Rebel Populism: Revolution and Loss Among Syrian Labourers in Beirut

Published on 25 May 2022

Workers from the Syrian diaspora have maintained a presence in Lebanon for decades, building multimillion-dollar apartment complexes, toiling for backbreaking hours in grocery stores.

From the mid-2000s, liberalising reforms saw accelerating levels of poverty among workers, often paid as low as $20 per day. Instead of ‘opportunity’, workers faced the prospect of indefinite economic exile, the unending drudgery of hard labour, and a constant struggle to make ends meet.

But in 2011, revolution came to Syria. Rural towns and villages exploded in revolt, but even those workers who remained in Beirut found means to protest at a distance. Their movement, which this book identifies as ‘rebel populism,’ represents an early instance of an increasingly common global contentious political formation, a form of mass politics that emerges not via a charismatic orator or developed ideological convictions, but through the weaving together of grievances aimed at the ruling class.


  • Preface
  • Introduction – revolution and loss
  • 1 Cynicism, socialism, and labour migration
  • 2 Rebel populism and rupture
  • 3 Art, uprising, and smartphones
  • 4 Rebel-martyrs
  • 5 Masculinity in (a) crisis
  • 6 Conspiracy, sectarianism, and the failure of the uprising
  • Conclusions – It’s your turn, doctor
  • Index


‘Proudfoot’s Rebel populism is a ground-breaking study into how and why working-class and rural Syrian migrants were drawn to the promise of revolutionary politics and rebel militias. This fascinating book provides an intimate portrayal of young male lives shaped not only by warfare and violence but also hope.’
Joe Glenton, author of Veteranhood: Rage and Hope in British Ex-Military Life

‘Rebel populism is a revelatory exploration of how a group of young Syrian migrant workers in the Lebanon’s construction industry were transformed into a rebellious populist opposition to the Syrian regime. Proudfoot’s excellent ethnography documents – with great empathy – how these young men developed, enacted, and expressed this emergent political consciousness largely over Facebook and WhatsApp as a live act of rebellion. Woven into this rich account is the depiction of the shattered futures these young men experience as their progress along a masculine trajectory is blocked. This is a lively and genuinely empathetic study filling gaps in our knowledge of young lives, male lives, in forced migration studies. It is essential reading.’
Dawn Chatty, Emerita Professor of Anthropology and Forced Migration, University of Oxford

Cite this publication

Proudfoot, P. (2022) Rebel Populism: Revolution and Loss Among Syrian Labourers in Beirut, Manchester: Manchester University Press


Philip Proudfoot

Research Fellow

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