Omar Bortolazzi


John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement

Author's Department

John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement and Responsible Business

Document Type

Research Article

Publication Title

Voices on Arab Philanthropy and Civic Engagement-Working Paper

Publication Date



Civil Society in Lebanon is undoubtedly one of the most vibrant in the Middle East. During the civil war (1975-1990) civil society became more active to compensate for the absence of a strong central government. When the military actions settled down, CSOs started perceiving their role as complementary to that of the government and became even more aware and self-conscious of their capacity, thus rendering NGOs indispensable to the survival of communities. In addition to that, new globalization concepts settled in: sustainable development, participatory democracy, governance, transparency, accountability, health-related issues and environment. At any rate, an important turning point for civil society in Lebanon was the early 2005 ‘Cedar Revolution’ which provoked enormous global interest and attention. The incidents of social and political mobilization that took place in 2005 were indicative that political and social groups, once regarded as militias and impotent groups preserving the status quo, could in fact mediate between the people and the state; or at least, these were the initial aspirations. It is also a fact that the withdrawal of Syria, the increase of civil society activism across the region and the post-2006 war all contributed to a significant rise in numbers of civil society organizations. Due to the relatively liberal legal environment, a veritable raise of civil society activism has been witnessed.1 Civil society activism in Lebanon is mainly divided between the social and the political sectors. A conspicuous number of well-functioning civil society groups working on democratization and human rights related issues are present in the country today. When it comes to this sector, in particular, Cavatorta and Durac have identified two major trends. The first one is directly related to the sectarian nature of Lebanon’s political and social structure. Many organizations, including those that work on human rights and democratization issues, “often subscribe to the political agenda of one particular sect, even though not necessarily formally so”.2 However, a second trend that has been growing in these last years, relates more “to the work of associations attempting to build what can be termed a nationalist Lebanese activist sector” that attempts to overcome or weaken sectarian barriers and create a political and legal system that is responsive to ordinary Lebanese citizens, and not necessarily as members of a specific sect.

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