Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010).

25 Fisher, Linda, “Feminist Theory and the Politics of Inclusions,” Journal of Social Philosophy 2 (1990): 174–83.

26 Anzaldúa, Gloria, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lutte, 1987), 3.

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

28 Muñoz, José, Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity (New York: New York University Press, 2009).

29 Ibid., 1.

30 Morrison, Carey-Ann, Johnston, Lynda, and Longhurst, Robyn, “Critical Geographies of Love as Spatial, Relational and Political,” Progress in Human Geography 37 (2012): 505–21.

31 Mikdashi, Queering Citizenship, 350.

32 See Salih, Ruba, “Bodies That Walk, Bodies That Talk, Bodies That Love,” Antipode: A Radical Journal of Geography 49 (2016): 742–60; Georgis, Dina, The Better Story: Queer Affects from the Middle East (New York: SUNY Press, 2013); Al-Samman, Hanadi and El-Ariss, Tarik, “Queer Affects: Introduction,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 45 (2013): 205–9.

33 Morrison et al, Critical Geographies, 507.

34 Munt, Sally, “Sisters in Exile: The Lesbian Nation,” in New Frontiers of Space, Bodies and Gender, ed. Ainley, Rosa (London: Routledge, 1998), 319.

35 Padilla et al, Love and Globalization, ix.

36 Mensch, Barbara S., Singh, Susheela, and Casterline, John B., “Trends in the Timing of First Marriage among Men and Women in the Developing World,” in The Changing Transitions to Adulthood in Developing Countries: Selected Studies, ed. Lloyd, Cynthia B., Behrman, J. R., Stromquist, N. P., and Cohen, B. (Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2005), 118–71.

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), 128.

38 Lindholm, Charles, “Romantic Love and Anthropology,” Etnofoor 19 (2006): 521; Gottschall, Jonathan and Nordlund, Marcus, “Romantic Love: A Literary Universal?,” Philosophy and Literature 30 (2006): 450–70; Jankowiac, William, Love and Sex Across Cultures (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008); Pinto, Sara, “Researching Romantic Love,” Rethinking History: Journal of Theory and Practice 21 (2017): 567–85.

39 Enguix and Roca, Rethinking Romanic Love, 1.

40 Fortier, Corinne, Kriel, Aymon, and Maffi, Irene, “The Trouble of Love in the Arab World: Romance, Marriage, and the Shaping of Intimate Lives,” Arab Studies Journal 24 (2016): 96101.

41 Vance, Carole S., “Pleasure and Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality,” in Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Vance, Carole S. (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 1.

42 Vance, Carole S., “Social Construction Theory and Sexuality,” in Constructing Masculinity, ed. Berger, Maurice, Wallis, B., and Watson, S. (New York: Routledge, 1995), 41.

43 Illouz, Eva, Consuming the Romantic Utopia: Love and the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997).

44 For the context of India, see Mody, Perveez, The Intimate State: Love-Marriage and the Law in Delhi (London: Routledge, 2008). For South Korea, see Baldacchino, Jean-Paul, “Eros and Modernity: Convulsions of the Heart in Modern Korea,” Asia Studies Review 32 (2008): 99122. For China, see Zang, Xiaowei and Zhao, Luci Xia, Handbook on the Family and Marriage in China (Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2017). For Jordan, see Adely, Fida, “A Different Kind of Love: Compatibility (Insijam) and Marriage in Jordan,” Arab Studies Journal 24 (2016): 102–27; and El-Dine, Sandra Naseer, “Love, Materiality, and Masculinity in Jordan: Doing Romance with Limited Resources,” Men and Masculinities 21 (2018): 423–42. 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):128–46. 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): 892910.

45 For the Egyptian context, see Hoodfar, Homa, Between Marriage and the Market: Intimate Politics and Survival in Cairo (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1997); and Singerman, Diane, Avenues of Participation: Family, Politics, and Networks in Urban Quarters of Cairo (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1995). For the UAE, see Hasso, Frances, Consuming Desires: Family Crisis and the State in the Middle East (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011).

46 Gupta, Charu, “Hindu Women, Muslim Men: Love Jihad and Conversions,” Economic and Political Weekly 13 (2009): 1315.

47 Maktabi, Rania, “The Lebanese Census of 1932 Revisited: Who Are the Lebanese?,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 26 (1999): 226–28.

48 Deeb, Mary, Premkumar, A., Karma, S., Akhtar, S., and Messersmith, L., “Sectarianism and the Problem of Overpopulation: Political Representations of Reproduction in Two Low-Income Neighbourhoods of Beirut, Lebanon,” Culture, Health & Sexuality 14 (2012): 1139–52.

49 See Clough, Patricia, The Affective Turn: Theorizing the Social (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2007).

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), 91125; Najmabadi, , Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity (Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 2005).

51 Ahmed, Leila, Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992), 157.

52 Ibid.

53 Abu-Lughod, Lila, “Introduction,” in Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, ed. Abu-Lughod, Lila (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 11.

54 Abu-Lughod, Lila, “The Marriage of Feminism and Islamism in Egypt: Selective Repudiation as a Dynamic of Postcolonial Cultural Politics,” in Remaking Women: Feminism and Modernity in the Middle East, ed. Abu-Lughod, Lila (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1998), 257.

55 Baron, Beth, “The Making and Breaking of Marital Bonds in Modern Egypt,” in Women in Middle Eastern History: Shifting Boundaries in Sex and Gender, ed. Keddie, Nikkie and Baron, Beth (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1993), 275–91.

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

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

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).

60 Menin, The Impasse of Modernity, 894.

61 Seigworth, Gregory J. and Gregg, Melissa, “An Inventory of Shimmers,” in The Affect Theory Reader (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2010), 3.

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

63 Hemmings, Clare, “Invoking Affect: Cultural Theory and the Ontological Turn,” Cultural Studies 19 (2005): 548–67.

64 Berlant, Lauren, “A Properly Political Concept of Love: Three Approaches in Ten Pages,” Cultural Anthropology 26 (2011): 683–91.

65 Salih, Bodies That Walk, 746.

66 Maksoud, Hala, “The Case of Lebanon,” in Arab Women: Between Defiance and Restraint, ed. Sabbagh, Suha, (New York: Olive Branch Press, 1996), 8993; Joseph, Suad, “The Public/Private: The Imagined Boundary in the Imagined Nation/State/Community: The Lebanese Case,” Feminist Review 57 (1997): 7392; Khatib, Lina, “Gender, Citizenship and Political Agency in Lebanon,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 35 (2008): 437–51.

67 Mikdashi, Sex and Sectarianism.

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

69 Joseph, Suad, “Civic Myths, Citizenship, and Gender in Lebanon,” in Gender and Citizenship in the Middle East, ed. Joseph, Suad (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 2000): 107–36.

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).

79 Nadine M., “Arab Queer Women and Transgenders Confronting Diverse Religious Fundamentalisms: The Case of Meem in Lebanon, AWID, accessed 15 September 2018,

80 Rabo, Annika, A Shop of One's Own: Independence and Reputation Among Traders in Aleppo (London: I.B.Tauris, 2005); Joseph, Suad, “Gender and Citizenship in the Arab World,” al-Raida 129–30 (2010): 818.

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): 131–48; 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), 15.

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): 157178.

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

95 Haraway, Donna, “The Promises of Monsters: A Regenerative Politics of Inappropriate/d Others,” in The Haraway Reader, ed. Haraway, D. (New York: Routledge, 2004): 63124.

96 Khalid, interview with the author, Beirut, August 2014.

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

98 Obeid, Michelle, ed., “Ethnography as Knowledge in the Arab Region,” Contemporary Levant 2 (2017).

99 Sehlikoglu, Sertaç, “Revisited: Muslim Women's Agency and Feminist Anthropology,” Contemporary Islam 12 (2017): 83.

100 Salih, Bodies that Walk, 746.

101 Muñoz, José, “Ephemera as Evidence: Introductory Notes to Queer Notes,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 8 (1996): 516.

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): 42.

111 Abu-Lughod, Lila, Veiled Sentiments: Honor and Poetry in a Bedouin Society (Oakland, Calif.: University California Press, 1986).

112 Abu-Lughod, Lila, “Shifting Politics in Bedouin Love Poetry,” in Language and the Politics of Emotions, ed. Abu-Lughod, Lila and Lutz, Catherine (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), 2445.

113 Khalili, Laleh, “The Politics of Pleasure: Promenading on the Corniche and Beachgoing,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 34 (2016): 583600.

114 Ibid., 584.

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



  • Sabiha Allouche (a1)


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