In the 2010s, Lebanon has spiraled into a ‘deliberate economic depression’, as infamously dubbed by the World Bank. Politicians and other power-holding actors in the countries are said to be responsible for the complete impoverishment of Lebanese society. Currently, more than seventy percent of Lebanese live under the poverty line.
On top of the economic crisis, an enormous explosion devastated the Beirut port in August 2020 – this explosion has also been tied to patterns of governmental corruption in the country. In October 2019, enormous anti-government protests erupted, shaking incumbent Lebanese political leadership. Since then, many hope that the incumbent Lebanese politicians are toppled. These have been in power for decades, since a post-civil war peace deal in 1989 created an ineffective sectarian power-sharing system.
Lebanon has been in a political deadlock ever since the Beirut Blast in August 2020. Less than a week after the massive explosion in Lebanon’s capital Beirut displaced over 300,000 people and left the city devastated, the new government under Diab resigned, on the 10th of August 2020. After the resignation of Diab, Mustapha Adib was put forward by parliament as the new Prime Minister in September of 2020. However, he failed to form a government since Shia parties were unwilling to accept the proposed technocratic cabinet. This led to the Adib resigning only a month later in September of 2020. Following the resignation of Adib, former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri was re-chosen as Prime Minister. Hariri tried to form a non-partisan cabinet, but failed to do so due to other parties hindering the formation process. After months of failed attempts to form a government, Hariri resigned in July of 2021.
Hariri was succeeded by Najib Mikati, who managed to form a government on the 10th of September 2020, after months of political stalemate. However, while Mikati managed to form a government, the political deadlock continues. The investigation into the Beirut Blast is causing a rift within the government, with some parties such as Hezbollah claiming the investigation is biased and that the lead investigator should be removed.
Throughout 2021, protests against the government continued in Lebanon. While the government fails to resume meeting, Lebanon keeps sinking further into economic and social crisis. The already existing economic crisis has only been worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Beirut explosion. The hyperinflation has led to the Lebanese lira losing up to 90 percent of its value, and prices of food, medicine and gas have skyrocketed while more and more Lebanese are living in poverty. Emergency funds have been promised by foreign donors, on the condition that a reform plan is agreed upon. However, due to the political stalemate the government continues to fail to agree on reforms.
On May 15, 2022, Lebanon organized long-anticipated elections. Hezbollah and its allies Amal and FPM (the "March 8" bloc) lost its majority in parliament. The hardline Christian party "Lebanese Forces" won, just as independent candidates related to the 2019 protest movement.
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- 6,769,151 (World Bank 2021)
- Governmental Type:
- Parliamentary multi-confessionalist republic
- Ruling Coalition:
- Last Elections:
- May 2018 (general elections)
- Next Elections:
- Fall 2022 (indirect presidential election)
- Sister Parties:
- Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)
On the 4th of August 2020, corruption and government mismanagement resulted in the largest non-nuclear explosion in history at the port of Beirut. The explosion killed 218 people, wounded 7000 and displaced over 300,000 people. Shortly after the explosion, on the 10th of August, Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned. Ever since then, Lebanon has been in a political deadlock that left the country without a government for over a year.
After the resignation of Diab, Mustapha Adib was put forward by parliament as the new Prime Minister in September of 2020. However, he failed to form a government as Shia parties, particularly Amal and Hezbollah, were blocking the formation by demanding to name Shia ministers in the cabinet. Shia leaders feared being sidelined by Adib who wanted to shake up the appointments to specific ministries. The blockade is a result of Lebanon’s sectarian political system, where some sectarian sections have had control over certain ministries for years. The deadlock led to Adib resigning later in September of 2020. Following the resignation of Adib, former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri was re-chosen as Prime Minister. Hariri tried to form a non-partisan cabinet, but similar to Adib he failed to do so due to other parties hindering the formation process. After months of failed attempts to form a government, Hariri resigned in July of 2021.
Hariri was succeeded by Prime Minister Najib Mikati. After being without a government for over a year, Mikati finally managed to form a government in September of 2021. However, the formation did not end the political crisis in Lebanon. The investigation into the Beirut explosion has led to a political rift within Lebanese politics. Several high ranking politicians, including former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, have been subpoenaed by investigative judge Tarek Bitar. This has led to tensions within Lebanon’s political establishment, that has been ruling with impunity for years. Certain parties, specifically Hezbollah and Amal, have argued that the lead investigator Tarek Bitar is biased and want him removed. Politicians investigated in relation to the blast have tried to have judge Bitar removed from office and have the investigation shut down. Other political parties, such as the Christian Lebanese Forces, support the investigation. The political disagreements have led to increased sectarian tensions within Lebanon. In October of 2021, the tensions reached a peak when a protest staged by Hezbollah and Amal resulted in an armed clash with members of the Christian Lebanese Forces party in Beirut. The violence left 7 people dead and more than 30 injured.
In the lead-up to long-anticipated May 15, 2022 elections, Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri stepped down, saying he will boycott the upcoming elections. Hariri has been the leader of the Future Movement, the biggest representative of the Sunni community in Lebanon. The resignation of Hariri leaves the Sunni block without a leader. Hariri also called on his party to not have any candidates run in the upcoming general elections in May.
Ongoing protests since October of 2019
The impact of the war in Syria, as well as years of corruption and inefficiency, have caused Lebanon’s GDP growth to fall from 8%-9% in 2011 to 0% in 2019. In 2019 Lebanon had a national debt of around 150% and unemployment among under 35s is as high as 37%. A government-led 'Ponzi scheme' led to enormous debt as the economic position of Lebanon fell after the Syrian civil war. This caused the Lebanese currency to inflate tremendously against the dollar, causing basic commodities to become very expensive for Lebanon's population.
Although Lebanon’s governments have been warned about the possible consequences for years, they have failed to take action and implement the necessary reforms. The Beirut explosion in August of 2020 and the COVID-19 restrictions have only worsened the already critical state of the economy.
In 2019 the population already was increasingly fed up with the blatant corruption and nepotism among politicians. When the new government announced in October 2019 that they were going to implement a tax on internet-based calling services such as WhatsApp, the population had had enough. The combination of growing economic and political grievances sparked the start of what is called the Lebanese “October Revolution” on October 17th 2019. The protests started small but in a short time grew to a movement made up of hundreds of thousands of people protesting all over the country. The protests paralyzed Lebanon’s banking and transportation system and caused prime-minister Saad Hariri to hand in his resignation on October 29th 2019.
Even though the protest group managed to accomplish this, in reality, they are very decentralized and lack a leader. Often the different fractions of protesters have contradictory positions but they all tend to agree on a couple of things. The first is that the vast corruption among businessmen and politicians needs to end and the second is that they demand better governance. The anti-government protest continued throughout 2020 and 2021 as the social and economic situation in Lebanon also keeps deteriorating. About three quarters of the population is estimated to live in poverty due to the financial crisis that had led to the devaluation of the Lebanese lira. According to the UN, starvation has become a growing reality for thousands of Lebanese. It is estimated that more than one million Lebanese are in need of assistance to cover their basic needs. A lack of government funds to buy fuel has led to a fuel crisis that causes large-scale power outages which also effects hospitals. Prices of food continue to rise and life-saving medication is not available do to the medicine crisis. At the same time the government has been lifting subsidies on gas and medicine, causing prices to skyrocket even more. Meanwhile, the government continues to fail to implement the swift reforms needed to receive a IMF bailout programme.
Lebanon is also facing several challenges in its foreign policymaking. In 2009 the Leviathan field was discovered and found to hold about natural gas reserves of 600 billion cubic meters. The Leviathan falls in 860 square kilometers of disputed oceanic territory between Israel and Lebanon. This has raised tensions with Israel over the last few years, only negatively affecting the already strained relationship between the neighbours. In October of 2020 the countries launched talks to address the long-running dispute. The conflict has prevented the development of the offshore resources. The delegates of the countries were clear to state that they are seeking a technical solution and are not there to negotiate peace and normalisation of relations.
Formally Lebanon and Israel remain at war. Since the 2006 Lebanon War there have only been some minor border incidents, but the country’s have not signed an official peace treaty. Especially the relations between Hezbollah and Israel are strenuous, as a consequence of fighting during the 2006 war. Israeli law regards Lebanon as an enemy state and the border between the countries remains closed. A 2008 poll stated that 97% of Lebanese hold a negative view of Jews, illustrating why little has changed. After the Beirut explosion in August of 2020 Tel Aviv sought to show sympathy by raising a Lebanese flag though, also proving the country with support via a third way. Tensions between the two countries rose again during the Israel-Gaza war in 2021. After years of relative stability at the Israeli-Lebanese border, rockets were fired towards Israel from Lebanese territory in May of 2021. The Israeli’s responded with firing artillery at targets in Lebanon. In August of 2021 rockets were again launched from Lebanon and responded to with artillery fire from Israel. However, the tensions did not escalate into further conflict and the border has been stable since August. In 2022, tensions were rising again over a disputed maritime area, where Israel seeks gas production. Hezbollah leader Nasrallah reacted the party is willing to 'strike' the gas rig.
Relations between Lebanon and its neighbour Syria have been fragmented since the Syrian conflict broke out. Tensions increased during the war in Syria when around 1 million refugees came to Lebanon. This has put immense pressure on the country of not even 7 million people. The war also negatively impacted Lebanon’s economy, which has been in a bad state for years now. In most recent times the Assad government and elements of Lebanon’s government, notably Hezbollah, have grown closer again. Both the Assad regime and Hezbollah are highly influenced by Iran, which further complicates Lebanon’s internal politics. With Saudi Arabia also wielding much influence in Lebanon, the country has become more polarized in recent times. Therefore it is no surprise that government formation has proven so difficult.
In January of 2020 the newly installed Diab-led cabinet included six women, out of a total of 30 ministers. Up until then there had only been two female ministers. To the outside world this might seem like Lebanon is making progress with regards to women’s rights, but women continue to be discriminated against in many ways. There is no quota for women in elected bodies and as a result Lebanon has one of the lowest percentages of women in politics in the MENA region.
Lebanese women cannot pass on their Lebanese nationality to their children. So if they marry a non-Lebanese man, their children are denied citizenship. This negatively affects their legal residency, access to work, education, social services and health care, while also putting them at risk of becoming stateless. In 2019 a proposed law which would help such children with job permits was returned by the President for “further review”. Other proposed laws against discrimination in the workplace are also bound to fail.
Currently there is also no minimum age for marriage, which allows for religious courts to approve marriages of girls aged beneath 15 years old. Marital rape also remains uncriminalized. Just like in many other MENA countries Lebanon repealed article 522 in 2017, which had previously allowed rapists to escape prosecution if they married the victim. This sounded like an important step, be it not for the loopholes related to sex with girls between 15 and 17 and virgin girls. These are just several of the most severe ways in which women are discriminated against. During the COVID-19 pandemic and periods of lockdown a worrying trend of increased domestic violence against women has been reported too.
LGBTI people in Lebanon face considerable difficulties in their daily lives, which non-LGBTI people do not have to face. However, in comparison to other Arab countries though, the LGBTI community is considerably more free. Article 534 of the Lebanese Penal Code still prohibits having sexual relations that “contradict the laws of nature”. The official punishment stands at one year in jail, but judges more regularly just charge a fine. Article 534 is often used to justify harassment and persecution of LGBTI people by the police. There are some positive signs though, as in 2017 a fourth judge went against Article 534. In a court order issued then stated that “homosexuality is a personal choice, and not a punishable offense”.
With the support of NGOs such as Amnesty International, UNHCR Lebanon and Human Rights Watch the situation for LGBTI people in Lebanon shows progress. Positve events include the 2013 declaration that homosexuality is not an illness, the 2016 recognition of a transgender man and that organizations such as Helem and Proud, who do many things with regards to LGBTI rights, were allowed to register in the country and participate in civil society. The 2017 organisation of Pride week in Lebanon and the widespread participation of the LGBTI community in the nationwide 2019 protests are also promising signs.
There are still many things to improve for the LGBTI community in Lebanon, who often remain excluded from society. To illustrate, in 2020 85% percent of the respondents of a survey still believe that society should not accept homosexualtiy. The LGBTI community remains negatively targeted by politicians and LGBTI individuals are regugarly mocked on TV. The police frequently raid nightclubs which are knows to be visited by gay men and arrest people on the suspicion of homosexual acts. The current economic crisis, in combination with the COVID-19 lockdown measures, have affected the LGBTI community more negatively than the rest of society.
Lebanon is a republic. The National Assembly indirectly elects the president as head of state for a six years term. The president, upon a binding consultation with the National Assembly, appoints the prime minister. The prime minister chooses the cabinet, after consultation of the president and the National Assembly.
Sectarian divisions in the country have plagued every post-civil war government. Increasing pressure from outside actors during the Syrian Civil War (2011-) complicated domestic politics. The stand-off between the Hezbollah led March 8 Alliance and Future movement led March 14 Alliance paralyzed both parliament and government for almost a decade. The parliament was under pressure to reform itself, but the sectarian division complicated negotiations. After years of negotiations, in June 2017 a new electoral law was passed replacing the ‘’1960 law’’.
Under this system, parties gained votes based on their religious sect. In this system, eighteen different confessional groups share power, with parliamentary seats being reserved for different groups. Each sect was granted a certain number of seats based on a quota, this quota was however seen as unfair and unrepresentative due to the country’s demographic shift. The new system is still based on the confessional power distribution, but instead of the 26 constituencies, people now vote in 15 new constituencies. This creates a proportional representation system.
While confessionally distributed, MPs are elected by universal suffrage. The National Assembly is elected via a system of multi-member constituencies with each voter having two votes, one for a party and one for a specific candidate. The winner-take-all system, where the party winning most votes wins all the seats in the district, has been abolished as a result of the new election law.
Lebanon has no legal electoral threshold, for now, and no compulsory voting. Lebanon has universal suffrage for all men, with a minimum age of 21. Women should have elementary education and the minimum age of 21 to be authorised to vote. Remarkably, voters do not vote according to their place of residence, but according to their “civil record”, usually the residence of their forefathers.
Lebanon’s electoral system is very complicated, as it merges proportional representation with quotas to maintain the sectarian equilibrium in the country. It is exactly this equilibrium that has enabled the country’s elite (most of above mentioned parties) to capture Lebanon’s institutions, leading to enormous corruption and waste of public resources. Moreover, incumbent parties have redrawn electoral districts in their favour, ‘gerrymandering’, making it very difficult for new actors to enter the political arena. Moreover, the president must always be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni and the speaker of parliament a Shia. All powerful positions in Lebanon can be traced back to a sectarian powerplay, leading to a peculiar system in which all parties are trying to hold on to their ‘pillar’ of power.
The National Assembly
The unicameral National Assembly of Lebanon is elected for four years. The 128 seats in the National Assembly are equally divided among Muslims and Christians. Each of the eleven confessional subgroups occupies a fixed number of seats in the National Assembly. Due to this unusual division of seats in the National Assembly, the role of political parties in Lebanese politics is different from the role of political parties in normal parliamentary democracies. Many of the political parties are lists of candidates, supported by an important local figure. Political coalitions are therefore only formed because of electoral reasons, and easily fall apart once the seats in parliament are secured.
In this sectarian power-sharing system, two main alliances compete for power. The ‘March 8’ and ‘March 14’ alliances refer to dates during 2005 the Cedar revolution and in short were pro- and anti-Syrian blocs. ‘March 8’ consists mainly of the Maronite Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), and the Shia Al-Amal and Hezbollah parties. They have had power since 2018 elections, having a 71 seat majority in the 128-seat parliament – and are blamed for the dysfunctionality of Lebanese political institutions. "March 14" refers to the anti-Syrian bloc and is led by the Sunni Future Movement, it also include hardline Christian groups such as the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb.
This form of parliamentary politics sustains a form of politics, based on satisfying instantly the grassroots support, rather than that it supports politics based on ideology and long-term objectives. Analysts say that Lebanese politics is both complicated and confusing. The combination of the fixed division of seats among the various religious groups, together with the many local candidates of different religions, makes it hard to get a clear view of the relative strength of political parties in the National Assembly.
Differences in 2020 government formation linger on in 2021
When prime-minister Saad Hariri resigned at the end of October 2019 he left a political vacuum that has been affecting all Lebanese citizens. The country requires urgent action to solve the economic crisis, but it has no leader to steer in the right direction. One of the main demands of the protesters was that a new government was to be chosen fast and that it would be made up of technocrats, instead of the sectarian politicians previously in power. Technocrats would be capable of carrying out effective economic reforms, which the country needs to qualify for economic support from the IMF.
Protesters’ demands for a cabinet of independent specialists were shared by the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF), which is a leading Christian grouping, as well as former prime-minister Hariri who is aligned with Gulf Arab and the western states. However, President Aoun and his Hezbollah allies believe the government should not be made up of just technocrats, but should include politicians as well. The Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), which was founded by president Aoun, stated that they too would not agree to a government which is only made up of technocrats. Lebanon’s foreign allies have urged them to form a credible government, meaning with limited influence of Hezbollah who is regarded by the U.S. as a terrorist organization, if it wants to receive international support to solve Lebanon’s problems.
When on the 19th of December 2019 former education minister Hassan Diab was chosen as the new prime minister of Lebanon, it was perceived by many as a victory for Hezbollah and its allies. The protesters rejected Diab as prime-minister because of his close ties with some of the ruling political parties. Even though Diab presented himself as independent, he had clear ties to the former ruling class. Hence,protesters continued to demand an independent prime-minister. In January of 2020 Diab announced the formation of his new cabinet. From the outside, the cabinet could be perceived as being made up of independents and technocrats, but upon taking a closer look this did not seem to be the case. Adding to the appeal of the international community was the fact that it was Lebanon's first cabinet with six women in it.
After the Diab government fell in August of 2020, the conflict between Hezbollah-led forces and the opposition emerged again. Appointed prime minister Hariri has been proposing the instalment of a technocratic government, to get the country back on its feet. However, President Aoun has been blocking his proposed cabinets for months now, arguing in favour of a partisan government. He argues that without the support of political parties the cabinet is bound to fall in the near future. The difference of opinion has led to a political deadlock while the country is in dire need of political stability.
Saad al-Hariri came back, and was given the chance to form a government. However, as expected, he was not able to form a coalition of unity with opposing parties such as the FPM-led March 8 block. Hariri resigned as designate-PM and a coalition of national unity, led by Prime Minister Najib Mikati (Azm movement) then formed a coalition to govern Lebanon until the May 2022 elections. Mikati did not run in these elections. He is a Sunni Muslim, just like Saad al-Hariri, meaning that a seat vacuum looms in Sunni-allocated seats after Hariri boycotted the vote. Therefore, many new candidates have the opportunity to be elected in these seats.
On May 15, 2022, citizens in Lebanon went to the polls for parliamentary elections. Turnout during the elections was low – 41 percent. The main takeaway of the election is a loss for Hezbollah’s alliance – they lose their parliamentary majority. Independent candidates did well – they took thirteen seats.
Final results of the May 15 polls show that ‘March 8’ lost their majority in parliament. They took 58 seats in parliament. Hezbollah and Amal together kept their 27 seats in parliament, but FPM and Hezbollah-affiliated independents did not win as much seats as in 2018. Among the high-profile losers was deputy parliament speaker Elie Ferzli, a long-time Hezbollah ally, who was ousted by a candidate backed by the Progressive Socialist Party. Hezbollah-allied Druze politician Talal Arslan also conceded his seat in parliament.
FPM has been overtaken by Lebanese Forces as the largest Christian party and overall bloc in parliament with 21 seats. Its leader Samir Geagea is a former warlord, heavily opposes Hezbollah and is affiliated with Saudi Arabia.
The main surprise at the polls were the achievements of independent opposition candidates, related to the 2019 protest movement. These went into the elections fragmented and were intimidated by incumbent political parties. Moreover, the current set-up of Lebanon’s election districts causes many difficulties for newcomer parties against existing political parties, that have entrenched political power. Together opposition took thirteen seats – a big win, taking a way of many household names in the Lebanese Parliament.
Sunni candidates related to Saad al-Hariri, the leader of the Future Movement, took seven seats. Al-Hariri boycotted the elections and called upon his followers not to vote or register as candidate.
See the provisional results below:
Lebanese Forces + allies
Free Patriotic Movement + allies
New Opposition Candidates
Hezbollah + allies
Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) + allies
Kataeb + ally
Expectations after elections
In the fall of this year, a new President must be elected. According to the country’s political sectarian distribution, this must be a Maronite Christian – currently Michel Aoun (FPM). Nabih Berri (Amal) is already re-chosen as Speaker of Parliament for a seventh term.
It will be very difficult to gain a majority in the current Lebanese parliament, as Lebanese Forces and ‘March 8’ are completely opposed. In order to prevent a complete paralysation of Lebanese political rule, it will be key that these parties find some sort of ‘modus vivendi’ on passing legislature. This is crucial as Lebanon has reached a staff-level agreement with the IMF on much-needed financial reform in the country.
Potential parliamentary blocs are the traditional ‘March 8’: FPM, Hezbollah, Amal and allies are now provisionally on 58 seats. ‘March 14’ – Lebanese Forces, Progressive Socialist Party, former Future Movement, Jama’a Islamiya and Rifi are on 43 seats. The stance of the new oppositional figures could thus become decisive to find majorities in parliament. Bottomline - the Lebanese parliament is perhaps even more polarized than after 2018 elections.
The Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections (LADE) deployed various independent observers across the country. It documented more than 3,500 violations – mostly vote rigging, vote buying and voter intimidation. Its monitors were threatened by members of Amal, Hezbollah and Lebanese Forces.
EU election monitors were equally worried, saying that the elections were “overshadowed by widespread practices of vote buying and clientelism, which distorted the level playing field and seriously affected the voters’ choice.” Lebanon's Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi dismissed the allegations as minimal.
On 31 October 2016, the Lebanese parliament gathered together for the 46th time to vote on a new president. Finally, Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement) won with a majority of 83 out of 128 votes. Before these elections, Lebanon had been without a president for 2.5 years, and it was the first time that the entire parliament gathered since April 2014. Aoun’s election is a victory for his Lebanese Shiite ally Hezbollah, which is heavily influenced by Iran and Syria. It was said that Aoun mainly got elected because of a deal he struck with the head of the Sunni movement, Saad Hariri. The deal involved that Hariri would become prime minister if he would support the election.
There were three rounds of voting. In the first round, Aoun did not secure a two-thirds majority among the 128 MPs present. The second round of voting only required a simple majority to win, though there were 128 ballots cast making the round invalid. In the third round, he received the winning 83 votes.
In the fall of 2022, a new President will be elected.
Social Democratic Parties
Hassan DiabRead biography
Prime Minister-designateRead biography
Leader of the Progressive Socialist PartyRead biography
Secretary-general of HezbollahRead biography
Party Leader of the Free Patriotic MovementRead biography
President of Amal MovementRead biography
Executive Chairman of Lebanese ForcesRead biography
A “unique window of opportunity”: Europe’s gas crisis may encourage an agreement in the Israeli-Lebanese maritime border dispute
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