This article examines the unprecedented victory of the Islamic Group in the 2004 municipal elections in a town on the northern border of Lebanon that was renowned for a history of leftist political activism. The article investigates local idioms of political representation and, using ethnographic material, demonstrates how the political process was framed in a discourse of “trial and error.” It explores the traditional idiom of `ā’ila (lineage) and, through a comparison of three municipal elections in their historical and political contexts, argues that `ā’ila served as a principal idiom of democracy through which residents sought to change their political landscape in the postwar context by aiming to elevate their politics to the national sphere. The article contributes to an understanding of the manner in which Muslims relate to Islamist politics and to the literature that focuses on democracy as an ethnographically emergent construct.
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