Lebanon’s political background
Lebanon has had a multiparty system since the 1920s and is still one of the few democracies in the Middle East. However, what makes the parliamentary democracy unusual is that it is organized along sectarian lines. Political institutions often play a secondary role to highly confessionalized personality-based politics. Powerful families also play an independent role in mobilizing votes for both local and parliamentary elections. As a result of the institutionalized sectarian political system, the vast majority of political parties are confessionally based.
Many of the active political parties were represented in the devastating 1975-1990 civil war and had their own militias. This war divided the country even further and invited Syria to effectively take control of the country until 2005, when popular protests called for the withdrawal of Syria’s forces from the country.
The civil war in Syria further divided the country. Hezbollah’s support of the Assad regime, especially, has contributed to the political paralysis that has resulted in the postponing of the parliamentary elections, originally to be held in 2013 but currently scheduled for 2017. Lebanon has also received over one million Syrian refugees, which has added to existing strains on many overburdened government services. Needless to say, the Syrian conflict and refugee influx has had an extremely destabilizing effect on Lebanon.
NIMD in Lebanon
In 2016, NIMD explored the possibilities of starting up a country programme in Lebanon. This involved a thorough analysis of the political system and a scoping mission to learn more about recent developments and about the needs and concerns of local political and civic actors.
Based on these explorations, NIMD concluded that there is a need for democratic renewal and change in Lebanon. There seems to be an increased willingness among citizens to engage actively to pursue their demands. NIMD would like to support this development by training youth from both the established political parties and the new political movements. The aim is twofold. Firstly, to invest in future leaders and help to create networks and relationships between them. Secondly, to equip them with the skills and knowledge required to engage with the current political system.
The next steps are to confirm our proposed approach, to further elaborate on the programme, and to identify a way forward.