Paper

Lebanon in the Syria Quagmire

| February 2015

The purpose of this paper is to examine the weaknesses and strengths of Lebanon amidst the tensions created by the Syrian conflict that started in 2011. Lebanon’s sectarian governance system has been over 150 years in the making. But the Syrian fire next door, which has taken an increasing sectarian nature, is likely to burn for a long time. With such dire prospects, what is the fate of Lebanon’s governance system? Will it lead the country inexorably towards civil strife?


The Lebanese governance system could be described as a horizontal deal among communal oligarchs, supported by vertical organizations within each community. While oligarchs have changed over time, the system itself survived devastating civil wars, endured extensive global and regional influences, and was also undeterred by the projection of power by many external forces, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Syria, Iran and Israel. What are the forces at work that make the Lebanese governance system both resilient and resistant to change?


In the paper, we use as an analytical framework, which is introduced in section one, the model of limited orders developed by Douglas North and his associates. In section two, we argue that the Syrian civil war is likely to be long lasting. Section three examines the weaknesses and fault-lines of the Lebanese system in light of the Syrian war. Section four explores the factors that continue to contribute to the strength and resilience of Lebanon in spite of the rise in extremist Islamic militancy. The last section presents three potential scenarios for Lebanon - a worst-case scenario in the form of an Iraqization of Lebanon; a conflict management and uneasy coalition of oligarchs scenario, and optimistically, the possible emergence of a citizen based model.

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For more information on this publication: Please contact Middle East Initiative
For Academic Citation: Diwan, Ishac and Chaitani, Youssef.. “Lebanon in the Syria Quagmire.” Paper, February 2015.

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