International Alert recently published a report, Towards a peace economy in Lebanon, which examines the ways in which governance of Lebanon’s economy underpins its structural and overt conflict dynamics.
By focusing on four key sectors: real estate, agriculture, water and banking, the report demonstrates how successive Lebanese governments, irrespective of their political affiliations, privileged the banking and real estate sectors through tax incentives and exemptions, which fundamentally served the politically connected.
Four corresponding themes emerged from the case studies, the first being the close ties between politicians and Lebanon’s ‘private’ sector – whether banks, real estate companies, agricultural land and agro-industry holdings, water supply or dam ventures. The articles used in the report tell a common narrative of Lebanon’s political elites exploiting their positions to dominate economic opportunity to the exclusion of the majority. This brings with it a perpetual interest to maintain the status quo, working against the possibility of constructive reform and adjustments.
Secondly, elite enrichment through dominance of private opportunity, which helps to maintain the functionality of the clientelist system across the political spectrum. This has a very practical dimension, where failure to develop successful national strategies has led to poor service delivery and a consequent reliance by citizens on political actors for services, as well as other public goods such as urban space and the natural landscape.
The third theme found in the report is the deepening inter- and intra-regional disparity and exclusion resulting from the overall political economy, as direct sources of grievance and tension in society. The report draws a link between rising extremism and this underdevelopment of opportunity. Given the wave of violent extremism experienced in the region, and the complex pattern of allegiance to different external powers that informs sectarian identities within Lebanon, this failure to create and generate economic opportunities for the wider public represents a major source of conflict risk.
Finally, the report shows the existence of civic resilience and resistance to these divisive trends. This ranges from armed clashes between farmers and landowners in the country’s recent history, to a present-day generation of civil activism over tenants’ rights, public sector wages or access to basic services.The scattered examples picked up throughout this report, which seek to highlight and address impacts of the current political economy, represent the foundations on which a ‘peace economy’ can be built.
The report is guided by Alert’s theoretical framework and practical experience working on the political economy of conflict. Through this analysis, we hope to contribute to the identification of entry points for constructive change in Lebanon, in the interest of promoting positive peace in the country.