American Univesity of Beirut

Rising in the Shadow of Collapse? A Glimpse of Three Strained Decades of Activism in Lebanon

​What stimulated and sustained the Lebanese civil movement in an era that followed intense armed clashes between opposing Lebanese political groups, especially in light of the evolving downfall of various state institutions and the shrinking role of trade unions? This question has resurfaced after protests erupted on October 17, 2019, and the near total collapse of the economy and local currency.  

This article explores the various aspects related to the activism of Lebanese civil society actors through a comparative approach that attempts to comprehend the wide spectrum of involvement in the post- Lebanese civil war’s political atmosphere and policymaking processes. Based on data collected from a previous research mapping exercise conducted at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs between 2018-19, a knowledge synthesis backed with recent literature on the history of Lebanese civil society activism will be addressed in this edition. Whilst the mapping looked at different mechanisms adopted by dissimilar forms of civil society, common struggles, aims, and circumstances appear to have participated in determining the path and impact of these various versions of activism. The problematic relation between these actors and the political establishment, in addition to their inconstant dynamics with donors, media outlets, popular mindsets, and Lebanese public opinion, have longitudinally resulted in shaping an uneven reforming practice. Lebanon went through three eventful decades since the conclusion of a 15-year armed conflict, followed by major socio-political turbulence over the years, and experienced a significant moment of popular awakening in October 2019, after discontinued attempts in 2010 and 2015. While it is still difficult to confirm direct influence of this long-term activism on the 2019 uprising, as a public reaction, a cumulative account of involvement and participation over these past decades cannot be dismissed from the shape of the recent movement and the breadth of newly spotted awareness and responsiveness. However, the 2020 Beirut Blast, the political unrest, and the growing economic deterioration are drawing new paths and roles for civil society actors, who returned to provide basic services in many places.

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Research Team

Fatima Moussawi, a researcher on gender and feminism in Lebanon and MENA with a main interest in women’s political and social history. She was the coordinator of the Civil Society Actors & Policymaking program at Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs. Her work focused on the influence of activism on gender related policymaking and laws. She is also a public health researcher with a focus on reproductive health & rights.

Alexi Touma, a researcher and policy analyst with experience covering political, security, social, and economic developments in the MENA region. His current research interests lie in security sector reform in Lebanon. Alexi worked at the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs where he published works on civil society actors and policymaking in Lebanon. He is a Co-Founder and Producer of the MENA Now podcast.

Nasser Yassin, the Minister of Environment in Lebanon since September 2021. Before his appointment, he was a professor of Policy & Planning at the American University of Beirut. Between 2014-2020, he was the Director of Research of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs & served as the Institute's Interim Director in 2019-2020. 

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