Can quantitative data be the best indicator of a destabilizing democracy? Lebanon’s growing economic crisis may be the icing on the cake in terms of diagnosing the country’s past and present democratic climate.
Since 1975, Lebanon has been destabilized by “civil war, Syrian occupation, and clashes between Israel and Hezbollah.” The country’s roots of confessionalism have led to an unwavering feeling of misrepresentation as Christian and hMuslim religious communities fight for their right to be heard. Lebanon has a heavy emphasis on community rather than the individual or state institutions. The reoccurring theme of religious communities fighting for equal representation and lack of focus on the individual has ultimately lead to the government’s lack of legitimacy and a curtail of civil liberties.
A deep economic recession began by the end of the 1990s, leaving the public with a disaffection of postwar establishment. Political demonstrations rejecting Syrian domination began. In 2005, Syria’s army withdrew from Lebanon after being implicated in the assassination of Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq al-Hariri. Tensions between opposing religious groups wanting more representation in government lead to little political cooperation. To break a political deadlock in 2016, a compromise was reached giving Saad al-Hariri of the Sunni dominated Future Movement the position of Prime Minister. In 2018 elections, Hariri’s party had substantial losses while Hezbollah’s coalition gained a majority of parliamentary seats. These constant shifts of power have only made it mored difficult to find middle ground and form a new government in Lebanon.
According to the 2019 Index of Economic Freedom, Lebanon has an economic freedom score of 51.1. The country declines in scores for judicial effectiveness, trade freedom and investment freedom. Lebanon does have a free market tradition and strong history of private commercial activity but lacks integral tax and regulatory legislation to curtail the country’s shaky economic infrastructure. Simply put, the economy performs weakly because of ongoing fiscal and account deficits.
Lebanon’s deep economic woes have only been exacerbated by the presence of Syrian and Palestinian refugees, who make up about half of the country’s population. The unemployment rate is high and with little sign of economic change, Lebanon’s public debt has soared over $85 billion, or 155 percent of the gross domestic product.
In January, Lebanon called for Syrian refugees to return to safe parts of their country at the Arab Economic Summit. The overwhelming presence of over a million refugees for a seemingly small country has been detrimental to the country’s stability. This economic instability of the country may be the biggest red flag in respect to their eroding democracy.
According to Seymour Martin Lipsett, the contribution of religion correlates to democratic attitudes. He believes there is a necessary connection between heritage and attitudes which sustain democratic institutions. Lipsett also concurs that political and economic conditions provide consensus on basic values.
Government structures can affect economic structure and activity in a multitude of ways. This could be establishing courts that allow for private property or even setting tax rates. The main point is that economic factors are much easier to measure when diagnosing a country’s democracy rather than measuring qualitative data such as cultural norms to diagnose it.
In a country where symptoms of democratic erosion are prevalent, ensuing economic change could be pivotal to increasing democratization. Economic factors are more quantifiable than cultural norms. If Lebanon can pass legislation to help stimulate their crumbling economy by using quantifiable data, positive results such as the unemployment rate lowering may ensue change in other aspects of the country.
Maybe trying to reshape cultural norms is too large of an initial step towards stabilizing a democracy. Trying to stimulate the economy may bring more bipartisanship among seat holders in government than combatting media repression. A country in turmoil such as Lebanon may be more successful at manipulating quantitative data first and then work with qualitative details to hinder democratic backsliding.