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‘We must not lose the right of revolution’: the Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon

posted on 2023-06-09, 08:18 authored by Anne Irfan
In 1969, Palestinians across Lebanon declared that they were carrying out a revolution in their refugee camps. Nationalist militants known as fidayeen ousted state security authorities from the camps and took charge themselves, exerting control over movement and services. The new status quo was codified in the Cairo Agreement signed the same year between the Lebanese government and Yasser Arafat’s Fatah organisation. It also chimed with the fidayeen takeover of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and the latter’s resulting emancipation from Arab state control. These events are known both colloquially and intellectually as the Palestinian thawra (‘revolution’). This paper unpicks this definition to probe what is really meant by the term ‘revolution’, especially when applied to stateless peoples outside the conventional structures of the nation-state. Using the Palestinian thawra as a case study, it examines how and why this is designated as a ‘revolution’, and with what significance. In doing so, the paper examines the thawra’s dynamics vis-à-vis camp authority; its precipitation of a Palestinian para-state in Lebanon; its alignment with contemporary leftist revolutionary movements; and its glorification of cultural and intellectual renaissance as well as armed struggle. As a secular nationalist Arab movement with leftist elements and major popular support, the Palestinian revolution constitutes both a case study and a counterpoint to the recent Arab Spring. Much of the discourse has taken the latter as a point of departure without considering its regional antecedents, among which the Palestinian thawra is key. The people’s ‘right of revolution’ affirmed by Arafat in 1969 can be directly linked to what ‘the people want’ in the popular uprisings of the last five years. This paper will thus explore the meaning and implications of restoring the Palestinian thawra to its rightful place in revolutionary studies.


Publication status

  • Published

File Version

  • Accepted version

Presentation Type

  • paper

Event name

Rethinking Revolutions

Event location

London School of Economics

Event type


Event date

26 May 2017

Department affiliated with

  • History Publications

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  • No

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