This (open access) article analyses political and religious mobilisation in Sidon and Tripoli, both secondary cities struggling amidst deep social divisions, elite competition, and armed conflict during the contentious decade following the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (2005–15). A central element in the sectarian and Islamic resurgence was discontent with the political and social decline of the Sunnis. The Syrian revolt magnified Sunni-Shia tensions and shifted the locus of contentious politics from the capital Beirut to secondary cities such as Tripoli and Sidon. In both cities, communal tensions spurred confrontations with the Army that were followed by closely contested municipal elections. By examining the urban ecologies of resistance, the article contributes to an understanding of how urban inequality, competitive clientelism, and Islamist (social) movements are intertwined and can explain why the political pathways and electoral outcomes differed and the implications for the understanding of religious-influenced politics. The city-level analysis testifies to the importance of contextual urban traits and political actors’ agency in influencing the popular support for state-oriented social movements and sectarian parties and as determinants of their electoral fortunes.