BTI Lebanon

Bertelsmann Stiftung’s Transformation Index (BTI)

BTI 2016 | Lebanon Country Report

The BTI results from an international analytical collaboration of almost 300 experts in top academic institutions around the world and local reporters in most countries. They all share the goal to detect strengths and weaknesses by comparison and to find good examples for successful political steering. A project of this magnitude could never succeed without their expertise, enthusiasm, creativity and attention to detail.

Status Index: 5.7
BTI Lebanon

BTI 2016 Lebanon Country Report

Executive Summary

Regional conflicts, particularly the civil war in Syria, have had a significant impact on Lebanon during the period under review. Lebanese political parties’ historical alliances with foreign powers (the “March 8” coalition with the Syrian regime and Iran, the “March 14” coalition with the Syrian opposition, Saudi Arabia and Western powers) have locked them into an increasingly intense regional game of domination that, having been set in motion, is difficult to control. These have also increased the polarization between the two principal political alliances that were created after the 2009 general elections and that currently share the responsibility of governing the country. This polarization has mostly been the result of: 1) the neutral role played by the Lebanese state as a neighbor in the Syrian conflict; 2) how the state addressed the Syrian refugee crises; 3) the risks being incurred by Lebanon as a result of large numbers of Hezbollah fighters supporting the regime inside Syria; and 4) the existing tensions between Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the United States, Turkey and Israel, on the one hand, and Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime, on the other (e.g., regarding Iran’s nuclear program).

Domestically, Lebanon witnessed two general election postponements since 2013 due to a struggle over a new electoral law, leading de facto to a full term extension. It now appears that the next elections will not occur until 2017. It has also prevented the election of a new president (Michel Suleiman’s term ended in May 2014), since some actors linked the two issues. At least Tammam Salam, who was entrusted by the parliament with forming a government, has served as prime minister since February 15, 2014 and enjoys the support of the “March 14” and “March 8” coalitions. However, Lebanon today is marked by a confession-based political system that gives political leaders and their parties’ tremendous power at the expense of institutions and the citizenry.

Weak governmental institutions, a polarized regional and local landscape between Sunni and Shi’a, the lack of political agreement on policies to address important economic and social issues, the inability to effectively tackle rampant corruption, in addition to the prohibitive cost of hosting the largest refugee population since the second World War, has further intensified internal tensions and disagreements leading to a standstill in reforms and appointments of top government positions. In the fields of economic and financial policymaking, as well as addressing the deficient infrastructure, progress has remained relatively slow during the last years. Additionally, the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis have put crucial infrastructures, and the education and health systems under extreme pressure.

Efforts by civil society and private organizations to palliate the weakness of government institutions are commendable, but insufficient given the increasing needs of impoverished Lebanese as well as Syrian refugees and decreasing international support. The relative internal stability offers an opportunity for growth and development that Lebanon has yet to fully take advantage of. While internal political agreement has yielded positive outcomes in allowing the army to stop, at least for now, fighting in the city of Tripoli and on the north-eastern border of the country, political reforms in a number of key areas are urgently needed for Lebanon to regain its role as a democratic model in the region. Unfortunately, progress has been excruciatingly slow and internal and external challenges have been too numerous, predicting a bumpy road ahead with further slippages. Certainly the bright hopes of many for a new era, which were connected with the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon in 2005, have been tempered by the multiple regional crisis and their implications for Lebanon’s already dysfunctional political life. Despite all these problems, however, there are also signs of hope, such as the high quality of education and the broad consensus not to slide (back) into civil war.