Freedom in the World 2023 - Lebanon

/ 100
Political Rights 14 / 40
Civil Liberties 29 / 60
42 / 100 Partly Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


Lebanon’s political system ensures representation for its officially recognized religious communities, but limits competition and impedes the rise of cross-communal or civic parties. While residents enjoy some civil liberties and media pluralism, they also suffer from pervasive corruption and major weaknesses in the rule of law. The country’s large population of noncitizens, including refugees and migrant workers, remain subject to legal constraints and societal attitudes that severely restrict their access to employment, freedom of movement, and other fundamental rights.

Key Developments in 2022

  • Elections in May brought modest changes to the parliament, with a bloc led by the Shiite Muslim faction Hezbollah losing its outright majority and a new group of reformist independents capturing 13 seats. Incumbent prime minister Najib Mikati remained in office in a caretaker capacity at year’s end, as no new government was formed before President Michel Aoun’s term expired in October, and the parliament failed to agree on a new president.
  • In June, an appellate panel of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in the Netherlands, sentenced two Hezbollah operatives to life imprisonment, having convicted them in absentia of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
  • In more than two dozen incidents over the course of the year, bank depositors used the threat of violence to withdraw their savings in defiance of strict limits on the size of withdrawals, as the country’s financial system continued to reel from a prolonged economic crisis.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

The president, who is elected to a six-year term by the parliament, appoints the prime minister after consulting with the parliament. The president and prime minister choose the cabinet, which holds most formal executive power. According to long-standing agreements on sectarian power-sharing, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.

In June 2022, following the May parliamentary elections, President Michel Aoun consulted with lawmakers and called on incumbent prime minister Najib Mikati to form a new government. However, no government was formed before the expiration of Aoun’s own term in October, and the parliament was unable to agree on a new president. Mikati remained in office as caretaker prime minister at year’s end, and the presidency was left vacant.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 2 / 4

Members of the 128-seat National Assembly are elected for four-year terms using a system of multimember districts with sectarian quotas.

In the May 2022 elections, a bloc led by Hezbollah and its allies—including Christian factions linked to President Aoun—lost its parliamentary majority, but it remained the largest grouping with a total of 61 seats. The Sunni-led Future Movement, which had long headed a rival bloc of Muslim and Christian factions, boycotted the elections, contributing to a number of shifts in the makeup of the new assembly. The Lebanese Forces party, a Christian ally of the Future Movement, made significant gains at the expense of the Aoun-backed Free Patriotic Movement, and a group of independent candidates associated with the country’s 2019 reformist protest movement captured 13 seats. The parliament narrowly reelected Nabih Berri of the Hezbollah-allied Amal Movement as its speaker, a post in which he had served since 1992.

While the elections were conducted peacefully and were free and fair in many respects, vote buying was rampant, observers from the Lebanese Association for Democratic Elections reported numerous procedural irregularities, and the electoral framework retained fundamental structural flaws associated with the sectarian political system. Turnout was 49 percent overall and nearly 60 percent among voters from the Lebanese diaspora.

Municipal elections were also due in May 2022, but in March the parliament approved a government proposal to postpone the balloting by a year due to lack of material and human resources.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 2 / 4

Lebanon does not have an independent electoral commission; instead, the Interior Ministry oversees elections. Parliamentary seats are divided among major religious communities under a constitutional formula that does not reflect their current demographic weight. While seat allocations have been adjusted through political agreements to resolve major impasses over the years, there has been no official census in Lebanon since the 1930s, prior to independence. The electoral framework is inclusive and supports pluralism, but it is the product of bargaining among established leaders and tends to entrench the existing sectarian and communalist political system.

The 2017 electoral law introduced proportional representation and preferential voting, and improved opportunities for diaspora voting. However, the rules for redistricting and seat allocation still favored incumbent parties. The law sharply raised registration fees for candidates as well as spending caps for campaigns, while allowing private organizations and foundations to promote coalitions and candidates, effectively increasing the advantages of wealthier groups and individuals. As under past electoral laws, members of the military and citizens who had been naturalized for less than 10 years could not participate.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 3 / 4

Citizens are formally free to organize in different political groupings, and scores of parties compete in practice. While parties do rise and fall based on their performance and voters’ preferences, most of Lebanon’s political parties are vehicles for an established set of communal leaders who benefit from patronage networks, greater access to financing, and other advantages of incumbency.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 2 / 4

The elites who dominate Lebanese politics include traditional leaders, military veterans, former militia commanders, and wealthy businessmen. Under the country’s power-sharing system, none of the parties they control consistently behave as opposition groups. Consolidation of power among political elites also hampers intraparty competition.

Despite the new electoral system introduced in 2017, the political parties and alliances that prevailed before the reform have largely maintained their positions. They have not only benefited from advantages under laws they shaped, but also used intimidation, social pressure, and propaganda to marginalize new political forces. In the 2022 parliamentary elections, however, independent candidates associated with the country’s 2019 reformist protest movement won 13 seats after campaigning against the established parties, which they held responsible for decades of corruption and mismanagement that culminated in the current economic crisis.

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because a new cohort of independent reformist candidates captured 13 seats in the parliament, challenging the domination of established political forces.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1 / 4

A variety of forces that are not democratically accountable—including entrenched patronage networks, religious institutions, the heavily armed militias of sectarian factions such as Hezbollah, and competing foreign powers—use a combination of financial incentives and intimidation to exert influence on Lebanese voters and political figures. The 2022 elections featured credible allegations of corruption, widespread vote buying, and analyses pointing to the role of establishment parties’ patronage networks in mobilizing or incentivizing voters. Independent candidates were reportedly harassed or physically threatened by supporters of the dominant political parties in their districts.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religious communities, and the political system ensures that nearly all of these groups are represented, though not according to their actual shares of the population. Individuals who are not, or do not wish to be, affiliated with the recognized groups are effectively excluded. Citizens with disabilities do not have adequate access to polling places or alternative voting systems. Moreover, the country’s large refugee population, including residents of Palestinian refugee camps and Syrians who fled their country’s civil war, are not eligible to acquire citizenship and have no political rights.

Women formally have the same political rights as men. In practice, women remain marginalized due to religious restrictions, institutionalized inequality, hidden legal obstacles, political culture, and societal discrimination. Neither the 2017 electoral law nor informal understandings regarding power-sharing include rules to guarantee women’s representation in politics. The 2022 elections continued a pattern of gradual increases in participation: 155 women registered as candidates, 118 ultimately ran, and eight were elected to serve in the parliament, up from six in 2018. Women candidates were far less likely than men to receive media coverage during the campaign, and they were reportedly more likely to be the targets of violent speech on social media.

LGBT+ people have little political representation. However, more politicians and parties have expressed support for their rights in recent years; nearly 100 parliamentary candidates in 2018 publicly called for the decriminalization of same-sex sexual relations.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1 / 4

When the government is able to develop policies, they tend to be the result of negotiation among the country’s dominant political figures, regardless of formal titles and positions. The legislature generally facilitates these policies rather than serving as an independent institutional check on the government. The authority of the government is also limited in practice by the power of autonomous militant groups like Hezbollah and foreign states with interests in Lebanon.

Over the past decade, the country has experienced recurring episodes of political deadlock regarding elections, government formation, and the selection of a president, disrupting ordinary executive functions. Prime Minister Mikati successfully formed a government in September 2021 after a series of resignations and caretaker cabinets, but it too assumed caretaker status after the May 2022 parliamentary elections, and the presidency remained vacant at year’s end after the expiration of Aoun’s term in October.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 0 / 4

Political and bureaucratic corruption is widespread, and patronage networks generally operate unchecked. Anticorruption laws are loosely enforced, in part because institutions such as the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) lack adequate funding and regulatory support. When law enforcement bodies do act, the cases tend to be selective or politicized. Chronic corruption has affected state-owned companies and utilities, contributing to poor service delivery and routine electricity blackouts.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 0 / 4

Political leaders and government officials often operate behind closed doors, outside of state institutions, and with little regard for formal procedures. State expenditures remain irregular, with few mechanisms for effective oversight. Although civil society groups have some ability to influence pending policies or legislation, and may along with the media discuss proposals that have been made public, their influence is often contingent on participation in opaque processes. The National Assembly approved an access to information law in 2017, but it is not fully implemented, and government documents remain difficult to obtain in practice.

In the aftermath of a devastating 2020 explosion in the port of Beirut, caused by dangerous chemicals that had been left for years in a warehouse, the state responded in opaque and arbitrary ways, withholding information and employing special emergency powers intermittently or selectively. Several former cabinet ministers, including a former prime minister, were initially charged with criminal negligence in the case, but the investigation stalled in the face of obstruction by leading political figures, and during 2022 it remained bogged down by legal challenges that could not be resolved due to vacancies on the Court of Cassation.

Since 2019, the country has been suffering through one of the worst economic crises in world history, with a precipitous currency collapse underscoring concerns about transparency at the central bank and accountability for years of mismanagement that led to the crisis. Riad Salameh, the central bank governor since 1993, remained in office as of 2022 despite his failure to cooperate with multiple corruption probes.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

Press freedom is constitutionally guaranteed but inconsistently upheld. While the country’s media are among the most open and diverse in the region, nearly all outlets depend on the patronage of political parties, wealthy individuals, or foreign powers, and consequently practice some degree of self-censorship. Books, movies, plays, and other artistic works are subject to censorship, especially when the content involves politics, religion, sex, or Israel, and the artists responsible for work deemed controversial by the government or major religious groups face official interference. It is a criminal offense to criticize or defame the president or security services. Authorities sometimes use such laws to harass and detain journalists, and those detained are often forced to sign pledges to refrain from writing content viewed as defamatory by the government.

Authorities have failed to protect the media from violence or intimidation by members of political, religious, and other influential groups. Both security forces and supporters of political parties have attacked reporters covering protests, and several journalists have experienced harassment and threats of violence online.

Despite the legal and practical obstacles they face, many journalists have been able to report and comment on sensitive topics such as state corruption, elite malfeasance, and the behavior of armed factions like Hezbollah. However, the financial viability of their work has been threatened by the economic collapse.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

The constitution protects freedom of conscience, and the state does not typically interfere with the practice or expression of religious faith or nonbelief. While blasphemy is a criminal offense, enforcement varies and is generally lax. Individuals may face societal pressure to express faith or allegiance to a confessional community. Leaders and members of different communities discourage proselytizing by other groups.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 3 / 4

Academic freedom is generally unimpaired. Individuals are mostly free to select subjects for research and disseminate their findings. However, various laws and customary standards—including restrictions on defamation, blasphemy, and work or opinions related to Israel—limit debate on certain issues. The state does not engage in extensive political indoctrination through education, though religious and other nonstate entities do seek to reinforce communal identities and perspectives.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2 / 4

Private discussion and public expression of personal views on political and other controversial topics have been increasingly inhibited in recent years. Repressive laws that criminalize defamation or otherwise restrict speech remain on the books, and individuals sometimes face police questioning, arrests, short detentions, or fines if they criticize the government, the military, foreign heads of state, or other powerful entities. Noncitizens, including refugees and migrant workers, have fewer legal protections and may be especially reluctant to engage in speech that could draw the attention of the security services.

Lebanese authorities regularly monitor social media and electronic communications—including those of prominent individuals such as politicians, dissidents, and journalists. Security personnel have reportedly infiltrated the social media groups of activists and protesters in recent years.

Authorities also fail to protect people from nonstate actors, such as political parties or militant groups and their supporters, that may monitor and punish them for expressing critical opinions. Since the outbreak of mass protests against corruption and governance failures in 2019, journalists, activists, and outspoken social media users have faced physical attacks and online threats or harassment by such powerful groups.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 3 / 4

The authorities generally respect the right to assemble, which is protected under the constitution, and people routinely gather without permits or coordination with security services in practice. Demonstrators have been able to protest in recent years against government dysfunction, lack of services, mounting fuel prices, and restrictions on bank withdrawals, but the events have often featured violence by authorities, political parties, militia groups, and civilian participants.

Noncitizens, LGBT+ people, and other marginalized groups face greater restrictions on their freedom to assemble in practice. In February 2022, the interior minister asked judicial authorities to prosecute members of a Bahraini Shiite opposition group for organizing events that featured criticism of Bahraini authorities. In June, the minister issued an order to prevent LGBT+ Pride gatherings that “promote homosexuality,” despite rulings by the country’s top administrative court that such actions constituted an infringement on freedom of expression.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 3 / 4

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) tend to operate freely in Lebanon, though they must comply with the Law on Associations—which has been modified but not comprehensively overhauled since its enactment in 1909—and other applicable laws relating to labor, finance, and immigration. NGOs must also register with the Interior Ministry, which may oblige them to undergo an approval process and can investigate a group’s founders, officers, and staff. NGOs sometimes face bureaucratic obstruction or intimidation by security services, depending on their line of work or particular initiatives. Groups that focus on Syria-related matters or are led and staffed by Syrian refugees are especially prone to scrutiny and interference.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

Individuals may establish, join, and leave trade unions and other professional organizations. However, the Labor Ministry has broad authority over the formation of unions, union elections, and the administrative dissolution of unions. The state regulates collective bargaining and strikes. Public employees, agricultural workers, and household workers are not protected by the labor code and have no legal right to organize, though they have formed unrecognized representative organizations. While noncitizen legal residents may join unions under the law, migrant workers have fewer union rights, and large numbers of refugees lack legal status or the right to work.

Many unions are linked to established political parties and serve as tools of influence for political leaders. However, activists affiliated with the 2019 protest movement have successfully challenged incumbent forces in recent elections within some unions and professional associations.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

Lebanon’s judiciary is not independent. Political leaders exercise significant influence over judicial appointments, jurisdiction, processes, and decisions, which are also affected by corruption and the undue influence of other prominent people.

Hezbollah and its political allies have repeatedly sought to replace the judge leading the investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion. Former officials implicated in the case secured a 2021 court ruling that removed the first judge, Fadi Sawan, for potential bias. The same political forces accused his replacement, Tarek Bitar, of bias, boycotted government meetings over the issue, and persuaded supporters to protest against him. Defendants and suspects filed multiple legal challenges seeking Bitar’s recusal that delayed the investigation throughout 2022. The Court of Cassation, which is responsible for adjudicating such challenges, lacked a quorum during the year, apparently because government ministers withheld their approval for appointments to fill the court vacancies.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4

Due process is subject to a number of impediments, including violations of defendants’ right to counsel and extensive use of lengthy pretrial detention. Due process guarantees are particularly inadequate in the country’s exceptional courts, including the military courts, whose judges do not require a background in law and are authorized to try civilians and juveniles in security-related cases. In practice, military courts have asserted jurisdiction over cases involving human rights activists and protesters in addition to those focused on alleged spies and militants.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 2 / 4

Residents of southern Lebanon have lived with the risk of land-mine detonation since the 1975–90 civil war, and armed militias, terrorist groups, and criminal organizations continue to undermine security in the country. Authorities reported at least 64 shooting incidents in the first half of 2022, including clashes linked to personal or familial disputes, resulting in the deaths of 26 people and the injury of 73 others.

Also during the year, there were more than two dozen incidents in which bank depositors used the threat of violence to withdraw their savings in defiance of strict limits on the size of withdrawals. Depositors’ associations and activist lawyers offered support to the perpetrators in some cases, arguing that they were only retrieving their own money.

The organizers of past political violence generally enjoy impunity. In March 2022, an appellate panel of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, based in the Netherlands, convicted two Hezbollah operatives in absentia of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. They were then sentenced to life imprisonment in June, but as with another suspect who was convicted in absentia in 2020, their whereabouts remained unknown.

Prisons and detention centers are badly overcrowded and poorly equipped, and the use of torture by law enforcement, military, and state security personnel continues despite the passage of antitorture legislation and the creation of institutional mechanisms to halt the practice.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4

The country’s legal system is meant to protect members of recognized confessional communities against mistreatment by the state, but groups have engaged in discriminatory behavior toward one another in practice, and people who do not belong to a recognized community have difficulty obtaining official documents, government jobs, and other services.

Women face discrimination in wages, benefits, and societal standards and practices, and they are barred from certain types of employment.

LGBT+ people face both official and societal discrimination and harassment. A criminal code provision barring same-sex sexual relations remains in force, and people who violate this law risk a one-year prison sentence.

More than 1.5 million Syrians resided in Lebanon as of 2022. However, only about 830,000 were officially registered as refugees by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as the government has barred the agency from registering new Syrian refugees since 2015. Syrian refugees have faced arbitrary arrests and other forms of harassment, and most live in poverty due in part to limitations on their employment options. The government has also enforced housing regulations to compel Syrian refugees to destroy their informal camps. Syrians have sometimes been deported or forced to sign repatriation agreements despite the risk of mistreatment by Syrian authorities, and the government has promoted plans to facilitate large-scale “voluntary” repatriations that could amount to illegal refoulement in practice.

About 479,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon, though fewer than 200,000 actually live there. Many reside in 12 designated refugee camps and are restricted from 39 professions, contributing to widespread poverty, unemployment, and underemployment. In 2019, Lebanese authorities issued new regulations requiring foreigners to possess work permits, further restricting Palestinians’ access to the labor market.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 1 / 4

Citizens enjoy constitutional and legal rights to freedom of movement. With few formal restrictions, they are able to travel within Lebanon. Nevertheless, citizens find it extremely difficult to transfer official places of residence for voting purposes. They also face de facto sectarian boundaries and militia checkpoints in some areas.

Noncitizens are subject to much harsher restrictions on movement. Many Palestinians classified as refugees live in designated camps, and access to those areas is controlled and often constrained by Lebanese security services. Many Syrian refugees live in informal camps or smaller settlements, and are subject to curfews and other obstacles to movement.

Migrant workers face severe restrictions on movement under a sponsorship system that revokes their residency rights if they are dismissed by their designated employers. Employers often confiscate migrant workers’ passports, further reducing their autonomy.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

Lebanese law protects citizens’ rights to own property and operate private businesses, but powerful groups and individuals sometimes engage in land-grabbing and other infringements without consequence, and business activity is impaired by bureaucratic obstacles and corruption.

Refugees, including longtime Palestinian residents, have few property rights. Women have weaker property rights than men under the religious codes that govern inheritance and other personal status issues in Lebanon, and they often face family pressure to transfer property to male relatives.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 2 / 4

Because the religious codes and courts of each confessional community determine personal status law in Lebanon, people’s rights regarding marriage, divorce, and child custody depend on their affiliation, though women are typically at a disadvantage compared with men. The incidence of child marriage has reportedly increased in recent years, particularly among refugee populations. Partners seeking to enter an interfaith marriage often travel abroad, as Lebanon recognizes civil marriages performed elsewhere. Women cannot pass Lebanese citizenship to non-Lebanese spouses or children of non-Lebanese fathers.

Same-sex marriage remains illegal in Lebanon. However, transgender people have some legal precedent allowing them to live publicly based on their gender identity; a 2016 Court of Appeals ruling allowed a transgender man to legally change his gender in the civil registry and supported the plaintiff’s desire to seek gender confirmation surgery.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4

Citizens’ communal affiliation can either enhance or restrict their economic opportunities in a given area, company, or public-sector entity, depending on which group is in a dominant position. Individuals must also contend with political patronage and clientelism, layered on top of communally enabled corruption, in the public and private sectors.

All residents of Lebanon have faced hardship amid the economic crisis that emerged in 2019, featuring rampant inflation, currency devaluation, import shortages, and a sharp rise in poverty rates. However, noncitizens, such as refugees and migrant workers, are subject to particular disadvantages and have long been especially vulnerable to exploitative working conditions and sex trafficking. The authorities do not effectively enforce laws against child labor, which is common among Syrian refugees, rural Lebanese, and segments of the urban poor.

Household workers and migrant workers who operate under the sponsorship system routinely suffer from economic exploitation. Employers are favored in legal cases involving migrant workers, discouraging the latter from reporting denial of wages and contract obligations as well as physical, psychological, and sexual abuse.