For much of the last several decades, Lebanon has been wracked by instability and tangled up in the affairs of larger or more powerful neighbours. Its confessional political system, based on power sharing among its eighteen officially recognised ethno-religious groups, is arguably both the cause and the effect of recurrent strife, notably the 1975-1990 civil war. Today the elites who run the system are also implicated in ever-deepening state dysfunction and economic recession. Meanwhile, Lebanon is at risk of spillover from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Syrian war and regional turmoil, due partly to the rise of Hizbollah, the Shiite Islamist movement opposed to Israel and allied with Iran and the Syrian regime, as a political force. The country hosts hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees as well as nearly 1.5 million Syrians. Pending changes that would allow resolution of the outside conflicts, Crisis Group works to keep Lebanon insulated from their flare-ups, to seek durable solutions for refugees and to encourage structural reform that might alleviate the country's internal problems.

CrisisWatch Lebanon

Deteriorated Situation

Country entered presidential vacuum, which may persist indefinitely so long as political blocs fail to find compromise, while absence of new govt further impaired efforts to address economic crisis.

Country entered presidential vacuum, which could extend for months or years. Parliamentary blocs made no tangible progress on appointing replacement for outgoing President Michel Aoun, whose six-year term ended on 31 Oct. House Speaker Nabih Berri convened parliamentary voting sessions on 10, 17 and 24 Nov, but none made progress; Michel Moawad favoured by anti-Hizbollah camp in his best showing 10 Nov received 44 votes in first round, short of 86 required for outright first-round win, as pro-Hizbollah alliance continued to return blank votes and refrained from offering alternative candidate amid lack of agreement within bloc.

Presidential vacuum boded ill for forming empowered govt. Prospects of forming new govt without president’s election remained exceedingly dim, as politicians generally accept that caretaker govt exercising presidential prerogatives cannot approve new cabinet. Further weakening current caretaker administration, PM Mikati had late Oct announced that he will convene cabinet only “for urgent matters” during vacuum. Constant debates over presidential choices and constitutionality of govt activity could absorb most of political leadership’ already minimal policymaking capacity, allowing economic crisis to deepen.

State budget entered into force amid concern over worsening economic crisis. Country’s 2022 state budget 15 Nov came into effect, one of several International Monetary Fund (IMF) requirements to unlock potential financial aid package. Notably, budget ended long-defunct official exchange rate of 1,507.5 Lebanese pounds to $1 and adopted significantly higher exchange rates for customs (15,000 pounds for $1); ten-fold increase in customs fees could fuel another bout of inflation, thereby reducing purchasing power and increasing poverty amid soaring energy prices at onset of winter; measure also raised concern that projected state revenue will be less than anticipated. World Food Programme 22 Nov announced it had earmarked $5.4bn in food assistance for next three years, noting food prices are 16 times higher than Oct 2019, when Lebanon’s economic crisis became widely apparent.

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In The News

26 Jan 2022
It is in Hezbollah’s interest to have at least the outward appearance of a functioning political system [in Lebanon] where everyone is involved, including the Sunnis. Reuters

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
12 Aug 2021
For a large part of the population [in Lebanon], electricity will become a luxury. Driving your car will become a luxury, too. Transportation will become a luxury. CNN

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
22 Aug 2020
Turkey is also one of the candidates to rebuild Beirut harbour. There is also a section within Lebanese society – amongst Sunni Muslims – who have some sympathy for Turke... Cyprus Mail

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
13 Aug 2020
The Lebanese state has been hollowed out by decades of corruption and patronage, and this has undermined due process and any sense of accountability. Voice of America

Heiko Wimmen

Project Director, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon
21 Feb 2018
[The Trump administration] is content allowing Israel to take the lead in pushing back against Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria. The Washington Times

Robert Malley

Former President & CEO
9 Feb 2018
The real risk [for Israel and Lebanon] is that of a miscommunication or accident being a trigger of a conflict across their border. The Daily Star

Joost Hiltermann

Program Director, Middle East and North Africa

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