Non-state actors in Lebanon


Combined with the warnings of the collapse of state institutions and proliferation of corruption as a result of the absence of the state, the vacuum of sovereign responsibilities is increasing. A crippled economy does not help as more people turn to 'hybrid' state support.

Helen Mackreath
14 August 2013

Lebanon has never adhered to any of the norms of state function, existing as it does as a proxy country heavily influenced by external powers, and hosting a party in Hezbollah which is stronger militarily, financially and logistically than the state. However, the absence of the state spells bad news for the future stability of the country. While the increasing amount of low-level, largely self-contained violence across the country may not be directly related to the state's absence, the disintegration of state institutions signals future socio-economic problems which could prove costly. 

Clan warfare is covering Lebanese newssheets again as the annual summer spate of retaliatory hostage-taking between clans crosses from the Bekka Valley into Beirut’s southern suburbs. They act as a reminder, if any were needed, of the complexity of divisions which criss-cross the country, and which are not strictly sectarian.

Lebanon has always existed as a form of ‘hybrid sovereignty’, as legitimate state activities work in tandem with irregular nonstate ‘interference’, producing a blurred picture of governance which is not necessarily indicative of a weakened state. Two issues traditionally under the purview of the state, the ‘security’ of the state, and the socio-economic ‘welfare’ of the state, have both been heavily outsourced to other nonstate actors in the past few decades, particularly Hezbollah, Amel and various local and international NGO bodies.

The upsurge of clan-related kidnappings and violence in the country is evidence of the complexity of actors which make up the political and security landscape. As low-level chaos continues in patchwork pockets, military feuds and humanitarian intervention are being orchestrated on ever smaller scales, blurring the distinction between public and private, state and nonstate. However, with the preoccupation of Hezbollah in Syria and the continued four-month paralysis which has hit Parliament, leaving the country without a functioning government, the blurred status quo is carving even deeper divides between public versus private, state versus community, and rural versus urban dichotomies.

On Friday two Turkish pilots were kidnapped in Beirut by a previously unknown group calling itself Zuwwar al-Imam Rida. They claimed the abduction was in retaliation for nine Lebanese Shia pilgrims who were kidnapped in the Azaz district of Aleppo last year. The previous weekend also saw a continued wave of family kidnappings in the Bekaa Valley, which have been ongoing in the past few weeks as members of the Moqdad clan engage in retaliatory hostage-taking. Clan violence also spread into Beirut’s southern suburbs as one was killed and eight injured in clashes between the Zeaiter clan and Hajoula family.

The unearthing of a ‘terrorist cell’ in Daraya, in the Chouf in Lebanon, the previous Sunday was a further indication of the proliferation of plots by small groups of individuals. This follows on from the rocket attacks on the Beirut suburb of Shiya in May, recently attributed to a local Lebanese political party and the various assassinations of Hezbollah and other members which have become commonplace in the Bekka. Such activities, alongside longer-term instability in Tripoli and Sidon, are evidence of the autonomous groups, of varying scales, which constitute the patchwork of private security threats operating in the public sphere across the country.

Meanwhile, aid response to the refugee catastrophe also continues to cut the divide between public and private. The support given by the Lebanese state towards refugees has been minimal, with much support for refugees being conducted on an individual scale, by Lebanese families, or Syrians already living in Lebanon. NGOs are now also beginning to inject aid for refugees down these small-scale channels – individual landlords are being given money to provide accommodation for refugees, and rehabilitation schemes improve individual properties so that they can be inhabited by Syrians.

The absence of the welfare role which significant nonstate actors provide is leaving a vacuum of ‘hybrid’ state support across the country which is creating a double strain on the (lack of) government. The former Lebanese Ambassador to America, Bou Habib, suggests that the political crisis is being perpetuated by Lebanese issues becoming secondary to regional issues amongst nonstate actors such as the Future Movement, Hezbollah and the Amal Movement. The effect of their absence goes some way to show to extent of their influence in the remit of security and welfare support. Combined with the warnings of the collapse of state institutions and proliferation of corruption as a result of the absence of the state, the vacuum of sovereign responsibilities is increasing. Fears for increased insecurity and a crippled economy are also being heightened as water, electricity and telecommunications continue to function intermittently.

These issues reveal the complex nature of the relationship between state and nonstate actors and heighten concern about the growing divide between socio-economic groups, caused by some falling between the holes created by multiple layers of actors. While some have always been serviced by nonstate actors better than others, the deficit of either state or nonstate actors is increasing the pressure of more fragmented, small-scale groups to fill the vacuum. This is helping to create unpredictable trends in both security and welfare support.  

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