Lebanon’s political system ensures representation for its many sectarian communities, but suppresses intracommunity competition and impedes the rise of cross-sectarian or secularist parties. Residents enjoy some civil liberties and media pluralism, but grapple with the government’s inability to address pervasive corruption and inconsistent support for the rule of law. Lebanon has also struggled to support the refugees who make up over a quarter of its population, with refugees from Syria facing especially difficult circumstances as they face unemployment, restrictions on movement, and the risk of refoulement.
- Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned at the end of October, in the wake of massive antigovernment protests that erupted earlier that month when the government proposed an increase in the value-added tax (VAT) and implemented a new fee for mobile messaging services. The movement was marked by violent clashes between protesters and security forces resulting in dozens of injuries.
- The government introduced strict new curfews limiting the movement of Syrian refugees, as well as a stringent permit system restricting their access to employment. In May, authorities deported nearly 3,000 refugees, despite concerns that they could be detained and tortured in Syria.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1 4|
The president, who is elected to a six-year term by the parliament, appoints the prime minister after consulting with the parliament. The president and prime minister choose the cabinet, which holds most formal executive power. According to long-standing de facto agreements on sectarian power-sharing, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly must be a Shiite Muslim.
Recently, the presidency was vacant for two years due to a lack of political consensus on a successor to Michel Suleiman, whose term expired in 2014. In October 2016, lawmakers finally elected former military commander Michel Aoun as president, who nominated Saad Hariri as prime minister that November. The parliament approved Hariri’s unity cabinet, which included representatives of most major factions, the following month. While this ended the country’s long deadlock, these decisions were carried out by a parliament whose electoral mandate had expired in 2013, undermining their democratic legitimacy.
Aoun named Hariri to the premiership again shortly after the 2018 parliamentary elections, and a new cabinet was formed in January 2019. Hariri resigned in October, after widespread anticorruption protests swept the country. In December, Aoun named Hassan Diab, a former education minister and a vice president at the American University of Beirut (AUB), to succeed Hariri. Diab was still negotiating to finalize his government’s formation at the end of 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||2 4|
Parliamentary elections were originally due in 2013, but disagreement over electoral reforms led the parliament to extend its own term until late 2014. Citing security concerns associated with the Syrian conflict, lawmakers in 2014 extended their mandate again, this time until June 2017. That month, the parliament adopted a new electoral law that introduced proportional representation and preferential voting, and scheduled elections for May 2018. Lebanese citizens then voted for the 128-member National Assembly for the first time since 2009—ending the five-year period in which the incumbent legislature had operated with no electoral mandate.
The May 2018 election saw Hezbollah maintain its National Assembly seats, while its allies posted gains. Christian parties also gained seats, mainly at the expense of Saad Hariri and the Future Movement party he led. Although the elections were conducted peacefully and were free and fair in many respects, vote buying was rampant and the electoral framework retained a number of fundamental structural flaws linked to the sectarian political system. Turnout was less than 50 percent, and was even lower in some Sunni areas of Beirut, reflecting an apparent lack of confidence in Hariri among many Sunni voters.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||2 4|
Elections in Lebanon are overseen by the Interior Ministry rather than an independent electoral commission. Parliamentary seats are divided among major sects under a constitutional formula that does not reflect their current demographic weight. No official census has been conducted since the 1930s. The electoral framework is somewhat inclusive and supports pluralism, but it is the product of bargaining among established leaders and tends to entrench the existing sectarian and communalist political system.
The 2017 electoral law introduced proportional representation and preferential voting, and improved opportunities for diaspora voting. However, the districts were still drawn along communal lines, with most featuring a strong confessional majority. Meanwhile, the mechanisms for seat allocation favor incumbent parties. The 2017 law sharply raised registration fees for candidates as well as spending caps for campaigns, and allowed private organizations and foundations to promote coalitions and candidates, which increased advantages accorded to wealthier groups and individuals. As under past electoral laws, members of security services, and citizens who have been naturalized for less than 10 years, cannot participate in elections.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||3 4|
Citizens are free to organize in different political groupings, and the system features a variety of competing parties in practice. While parties do rise and fall to some extent based on their performance and voters’ preferences, most of Lebanon’s political parties are vehicles for an established set of communal leaders who benefit from patronage networks, greater access to financing, and other advantages of incumbency.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1 4|
Lebanese politics are largely dominated by a group of military veterans, former militia leaders, and power brokers who gained prominence during the 1975–90 civil war that engulfed the country. Under the country’s prevailing power-sharing system, these parties do not consistently behave as opposition groups; consolidation of power among political elites also hampers intraparty competition. The National Assembly introduced a new electoral system in 2017 that included proportional representation, reduced the number of seats, and lessened the sectarian nature of Lebanese elections. Nevertheless, the political parties and alliances that existed before this reform have maintained their positions.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1 4|
A variety of forces that are not democratically accountable—including entrenched patronage networks, religious institutions, armed nonstate actors such as Hezbollah, and competing foreign powers—use a combination of financial incentives and intimidation to exert influence on Lebanese voters and political figures. The 2018 elections saw a number of credible allegations of vote buying, as well as analyses pointing to the role of establishment parties’ patronage networks in mobilizing or incentivizing voters.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, religious, gender, LGBT, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2 4|
Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religious communities, and the political system ensures that nearly all of these groups are represented, though not according to their actual shares of the population. Individuals who are not or do not wish to be affiliated with the recognized groups are effectively excluded. Moreover, the country’s large refugee population, including Palestinian refugee camp residents and Syrians who fled their country’s civil war, are not eligible to acquire citizenship and have no political rights.
Women have many of the same political rights as men, but they are marginalized in practice due to religious restrictions, institutionalized inequality, political culture, and societal discrimination. Neither the 2017 parliamentary electoral law nor informal understandings regarding power-sharing include rules to guarantee women’s participation in politics. While few women serve in the parliament as a result, more female candidates participated in the 2018 election than in previous contests; 111 women registered and 86 ran as candidates when the vote was held. However, only six women were elected. Four women held cabinet rank in the caretaker government by the end of 2019, with one serving as the country’s first female interior minister.
LGBT+ people living in Lebanon have little political representation. However, LGBT+ rights have found more proponents in national politics in recent years; nearly 100 parliamentary candidates publicly called for the decriminalization of same-sex relations during the 2018 parliamentary election.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1 4|
When the government is able to develop policies, they tend to be the result of negotiation among the country’s dominant political figures, regardless of formal titles and positions; meanwhile, the legislature generally facilitates these policies rather than serving as an independent institutional check on the government. The authority of the government is also limited in practice by the power of autonomous militant groups like Hezbollah and states with interests in Lebanon.
The elections of a president, parliament, parliament speaker, and prime minister since 2016 eased the country’s political deadlock. The Hariri-led government struggled with disagreements over policy, and was unable to meet for several weeks in the summer after a June 2019 skirmish that killed several ministerial aides. Hariri resigned in late October, after antigovernment protests swept the country. Negotiations to finalize his successor’s cabinet were still ongoing at the end of the year.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||0 4|
Corruption is endemic. Political and bureaucratic corruption is widespread, businesses routinely pay bribes and cultivate ties with politicians to win contracts or avoid unfavorable state actions, anticorruption laws are loosely enforced, and patronage networks generally operate unchecked. State expenditures remain irregular, with few mechanisms for effective oversight. Institutions such as the Central Inspection Bureau and Supreme Disciplinary Board remain woefully underfunded and understaffed.
An example of corruption at the highest levels of government was unearthed in October 2019, as protests spread throughout Lebanon. State prosecutors accused former prime minister Najib Mikati, his son, and his brother of making illicit gains from a subsidized housing loan program. The Mikatis were accused of colluding with Bank Audi, Lebanon’s largest bank, to receive a subsidized loan even though they were too wealthy to qualify. Mikati has claimed his innocence, saying the charges are politically motivated. The pending trial against Mikati will mark the first prosecution under Lebanon’s illicit gains law.
Electricity of Lebanon (EdL) has been particularly affected by endemic corruption, and can meet only half the country’s demand for electrical power due to the destruction of power plants during the civil war and subsequent mismanagement.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1 4|
While the National Assembly approved an access to information law in 2017, it is not fully implemented, and government documents remain difficult to obtain in practice. Officials often negotiate behind closed doors, outside of state institutions, and with little regard for formal procedures. There are few practical opportunities for civil society groups to influence pending policies or legislation, though they and the media are able to discuss proposals that have been made public.
|Are there free and independent media?||2 4|
Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed but inconsistently upheld. Arbitrary and capricious standards and excessive enforcement undercut an otherwise open aspect of the semidemocratic system. While the country’s media are among the most open and diverse in the region, nearly all outlets depend on the patronage of political parties, wealthy individuals, or foreign powers, and consequently practice some degree of self-censorship. Books, movies, plays, and other artistic works are subject to censorship, especially when the content involves politics, religion, sex, or Israel. It is a criminal offense to criticize or defame the president or security forces. Authorities use these laws and rules to harass and detain journalists who criticize politicians, government officials, and powerful nonstate actors. Journalists who are detained are often forced to sign pledges to refrain from writing content viewed as defamatory by the government.
While harassment is often used as a tactic to intimidate the press, the government has also resorted to raids and prosecutions in 2019. In May, the Beirut offices of daily newspaper Al-Akhbar were raided by security forces, after it published leaked diplomatic cables between the foreign ministry and its US embassy. In September, newspaper Nida al-Watan was sued for criminal defamation after it published an article covering Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s ties to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. The article included a photograph of President Aoun while satirically referring to Lebanon as the “Khamenei Republic.”
While no journalists were killed in Lebanon in 2019, individuals and organizations were subjected to acts of violence. In February, cable television station Al-Jadeed was attacked by unknown assailants who threw a hand grenade into its Beirut headquarters, though no one inside was injured. The television station reported that the attack took place after it aired a comedy show that caricatured clergy belonging to the Druze religious sect. The station’s Druze employees received anonymous threats before the grenade attack.
The protests that began in October 2019 and continued through the year served as backdrop for continued harassment and interference against journalists. Al-Akhbar, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah, saw the resignations of three senior staff members in November, after the newspaper’s managers forced them to adhere to an editorial line that opposed the protests. Cable television station Al-Jadeed was banned by cable television providers active in areas controlled by Hezbollah, after it criticized militia leader Hassan Nasrallah in the autumn. Dima Sadek, a journalist at television network Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International (LBCI), resigned in late November after CEO Pierre Daher suspended her. Sadek claimed that Daher would not allow her back on the air unless she refrained from commenting on protests through social media.
Artists who cover subjects deemed controversial by the government or major religious groups face government interference. In July 2019, organizers of the Byblos International Festival cancelled a planned concert featuring Mashrou’ Leila—a band with an openly gay vocalist—after Christian religious groups criticized the band and social media users threatened acts of violence. Band members were interrogated by the security forces ahead of the event, and were forced to censor their own social media output.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3 4|
The constitution protects freedom of conscience, and the state does not typically interfere with the practice or expression of religious faith or nonbelief. While blasphemy is a criminal offense, enforcement varies and is generally lax. Individuals may face societal pressure to express faith or allegiance to a confessional community. Leaders and members of different communities discourage proselytizing by other groups.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||3 4|
Academic freedom is generally unimpaired. Individuals are mostly free to select subjects for research and disseminate their findings. However, various laws and customary standards—including restrictions on defamation, blasphemy, and work or opinions related to Israel—deter open debate on certain issues. The state does not engage in extensive political indoctrination through education, though religious and other nonstate entities do seek to reinforce communal identities and perspectives.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||3 4|
Private discussion and expression of personal views are somewhat uninhibited. Even so, the authorities monitor social media and other communications. Individuals sometimes face arrests, short detentions, or fines if they criticize the government, the military, foreign heads of state, or other powerful entities. Lebanese authorities monitor the communications of prominent individuals, including politicians, dissidents, and journalists. They also detain, interrogate, intimidate, and sometimes prosecute and jail those who voice overt criticism of politicians, security services, and the presidency.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||3 4|
The authorities generally respect the right to assemble, which is protected under the constitution, and demonstrators have been able to mount protests against government dysfunction and lack of services in recent years; a number of such events took place without major incident.
However, a broad-based antigovernment movement began to coalesce in October, when the government announced new taxes on the use of WhatsApp and other mobile messaging services, and publicized a proposal to increase VAT in 2022. The announcements came as Lebanon was grappling with the impacts of currency restrictions, as a shortage of US dollars forced banks to impose daily limits on withdrawals in September. The protests soon spread throughout the country, with demonstrators calling for a crackdown against rampant corruption, improvements to basic services, and an end to the sectarian political system. The government announced reforms several days after the protests spread nationally; their proposals included a rollback of the mobile messaging tax, a plan to privatize the telecommunications sector, and cuts to legislators’ salaries. Prime Minister Hariri resigned at the end of the month, but the protests continued unabated.
While the cabinet attempted to defuse the protests by offering reforms, the authorities and militia groups also responded with force. Riot police used rubber bullets and tear gas in an effort to disperse a protest in downtown Beirut during a mid-October demonstration, and were observed assaulting and arresting peaceful protesters. Police resorted to the same tactics against a group of protesters approaching the Grand Serail, which houses the parliament and the prime minister’s office, that same month. Demonstrators in central Beirut were also attacked by Hezbollah supporters, who entered their camp and set fire to their tents on the same day as Hariri’s resignation. One of the most violent incidents took place in mid-December, when 54 people were injured after security forces used rubber bullets and tear gas during a demonstration in Beirut. Despite these disproportionate actions by security forces and militia groups, protests continued throughout the country as the year came to a close.
In September 2019, the organizers of Beirut’s pride event were forced to cancel their opening concert after clerics filed a public complaint against the event. Beirut’s pride events had already been targeted by the authorities in May, when one of its organizers was interrogated by security forces. The organizers were forced to cancel events including a discussion on sexual health, a poetry reading, and a legal literacy workshop.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||3 4|
NGOs tend to operate freely in Lebanon, though they must comply with the Law on Associations, which has not been thoroughly updated since 1909, and other applicable laws relating to labor, finance, and immigration. NGOs must also register with the Interior Ministry, which may oblige them to undergo an approval process and can investigate a group’s founders, officers, and staff.
LGBT+ interests are well-represented in civil society; Helem (dream), a NGO that addresses LGBT+ issues, has operated in Lebanon since 2004. The Arab Foundation of Freedoms and Equality (AFE) also advocates for LGBT+ rights in Lebanon.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2 4|
Individuals may establish, join, and leave trade unions and other professional organizations. However, the Labor Ministry has broad authority over the formation of unions, union elections, and the administrative dissolution of unions. The state regulates collective bargaining and strikes, and many unions are linked to political parties and serve as tools of influence for political leaders. Public employees, agricultural workers, and household workers are not protected by the labor code and have no legal right to organize, though they have formed unrecognized representative organizations.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1 4|
Lebanon’s judiciary is not independent. Political leaders exercise significant influence over judicial appointments, jurisdiction, processes, and decisions, which are also affected by corruption and undue influence of other prominent people.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1 4|
Due process is subject to a number of impediments, including violations of defendants’ right to counsel and extensive use of lengthy pretrial detention. Due process guarantees are particularly inadequate in the country’s exceptional courts, including the military courts, whose judges do not require a background in law and are authorized to try civilians and juveniles in security-related cases. In practice, military courts have asserted jurisdiction over cases involving human rights activists and protesters in addition to those focused on alleged spies and militants.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||2 4|
Armed militias, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations continue to undermine security in Lebanon. Hezbollah is especially capable, with the ability to enact its own security and defense policies.
Residents living in southern Lebanon have lived with the risk of land-mine detonation since the 1975–90 civil war; Israel commonly deployed land-mines when it launched incursions into the country in 1978 and 1982, and militias used landmines during the civil war. At the height of the conflict, 400,000 land-mines were buried near the border with Israel. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has worked to remove these mines since 2006, along with the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), a UK-based NGO. MAG removed over 12,000 land-mines in the country by the spring of 2019.
Prisons and detention centers are badly overcrowded and poorly equipped, and the use of torture by law enforcement, military, and state security personnel remains pervasive despite inconsistent efforts to stop the practice. The government’s attempts to address this issue have progressed slowly; in late 2016, the parliament established the National Preventative Mechanism against Torture (NPM), and gave the National Human Rights Institute (NHRI) the responsibility to enact this protocol. In 2017, the parliament passed antitorture legislation, expanding on a criminal statute that narrowly prohibited the use of violence to extract confessions. However, the NPM’s five members, who are charged with overseeing this legislation’s implementation, were only named in March 2019, and funding for the NPM remained unallocated by the end of the year.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1 4|
The country’s legal system is meant to protect members of recognized confessional communities against mistreatment by the state, but groups have engaged in discriminatory behavior toward one another in practice—and people who do not belong to a recognized community have difficulty obtaining official documents, government jobs, and other services.
Women face discrimination in wages, benefits, and societal standards and practices and are barred from certain types of employment.
LGBT+ people face both official and societal discrimination and harassment. In 2018, an appeals court ruled that same-sex intercourse was not illegal, though a criminal code statute barring same-sex relations remains in force. LGBT+ people who violate this law risk a one-year prison sentence, despite the appeals court ruling.
Anywhere from 1 to 1.5 million Syrian refugees reside in Lebanon, according to the Lebanese government and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).Syrian refugees have faced arbitrary arrests and other forms of harassment, and most live in poverty due in part to limitations on refugees’ employment options. The government has also enforced housing regulations to compel Syrian refugees to destroy their camps, threatening the use of the army against those who did not comply.
According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), 475,000 Palestinian refugees currently reside in Lebanon, along with 29,000 Palestinian refugees who escaped the Syrian civil war. About 45 percent of Palestinians already residing in Lebanon live in 12 designated refugee camps and are restricted from 39 professions, contributing to widespread poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. In 2019, Lebanese authorities issued new regulations requiring foreigners to possess work permits, further restricting access to the labor market.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||1 4|
Citizens enjoy constitutional and legal rights to freedom of movement. With few formal restrictions, they are able to travel within Lebanon. Even so, citizens find it extremely difficult to transfer official places of residence for voting purposes. They also face de facto sectarian boundaries and militia checkpoints in some areas.
Noncitizens face severe restrictions on movement in comparison. Many Palestinians classified as refugees live in designated camps, with access to those areas controlled and often restricted by Lebanese security services. Many Syrian refugees live in camps or smaller settlements, and are subject to curfews and other informal restrictions on movement, which were made more stringent in 2019. Syrian refugees found themselves at risk of deportation after Lebanon’s Supreme Defense Council summarily committed to returning them to Syria. Between May and August 2019, Lebanon sent 2,731 refugees back to Syria. Human Rights Watch (HRW), which objected to their deportation for fear that they would be subject to torture, reported that three of these deportees were detained by Syrian authorities upon their return.
Criminal cartels have been known to use kidnappings to seek ransom, settle scores in property disputes, or because of illicit activities gone awry. In 2019, several kidnappings were reported in Lebanon. In one case, criminals abducted a Lebanese man traveling in the Bekaa Valley in August and held him for several weeks.
Migrant workers deal with severe restrictions on movement under the kafala system of sponsorship that ties their legal residency to their employers. Workers who are employed under the kafala system immediately lose their residency rights if they are dismissed. Employers often take advantage of this situation by confiscating their passports.
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 due to increased government efforts to displace Syrian refugees, including arrests, summary deportations, housing demolitions, and vehicle confiscations.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2 4|
Lebanese law protects citizens’ rights to own property and operate private businesses, but powerful groups and individuals sometimes engage in land-grabbing and other infringements without consequence, and business activity is impaired by bureaucratic obstacles and corruption.
Refugees, including longtime Palestinian residents, have few property rights. Women have weaker property rights than men under the religious codes that govern inheritance and other personal status issues in Lebanon, and they often face family pressure to transfer property to male relatives.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||2 4|
Because the religious codes and courts of each confessional community determine personal status law in Lebanon, an individual’s rights regarding marriage, divorce, and child custody depend on his or her affiliation, though women are typically at a disadvantage to men. Partners seeking to enter an interfaith marriage often travel abroad, as Lebanon recognizes civil marriages performed elsewhere. Women cannot pass Lebanese citizenship to foreign husbands or children.
In 2017, the parliament repealed Article 522 of the penal code, which allowed rapists to evade criminal prosecution if they subsequently married their victims for a period of at least three years. However, the change did not affect a similar article related to sex with a minor, and spousal rape is still not a criminal offense.
LGBT+ marriage remains illegal within Lebanon. However, transgender people have some legal precedent allowing them to live publicly based on their gender identity; in 2016, the Court of Appeals allowed a transgender man to legally change his gender in the civil registry, and supported the plaintiff’s desire to seek gender confirmation surgery in its ruling.
LGBT+ people also face government interference when seeking personal relationships through online dating platforms. Private telecom providers Alfa and Touch blocked one such platform, Grindr, in January 2019, and public telecom operator OGERO did the same in May after receiving a court order.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1 4|
Communal affiliation can either enhance or restrict an individual’s economic opportunities in a given area, company, or public-sector entity, depending on which group is in a dominant position. Individuals must also contend with political patronage and clientelism, layered on top of communally enabled corruption, in the public and private sectors.
Refugees and migrant workers are especially vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and sex trafficking. The authorities do not effectively enforce laws against child labor, which is common among Syrian refugees, rural Lebanese, and segments of the urban poor.
Domestic workers and migrant workers who work under the kafala system suffer from endemic economic exploitation, with employers often withholding wages. Employers are favored in legal cases involving migrant workers, discouraging them from reporting this abuse.
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Global Freedom Score44 100 partly free
Internet Freedom Score52 100 partly free