Lebanon Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

The state is secular, but all important decisions in Lebanon are characterized – also by law – by the fact that the population is divided into many ethnic groups with different religions. The rights that strengthen the group sometimes limit the individual, but Lebanon has a relatively open debate and media climate.

Abbreviated as LBN by Abbreviationfinder, Lebanon’s complicated constitution has been created to guarantee the influence of the various peoples (see Political system). But two shortcomings that are often highlighted are that the system makes it more difficult for individuals to take the initiative and that it counteracts the formation of cross-political parties, across religious boundaries. On the contrary, lock-ups between the groups are strengthened, as when the parliament for two years (2014–2016) could not agree on who would become president. Government education also usually takes a long time.

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The system also leads to government agencies being weak in relation to driving circles within the respective population groups. When the Shiite Hezbollah militia refuses to lay down its weapons, representatives of other peoples groups cannot force a disarmament with the political methods available.

It is permissible to form new parties, trade unions and other organizations, but the central roles are often taken up by local rulers with features of clan patriarchs.

Strikes, manifestations and campaigns on various rights issues can be conducted openly. In recent years, for example, there have been budget cuts and demands for civil marriage to be introduced. In 2019, a protest movement succeeded in pushing the government’s resignation, but demands for amendments to the constitution and the electoral law are far more difficult to hear.

After the 2018 elections, the country got a female Interior Minister and Parliament got its first Shiite Muslim and female member (see Calendar). In the new government that took office in 2020, the post of defense minister went to a woman. Women have the same rights on paper as men, but in practice there are “glass roofs”, social and cultural norms that hold them back.

Homosexuality is prohibited by law, but interventions against LGBTQ people are few, at least in liberal urban environments.

Two large refugee groups are living under difficult circumstances, without citizenship: The Palestinian refugees from areas that are now part of Israel are located in twelve camps, where the UN provides school and medical care. Their conditions, such as the right to work in Lebanon, have improved in recent years, but camp life has assumed permanent forms. The Syrians who came during the civil war of 2011 have mostly been over a million to the number. They have not gathered in camps, but tensions with the local population arise for a number of reasons, partly because wages fall when there are job-seeking refugees who cannot afford to refuse a low salary.

Guest workers, especially women from Africa and Asia who work in households, are often exposed to difficult conditions and, like rural workers, are outside the labor market laws. Several countries have banned their citizens from seeking employment in Lebanon (see Labor Market).

Corruption is a widespread problem, both within politics and society at large. Bribery is often paid within the bureaucracy and business, and businessmen cultivate their contacts with politicians to win favorable business contracts. The organization Transparency International, which is investigating the corruption in the world, gave Lebanon in 137 of 180 countries 2019, thus quite far down in the worse half, see list here.

Freedom of expression and media

In the list that Reporters Without Borders draws on the freedom of the press in the countries of the world each year, Lebanon usually ends up in the middle – well ahead of other Arab countries in the region. Lebanon was ranked 102 out of 180 countries in the 2020 overview, see list here.

Freedom of the press has limitations. It is forbidden to insult foreign leaders or the country’s president, and it happens that people are imprisoned and sentenced for such statements. In 2014, a young man was sentenced to two months in prison for having in a message on Twitter called the country’s president “politically neutered”. Contacts between journalists and representatives of Israel are also not allowed and journalists may be exposed to threats, arrests and imprisonment.

The media sector is affected by the country’s political divide (see Political system). Virtually all media are linked to some political leader or special people group, which leads to angular reporting and self-censorship of journalists. As in politics, the view of Syria and the Syrian regime is a divide of water, and the media can be divided into a Syria-critical and a Syria-friendly camp.

Lebanon’s first news magazine was printed in 1858. The country soon became a leader in journalism and publishing in the Arab world and maintained this position until the outbreak of the civil war in 1975. During the war, a few newspapers remained independent.

Now, as in other countries, it is especially the difficulty of obtaining profitability in the printed press that causes newspapers to have problems. The respected al-Hayat, which began to be released in Lebanon but later became Saudi owned, remains only in international internet edition. Most of Lebanon’s remaining news magazines, such as al-Nahar, are published in Arabic. There are a couple of newspapers in Armenian and some French-speaking, including L’Orient-Le Jour. Several media outlets have given up their editions on paper, among them al-Mustaqbal and English-speaking Daily Star.

Lebanon was the first country in the Arab world to allow private radio and television stations. Among the country’s TV viewers, the commercial channels attract the largest audience. The Shiite Muslim Hezbollah movement operates its own TV channel, al-Manar. The channel has been banned in several western countries due to anti-Semitic content.

The Internet has developed faster in Lebanon than in many other Arab countries. Exchanges on social media are monitored.

Judicial system and legal security

The judiciary is formally independent, but is criticized for not being free from the pressure of influential politicians, security services and police.

For civil and criminal cases, there are courts that operate according to the French model. The Judicial Council is the highest authority for cases against the state and administration. The Ta’if agreement, which marked 15 years of civil war, created a Constitutional Court, the Constitutional Council. Family law is handled by courts within the various religious groups.

Military courts can convict civilians for espionage and other suspected violations of state security. According to human rights organizations, the courts do not meet international requirements for fair processes. The country’s security agencies have been criticized for arbitrary arrests, and for the regular use of torture despite being banned by law since 2017.

The death penalty occurs, but no executions have been carried out since 2004.

Lebanon has never done away with the human rights abuses and violations that took place during the 1975-1990 civil war. There are no sure figures on how many people were killed during the war, but estimates are around 150,000. During the war, there were also torture, rape and expulsion. Many were arrested on arbitrary grounds, and nearly 17,000 people “disappeared”. Despite the struggle of relatives, nothing is known about their fate. The Ta’if agreement gave the chief war leaders amnesty. Many of them today are influential politicians, which means that they have had little interest in investigating what happened during the war (see Calendar).

Lebanon Crime Rate & Statistics

2009

December

Syria Visit

Hariri visits Syrian President Assad. The conversations are described as open and positive.

Hezbollah is given the right to arms

The government gives Hezbollah the right to keep their weapons.

November

a government

Hariri manages to form a unifying government, five months after his alliance won the majority in the parliamentary elections.

September

New electoral law should provide more fair representation

Parliament approves a new electoral law created by Hezbollah’s initiative. The country is divided into smaller electoral districts, which is expected to give the Shia Muslims a more equitable representation in parliament. The new law also means that elections will be held throughout the country during the same day. Previously, it has been divided into four days.

June

Religion governs voters in parliamentary elections

The March 14 alliance under Saad Hariri’s leadership wins 71 of the 128 seats in parliament. The opposition, the March 8 movement with Hezbollah in the lead, gets 57 seats. In the election, it becomes clear that voter sympathies are still governed by religious affiliation: 95 percent of Shi’a Muslims vote for Amal and Hezbollahmedan two-thirds of Sunni Muslims cast their vote on Hariri’s party Future Movement. Two-thirds of the Druze vote for Walid Jumblatt’s Party Progressive Socialist Party, and two-thirds of Christian Maronites prefer Michel Aoun’s Party to the Free Patriotic Movement.

March

International tribunal opens

The international tribunal to deal with the murder of Hariri opens in The Hague.