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Lebanon

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

Investigation into Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion sparked divisions within govt and deadly sectarian clashes in capital Beirut. Investigative Judge Tareq Bitar 12 Oct issued arrest warrant for former Minister of Finance Ali Hassan Khalil, close aide to head of Shiite party Amal and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri, for failing to appear for questioning over Aug 2020 Beirut port explosion; Hizbollah Sec Gen Hassan Nasrallah previous day accused Bitar of “biased” and “politicised” investigation and demanded judge be replaced; Lebanese courts repeatedly turned down legal challenges by Khalil and other politicians against Bitar. Political row over investigation into port explosion forestalled cabinet meetings and govt work from 13 Oct, as Shiite ministers reportedly threatened walk-out if Bitar not removed. Dispute also triggered lethal fighting in capital Beirut. Hizbollah and Amal 14 Oct mobilised protest in front of Palace of Justice, located in Christian neighbourhood adjacent to Shia-populated areas; gunfire and three-hour-long street battle ensued, killing seven Shiite Muslims, in troubling reminder of sectarian clashes during civil war (1975-1990). Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah 18 Oct accused Christian party Lebanese Forces of staging ambush, while Lebanese Forces blamed violent protesters; Nasrallah called for official investigation and warned: “We won’t leave the blood of our martyrs on the ground”. Meanwhile, power supplies across country marginally improved by mid-month as Central Bank further depleted currency reserves, while roll out of rationing card faced bureaucratic complications. Following collapse of talks in June 2020, govt 19 Oct resumed negotiations with International Monetary Fund on financial assistance. U.S. 14 Oct voiced support for plan to deliver gas and electricity to Lebanon via Syria and also pledged additional $67 mn for Lebanese Armed Forces. Parliament 19 Oct voted to bring elections, initially scheduled for 8 May 2022, forward to 27 March. Diplomatic spat late month erupted with Gulf states after footage emerged of Information Minister George Kordahi criticising Saudi-led war in Yemen; in move that could damage govt credibility and compound domestic crises, Riyadh, Kuwait, Bahrain and United Arab Emirates expelled Lebanese ambassador and recalled their ambassadors from Beirut, while Riyadh banned all Lebanese imports.
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Reports & Briefings

In The News

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 Turkey’s neo-Ottoman project. 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
2 Jan 2018
[The return of Assad’s forces to the border] has the potential of creating a more united front of resistance between Lebanon and Syria against Israel. Jewish Week

Ofer Zalzberg

Former Senior Analyst, Arab-Israeli Conflict

Latest Updates

Lebanon is Falling Apart

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Crisis Group expert Heiko Wimmen about Lebanon’s unprecedented economic meltdown and the threat it poses to the country’s politics, society and stability.

Picking Up the Pieces One Year After the Beirut Port Blast

The enormous explosion that ripped through Lebanon’s capital one year ago left deep socio-economic and political damage as well as physical devastation. The challenge today is not only to rebuild but also to establish accountability for the disaster and ensure better governance in the future.

Riots in Lebanon’s Tripoli are Harbingers of Collapse

Four days of violent unrest in Tripoli on Lebanon’s northern coast could presage more to come, as a new coronavirus outbreak deepens the country’s severe socio-economic crisis. Humanitarian aid is urgently needed to keep the worst-case scenarios at bay.

Also available in العربية

Avoiding Further Polarisation in Lebanon

As it tries to pull out of its economic tailspin, Lebanon badly needs a functional cabinet able to make reforms. Such a government must have broad support, including from Hizbollah. The party’s domestic and external foes should accordingly stop attempting to curtail its role.

Also available in العربية