Situation and cooperation

View of Beirut


The crisis in Syria is having a serious impact on Lebanon in political, economic and social terms. Simmering conflicts in Lebanon are being stirred up by the civil war in the neighbouring country. Consequently, there is a growing danger that the war will spill over into Lebanon.

The country is currently still in a phase of reconstruction. Between 1975 and 1990, civil war raged in Lebanon – a war in which Syria and Israel also had a hand. In fact, Syria did not withdraw its occupying troops until 2005. Then in 2006, there were militant clashes between Lebanon's Hezbollah militia and the Israelis.

Following the withdrawal of Syrian troops, Lebanon saw the formation of two political blocs – both more or less equal in power. The first is the "8th of March" coalition, led by the Shiite Hezbollah and supported by Syria's leader, Bashar al-Assad. The second bloc is the "14th of March" alliance, which includes the Sunni-influenced Future Movement and has close ties to the West and to Saudi Arabia. The latter group sympathises with the Syrian rebel forces fighting President Assad.

In the summer of 2012, representatives of both blocs agreed not to interfere in the conflict in Syria. However, in spring 2013, Hezbollah broke this pact by intervening militarily in the war on the side of the Assad regime. Since then, the divisions between Lebanon's political factions – and therefore between Sunni and Shiite Moslems – have widened.

As a result, the country is currently in a state of political paralysis. Although a government of national unity was formed in February 2014, the two coalitions are each in a position to block the other's every political move.

Political background

Street scene in the Beirut refugee camp of Bourj Barajneh

Although Lebanon is formally a parliamentary democracy, the distribution of power is in fact determined by religious affiliation. There are eighteen officially recognised religious denominations in Lebanon, and posts in politics and public administration are awarded in proportion to these religious affiliations as established in a census dating back to 1932. Thus, the President of the Republic must be a Maronite Christian, the President of the Chamber of Deputies (or Speaker of Parliament) a Shiite Muslim and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim. Parliamentary seats are also distributed according to religious affilitiation. Decisions are taken not by simple majority but by consensus. Large sections of the very colourful media landscape and the many non-governmental organisations also support one or the other religious group and their interests.

While the system is geared towards balancing these various interests, it has unfortunately kept principles of democracy and the rule of law from becoming firmly established in Lebanese society. The religious groups wield so much power that, in everyday life, private citizens are obliged to affiliate themselves with one of these groups. The result is cronyism and nepotism; corruption is pervasive throughout government and society.

Security situation

The conflict in Syria is having a negative impact on the security situation in Lebanon. In the Lebanese city of Tripoli, supporters of the Alawi Islamic sect and Sunni Moslems opposed to Syria's President Assad are engaged in armed clashes with each other. In the Hezbollah strongholds, there have been several suicide attacks by Sunni Moslems – in reaction to the Hezbollah's military intervention in Syria.

The state's monopoly on force is no longer intact. This is due in part to the Hezbollah, who are acting as "a state within a state" and deploying armed fighters outside the national armed forces and without the consent of the government. Large parts of southern Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley are under the sway of this militia force. Furthermore, the state's monopoly on force is being challenged by terrorist organisations, which are trying to infiltrate the country. These organisations include the group calling itself "Islamic State" and the al-Nusra Front, which is part of the al-Qaeda network.

The economy

Container ship in the port of Beirut

Up until the civil war (from 1975 to 1990), Lebanon was one of the Middle East's most important trading and financial centres. Beirut was a banking metropolis, acting as a link between Europe and the Gulf States. However, the country was unable to regain this position after the war. Reconstruction was financed via loans – as a result of which Lebanon's national debt is one of the highest in the world.

Now, the war in Syria is another heavy blow to Lebanon's economy. Tourism, one of the most important sources of revenue for the country, has collapsed, as have exports to the Gulf States, which were largely shipped via Syria. Syria, too, used to be an important export market for Lebanese goods. That market has now disappeared.

One of Lebanon's most important resources is its well-trained workforce, many of whom work abroad and send foreign exchange home. However, their know-how is missing back in Lebanon, where it is needed to push forward the country's development.

The refugee crisis

Syrian refugee family in a camp in the Beqaa Valley

In Lebanon, the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has registered nearly 1.1 million refugees from Syria. This means that 1 in 5 inhabitants is a refugee. Living conditions are poor, with half of the refugees living in extreme poverty and around 200,000 Syrians living in informal settlements consisting of tents. More than 75 per cent of Syrian refugee children have no access to educational facilities, and child labour is widespread.

Most Syrian refugees arrive in North Lebanon, a region where the social situation is already under strain. The prosperity gap in Lebanon is huge. While in the capital Beirut the poverty rate is low, in the north of the country more than half of the population live in poverty. Unemployment rates, too, are considerably higher in the northern regions than the average rate for the country as a whole. Consequently, there is a risk of distributional conflicts arising between the refugees and the local people.

The Lebanese government is seeking to significantly restrict the number of refugees coming into the country. To this end, it has introduced more stringent border controls and now requires entry visas. Lebanon is not a party to the Geneva Refugee Convention of 1951. This means that Syrian refugees can register in Lebanon but gain no legal benefits from doing so. Nor do they receive work permits.

Germany's development cooperation with Lebanon

Because of the crisis in Syria, Germany has temporarily resumed its development ties with Lebanon. Thus, the country has again been added to the list of countries with which we work together in the context of thematic or regional programmes. Our aim is to improve the supply situation for the refugees and local people living in the host communities in order to stabilise the situation there and prevent conflicts from arising.

Since resuming development ties in 2012, the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) has provided support worth 483.85 million euros to Lebanon. Of this amount, 426.85 million euros have been made available as part of Germany's programme of transitional development assistance. The BMZ is using these funds primarily to support programmes of the United Nations, such as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Sizeable financial contributions are also going to the food aid programme of the World Food Programme (WFP).

The priority areas of cooperation with Lebanon are basic education, vocational education and training, water supply and wastewater management, as well as improving the living conditions of the Syrian refugees and the local people living in the host communities.

The No Lost Generation Initiative on education

Makeshift primary school in an informal refugee settlement in Zahlé, Lebanon

About half of all displaced Syrians are children. In Lebanon, Syrian refugee children have little opportunity to go to school. Consequently, the danger that there will be a "lost generation" who have known only violence and destruction is growing.

The Lebanese education ministry has launched a programme entitled "Reaching All Children with Education" (RACE) that is intended to give both Syrian refugee children and needy Lebanese children access to education. The programme is being implemented by UNICEF, among others, as part of its No Lost Generation Initiative.                                        

In the 2014/15 school year, the BMZ provided 34 million euros to support the programme. For the 2015/16 school year, the BMZ is making 65 million euros available. By increasing the support provided for this educational programme, it will be possible to ensure that up to 200,000 children can be enrolled in school, giving them a better future. With a total contribution of 99 million euros, Germany has been the largest bilateral donor to RACE since 2014.

More information on this is available here.

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