The shaken but still standing cedar tree

By Nicolas Wattelle, MEDEA Institute

Whilst all its neighbours seem torn apart by identity and religious struggles, it seems Lebanon is resisting this trend by pretending to be stable. However, various factors suggest that the country could also fall into the trap of chaos just like its neighbouring countries.

First and foremost, internally, the country has been in a presidential deadlock since the 23th of April. The Lebanese constitution of 23 May 1926 requires the election of a Maronite Christian president. However, the two main parties (the Lebanese Forces, Christian party led by Samir Geagea and the Free Patriotic Movement of General Michel Aoun) fail to elect a successor to Michel Sleiman, whose term expires on May 25. This blockage to elect a Lebanese president (elected for six years by parliament with a two-third majority) could be due to an absence of quorum. On the 23th of July, the Lebanese deputies were summoned for the ninth time, but just as before, the quorum of two-third (86 out of 128 members) was not reached for only 65 deputies showed up. A new meeting was scheduled for the 12th of August.


© AFP. Samir Geagea, head of the Christian party Lebanese Forces.

Moreover, external wise, the political and religious wars are threatening the country. In the North, Syria’s civil war, which is lasting for over three years. In the East, Iraq seems to fall back into chaos since the Islamic State (a jihadist armed organisation) restored the caliphate under the leadership of Abou Bakr al-Baghdadi and is terrifying the Shia population. Last but not least, in the south, Israel and Gaza are since the 8th of July 2014 once again enrolled in a war. These events could contaminate the situation in Lebanon and its sectarian divisions could be emphasised by the wars, especially when we take a closer look to the religious composition of the Lebanese society: 54% Muslims (27% Sunni and 27% Shia), 40,5% Christians and 5,6% Druze. Last month, a wave of suicide attacks terrorised the country, killing and injuring hundreds of people.


© AP/Bilal Hussein. On the 25th of July, two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a hotel in the western district of Beirut.

The conflicts do of course have an impact on the country of cedar. It host an ever increasing number of refugees. A UN-report published on the 3th of July 2014 In Beirut, estimated the number of Syrian refugees in Lebanon at 1.5 million at the end of 2014 to 4,000,000 inhabitants. They will soon represent more than one third of the Lebanese population. To these northern refugees, the ones from the south (Palestinians fleeing the war with Israel which now officially lasts for over 66 years) should be added. This situation is hardly sustainable both for Lebanon as for the refugees living in poor sanitary conditions.


© RIA Novosti. Valeri Melnikov. A Syrian refugee with its child in Lebanon.

Despite all these crises, Lebanon is still standing and maintains a kind of stability. It has even become a haven of peace in comparison to the atrocities by which it is surrounded. However, this situation could escalate if the International Community, in particular Europe, does not act quickly. First and foremost it should increase the financial support for refugees in the country. Lebanon has the considerable merit of leaving its frontiers open to Syrian refugees and should be encouraged to keep them open, including for the Palestines in Syria. Moreover, the international diplomacy should seek to stabilize the political situation in Lebanon. It should in particular facilitate an agreement on the presidential elections. This should help to start the national dialogue and regulate the political landscape. Finally, European leaders in particular should stop to declare their political solidarity and their “moral support” to the country without taking concrete action. The contagion of a new war in Lebanon could spill over to the whole region and could have terrible repercussions in Europe.