Polity: Presidential-parliamentary (military- and foreign-influenced, partly foreign-occupied)
Life Expectancy: 71
Religious Groups: N/A
Ethnic Groups: Arab (95 percent), Armenin (4 percent), other (1 percent)
Political Rights Score: 6
Civil Liberties Score: 5
Status: Not Free
Syria's continuing presence in Lebanon dominated Lebanese political life throughout 2001. Reconciliation between Christian Maronites and Muslim Druze, based on a shared antipathy for Syria, and a sharp crackdown on anti-Syria demonstrators underscored the deep divisions within the Lebanese political hierarchy. Syria withdrew its troops from Beirut, but maintained its armed presence in the rest of the country. The radical Islamist group Hezbollah continued to effectively run the country's south, as the government again resisted international pressure to exert central control over the region. Hezbollah uses the territory to launch attacks against Israel. In the wake of the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, Lebanon refused American entreaties to categorize Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Lebanon continued to face serious economic difficulties in 2001.
Lebanon gained full sovereignty from France in 1946. An unwritten National Pact in 1943 gave Christians political dominance over the Muslim population through a mandatory six-to-five ratio of parliamentary seats. After three decades during which non-Christians tried to end this system, a civil war erupted between Muslim, Christian, and Druze militias in 1975, claiming over 150,000 lives before it ended in 1990. Complicating the situation was the presence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which, after having been expelled from Jordan in 1971, used Lebanon as a base for attacks against Israel and constituted an occupying force. Syria sent troops into Lebanon to support the government in 1976.
The Lebanese assembly ratified a peace plan put forward by the Arab League on November 5, 1989, in Taif, Saudi Arabia. The Taif Accord maintained the tradition of a Maronite Christian president indirectly elected to a six-year term, but it transferred most executive power to the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim, by agreement. Parliament is evenly split between Muslims and Christians. Syria continues to occupy the country with approximately 30,000 troops.
In the wake of rising domestic criticism of Syria's occupation, Syria redeployed its troops throughout the country in June, withdrawing completely from Beirut. Viewing the move as largely symbolic, Lebanese stepped up their vocal opposition to Syria's overbearing presence in their country.
In August, Lebanon's Maronite Christian patriarch, Nasrallah Sfeir, convened a historic meeting of reconciliation with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. Despite historic enmity between Lebanon's Christian and Muslim Druze communities, both groups share a deep resentment of the Syrian presence. Within days of the meeting, protests against the Syrian presence ensued, led mostly by banned Christian groups. Lebanese and Syrian security forces swiftly clamped down. The crackdown brought back to the surface the deep-seated sectarian tensions that have plagued Lebanese political life for decades.
Tensions in the country's south continued to simmer in 2001. After Israel withdrew its forces from a 440-square-mile security zone in June 2000, the Shiite, pro-Iranian, and Syrian-backed Hezbollah militia filled the power vacuum. Despite international and United Nations pressure to mobilize its army along the Israeli border, Lebanon has only apportioned some police and army personnel to towns and villages within the former security zone, but not at the actual border. Publicly, Lebanon says it will not act as Israel's "border guard."
Throughout the year Hezbollah repeatedly attacked Israeli troops along the border, especially those patrolling the area of Shebba Farms. Lebanon considers Shebba Farms its own territory; Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon was certified as complete by the UN and in full compliance with UN resolution 425, which stipulated the terms of the withdrawal. Hezbollah continues to hold three Israeli soldiers it kidnapped from Shebba Farms in October 2000. The soldiers are feared dead. While Hezbollah cites Israel's presence in the area as its reason for attacking, its leadership repeatedly makes clear its intention to use Lebanon as a staging ground from which to fight farther into Israel proper. Throughout 2001 Israel responded to several Hezbollah attacks with air strikes against Syrian military installations in Lebanon.
In August, the UN voted to reduce its peacekeeping force along the border between Lebanon and Israel. The move reduces the 4,500 troops in the area by 20 percent, with the ultimate aim of downgrading their role from peacekeepers to observers. Lebanon criticized the plan and blamed Israel for pressuring the UN.
Lebanon's economy worsened in 2001, creating further difficulties for Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's already enormous task of reforming a severely depressed economy in need of foreign investment. In the middle of the year, Lebanon's public debt stood at 150 percent of gross domestic product, or $25 billion. According to the Economist magazine, Lebanon is the world's most indebted country. The Israeli withdrawal from the south has revealed a region severely underdeveloped and littered with land mines. Lebanese and other nongovernmental organizations estimate the cost of rebuilding the south at $1.3 billion, citing infrastructural, agricultural, educational, and health projects, along with de-mining, as major priorities.
Lebanon suffers from a brain drain as hundreds of thousands of educated Lebanese have left in recent years. In light of the prime minister's proclivity for ambitious public spending, which drew past accusations of driving up the nation's debt in his previous term as premier, many critics express doubt over his ability to improve the economy.
Political Rights and Civil Liberties
The Lebanese government is not sovereign in its own country. Syrians, who consider Lebanon part of Greater Syria, continue to occupy the country with approximately 30,000 troops. The 128-member parliament, elected in September 2000, follows the Syrian line on internal and regional affairs.
Shortcomings in the electoral system limit the right of Lebanese citizens to change their government. Despite huge electoral gains by opposition candidates – who claimed 92 out of the 128 parliamentary seats – the elections in 2000 generated pronounced criticism over alleged irregularities and Syria's overbearing influence in Lebanon's electoral process. The parliamentary elections were neither prepared for nor carried out impartially. According to the constitution, a president is to be elected by parliament every six years. In actuality, Syria's choice of president is simply ratified by parliament. Just prior to the election of Emile Lahoud as president in October 1998, parliament amended a constitutional requirement that senior government officials resign their posts at least two years before running for office.
The judiciary is influenced by Syrian political pressure, which affects the appointments of key prosecutors and investigating magistrates. The judicial system comprises civilian courts, a military court, and a judicial council. International standards of criminal procedure are not observed in the military court, which consists largely of military officers with no legal training. The average case is tried in minutes. Extragovernmental groups, such as Palestinian factions and Hezbollah, detain suspects and administer justice in areas under their control, generally without due process safeguards.
While the government generally tolerates public demonstrations, those protesting against Syria are dealt with swiftly. In August, 150 members of two anti-Syrian Christian groups were arrested while staging public demonstrations against the Syrian occupation. Violent clashes ensued over the next several days, with undercover police and Syrian agents reportedly beating and arresting protestors. Many were charged with "defaming" the president, harming the reputation of the "sisterly Syrian army," and collaborating with Israel. Military tribunals were convened. Several members of parliament criticized the arrests, saying they were unconstitutional and the charges vague. The army alleged that Lebanon's Christians were posing a threat to state security. The arrests produced a major political crisis between President Emile Lahoud, an ally of Syria, and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who claimed he was taken by surprise by the crackdown and heard about it only after the fact while visiting Pakistan. As international condemnation of the arrests mounted, the authorities relented, releasing most of those arrested by the end of August.
The following month, a report issued by the Lebanese Foundation for Permanent Civil Peace suggested Lebanon is suffering from greater factionalism than one year ago and is closer to civil war. The report noted that a more repressive climate exists in Lebanon today, especially with respect to public gatherings and demonstrations. It cautioned the government against "exploiting the national unity excuse" when cracking down on protestors.
Arbitrary arrest and detention are commonplace. Security forces use torture to extract confessions. Prison conditions do not meet international standards. After the Israeli withdrawal from the country's south, roughly 2,000 militiamen of the now-defunct South Lebanon Army (SLA) remained in Lebanon rather than seek refuge in Israel. In hastily arranged collaboration trials, many were sentenced in batches and without adequate representation. Some former SLA members and those related to them were the targets of violence during the year. Some had their homes or stores fired upon and bombed.
While Lebanon enjoys greater press freedoms than its patron Syria, the government has not abated its crackdown on independent broadcasting, which flourished during the civil war. Some candidates in the parliamentary elections were denied television coverage. In 1998, a government decree banned two of the country's four satellite television stations from broadcasting news or political programming. Since the crackdown began in 1996, the government has licensed only 5 television stations, 3 of which are owned by government figures; it has also licensed 6 radio stations that may carry news and 20 stations that may carry only entertainment. Fifty-two television stations and 124 radio stations have been closed. The appropriation of frequencies is a slow and highly politicized process.
Print media are independent of the government, though their content often reflects the opinions of the various local and foreign groups that finance them. Insulting the dignity of the head of state or foreign leaders is prohibited. All foreign print media are subject to government approval.
There were several instances of official harassment of individual journalists in 2001. In June, Lebanese-American journalist Raghida Dergham was charged with "dealing with the enemy" after attending a seminar in Washington, D.C., that featured an Israeli panelist. An arrest warrant was issued for Dergham, and a military trial was convened. Dergham, who resides in the United States, was considered a fugitive. Lebanese law prohibits contact between Lebanese citizens and Israelis.
In August, authorities arrested two journalists, Habib Younis and Antoine Bassil. While arrested during a sweep of anti-Syrian activists, the two were charged with "contacting the Israeli enemy," "illegal entry into Israeli territory," "disclosing information to the enemy," and "creating an association with a view towards undermining state authority." According to Reporters Sans Frontieres, the arrests were carried out without warrants and lawyers were not present during interrogation of the journalists. In December their case was referred to the Beirut Military Court.
Also in August, undercover security agents beat several journalists covering the anti-Syria protests. In separate cases, several journalists were sued and some were jailed on charges of "defaming the army" after writing critically about Lebanon's compulsory military service.
Rates of Internet access in Lebanon are substantial. In 2000 there were an estimated 230,000 users, and 19 Internet service providers in the country. Many cybercafes can be found in Beirut. Internet access does not appear to be closely monitored or controlled by the state.
Citizens may travel abroad freely, though internal travel is restricted in certain areas. Syrian troops maintain checkpoints in areas under their control. The government does not extend legal rights to some 180,000 stateless persons who live mainly in disputed border areas. In January 1999 the government announced a plan to lift travel restrictions imposed on Lebanon's Palestinian population. Palestinian travel documents are to be treated the same as passports. After 1995, Lebanon had required Palestinians once living in Lebanon to obtain visas to return.
Some 350,000 to 500,000 Palestinian refugees live without adequate electricity and water; they face restrictions on work, on building homes, and on purchasing property. Palestinians are denied citizenship rights. Lebanon insists that Israel repatriate all Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. Lebanese authorities are loath to absorb the refugees into regular society for fear of upsetting the country's delicate sectarian balance. Palestinian refugee camps are noted breeding grounds of radical anti-Israel sentiment, and large numbers of their residents are heavily armed. Lebanese authorities warily avoid the often-violent camps.
Women suffer legal and social discrimination. Although women commonly work in fields such as medicine, law, journalism, and banking, they are severely underrepresented in politics. Women constitute only two percent of parliament. Lebanon has ratified the UN Convention for the Eradication of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) but has not applied all its recommended laws. Women continue to receive smaller social security payouts than men, and female government employees often do not receive the same benefits as their male counterparts. Men convicted of so-called honor crimes – usually the murder of women deemed to have violated their families' honor – are often not punished severely. On average, one woman per month is murdered in a honor killing.
All workers except those in government may establish unions, strike, and bargain collectively. Foreign domestic workers are routinely abused by employers who pay them little or nothing and confiscate their passports to prevent them from leaving. Women are most vulnerable to brutality or sexual abuse. Lebanon has no written code to arbitrate domestic worker disputes.
Disclaimer: © Freedom House, Inc. · All Rights Reserved
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.