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SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

Public Opinion Perspectives on Governance and Civil Society in Lebanon

Tuesday , 30 January 2024
Design: Marc Rechdane

The Lebanese government’s chronic failure to address the myriad challenges facing the country has pushed civil society organizations (CSOs) to play a pivotal role in crisis response, filling the void left by the government. Even after the end of the Lebanese civil war, the nation continued to grapple with entrenched political divisions and the absence of reconciliation among competing political factions, resulting in ongoing humanitarian and social concerns. Sectarian divisions and rising poverty prompted CSOs to step in and address the escalating needs of the society.

However, CSOs and activists faced severe backlash from traditional political parties. Accusations ranged from being agents for foreign embassies to lacking clear leadership. Moreover, ruling parties accused CSOs of receiving foreign funding to advance foreign agendas, portraying civil society as a threat to the state, security, and social stability.

To gain insight into the perception of NGOs by the Lebanese population, the Samir Kassir Foundation, in collaboration with Information International, conducted a survey that serves as the basis for this study. The study’s objectives are threefold. Firstly, it aims to comprehend how people perceive both governmental and non-governmental organizations, especially in light of the events unfolding in Lebanon since 2019. Secondly, it seeks to assess the level of public awareness regarding the presence and activities of NGOs in Lebanon. Lastly, it endeavors to gauge the population’s knowledge of the most critical issues pertaining to freedom of expression and human rights.

Key Results

The prevalent distrust in political parties, parliament, and the executive branch of government can be ascribed to their failure in resolving the multifold crises that have plagued the country over the past decades. From basic issues like the garbage crisis to more complex challenges such as the economic and financial collapse, political unrest, and the prolonged presidential vacuum, respondents overwhelmingly expressed their dissatisfaction.

Despite majoritarily expressing a lack of trust in municipalities, the latter garnered the highest level of trust compared to other state institutions. It is noteworthy that religious institutions no longer enjoy the level of trust they once had among the population.

The aftermath of the Beirut port explosion laid bare the judiciary’s incapacity to deliver justice to the victims and hold those responsible accountable. The low trust in the judiciary (only 18.6% of respondents trust it) reflects this perception. In contrast, the Lebanese Army secured the highest level of trust (86.2%), as it is seen as a unifying force representing all Lebanese communities and citizens. Conversely, the Internal Security Forces still lags behind in terms of trust, but recorded a significant increase compared to previous surveys conducted in the country.

In terms of trust in NGOs, 48.1% of respondents expressed distrust, while 34.6% stated trust. Considering the challenges and accusations against NGOs, this level of trust is relatively high, indicating that nearly a third of the population still places trust in them.  Respondents believe that NGOs are primarily working on humanitarian issues, social aid, and poverty alleviation, refugee support, and women’s rights.

Lack of transparency regarding funding emerged as a significant point of criticism directed at NGOs, followed by concerns about the naturalization of Syrian and Palestinian refugees and allegations of serving political agendas. Notably, respondents perceived NGOs positively for addressing social issues, supporting the education sector, and providing services that the government fails to deliver. However, human rights, fundamental freedoms, democratic participation, and protection of minorities and the environment did not receive substantial support among respondents, underscoring that these rights and topics are perceived as secondary rather than fundamental.

This report was published with support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.

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