Conflict Analysis: Lebanon National-Level



Ever since Lebanon emerged as an independent state, its history has been marked by sectarian strife, political divides, and unstable relations with neighbouring countries — all of which have driven the country into conflict at different points in time. While many of these issues remain unresolved (and continue to be critical drivers of conflict), recent events in Lebanon have reshaped these long-term social fissures and created new ones. Lebanon is now facing the worst economic crisis in its modern history — a crisis that the World Bank has ranked as within the world’s top 3 most severe economic crises since the mid-19th century. The deteriorating economic situation has prompted a spike in unemployment and food insecurity; according to UN ESCWA, 82 percent of households in Lebanon live in multidimensional poverty whereas 40 percent are classified as suffering from extreme multidimensional poverty. The COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional strain on the country’s economy and health system. Meanwhile, the 4 August 2020 explosion at Beirut Port damaged and destroyed hundreds of homes and fuelled popular anger. The country has repeatedly suffered from extended governance vacuums and, despite the recent government formation, remains dominated by a clientelist system that is increasingly unable to provide even the basic functions of governance, let alone implement much needed reforms.

These contextual developments have created new types of intra-Lebanese social tensions. Armed clashes over fuel, food, water, and other basic resources have become the new normal, and will likely only increase in the coming months and years. The failure of the state to provide even the most basic services, such as electricity and health, and items, both food and NFIs (non-food items), is fuelling popular anger, driving protests and violent riots across the country and causing dozens of injuries. Crime rates have spiked, with the incidence of some crimes (such as murder) increasing by almost 90 percent in the past year. Xenophobia against refugees, Syrians in particular, has grown more intense as the Lebanese population become increasingly protective of the limited resources in the country. Meanwhile, the hollowing out of the state’s security apparatuses has triggered a rise in the phenomena of community policing; in areas like Tripoli and Akkar, children as young as 15 are seen carrying weapons on the basis that they are protecting the community. Finally, given that the roots of historic conflicts have been left unaddressed, civil war grievances are resurfacing and tolerance towards “the other” is decreasing. Protests and other acts of popular anger are increasingly taking on sectarian overtones as people retreat to their confessional identity. It is becoming increasingly clear that Lebanon is entering a new era, one likely dominated by increased conflict conditions across the country. These emergent dynamics necessitate an understanding of how the coming conflict in Lebanon may take shape, which areas will be most affected, and how the most vulnerable groups, including children and women, will be impacted.

This scenario will analyse the conflict in Lebanon at the national level, by examining conflict causes (structural and proximate), involved actors, and current conflict dynamics. Three scenarios, ranked from most to least likely, will then be given to analyse how conflict is likely to unravel in the near to medium term, with a focus on the capital, Beirut. Of note, this scenario plan is predicated on a one-to-two-year time frame.