Several events greatly affected civic space in Lebanon in 2019. On the economic front, the banking sector was in crisis as the Lebanese pound rapidly lost value and the country was unable to pay down steep public debts. During the financial crisis, the government came under intense criticism for lacking political vision, failing to introduce necessary reforms, and refusing to communicate transparently powerful political and religious figures used criminal defamation laws to silence journalists, activists, and other.

A turning point came on October 17, when thousands of people took to the streets to express their discontent with the dysfunctional system. Maharat Foundation published a report entitled Monitoring Freedom of Expression and Media called the uprising a “revolution” for exceeding prevailing limits on freedom of expression and breaking through the barrier of fear of prosecution. The lead role of women in political organization, civic engagement, and advocacy for gender justice was significant.

All these events affected the civil society sector in Lebanon, and Maharat works every year on a Civil Society Sustainability Index report as part of a regional report for the Middle East and North Africa, covering developments in that year on the strength and overall viability of the CSO sectors. The Index addresses advances and setbacks in seven key components of the sustainability of civil society sectors: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, infrastructure, and public image. The overall sustainability of the CSO sector in Lebanon did not change in 2019. However, several dimensions recorded change. The legal environment deteriorated slightly as registration became more difficult and the authorities cracked down on the protests. CSOs’ financial viability also suffered as foreign funding declined, while the economic crisis weakened CSOs’ spending power. At the same time, advocacy improved as the Lebanese people united in unprecedented protests and CSOs engaged in several successful advocacy campaigns. CSOs’ public image was boosted by increased public awareness of CSO activities and media reliance on CSO expertise. CSOs’ organizational capacity, service provision, and sectoral infrastructure were stable.

To read the full report on Lebanon: 2019 Civil Society Organization Sustainability Index-Lebanon