Laws of Associations
Article 13 of the National Constitution guarantees freedom of meetings and freedom of association within the framework of the law. The special law of 1909 issued by the Ottoman authorities still regulates the formation of associations, requiring only that they inform the Ministry of the Interior of their existence and internal structure.
Lebanese political institutions often play a secondary role to highly confessionalized personality-based politics. There are differences both between and among Muslim and Christian parties regarding the role of religion in state affairs. There is a very high degree of political activism among religious leaders across the sectarian spectrum. The interplay for position and power among the religious, political, and party leaders and groups produces a political tapestry of extraordinary complexity.
Some 1100 associations were registered with the Ministry in Beirut alone in 1999. Many of them are sectarian in nature, reflecting Lebanon’s division into nineteen officially recognized religious communities. The six or seven major Christian, Druze, and Muslim communities, coupled with the Armenian Christians, offered many of the material resources for organizing Lebanon’s rich associational life. Each sect in a sense projects its own civil society, but there are also many professional associations and environmental, advocacy, and women’s groups that cross confessional lines and favor the integration of a national Lebanese civil society, as do some of the media.
Associations and Unions
Professional associations, in particular the trade unions, and women’s organizations were particularly active in staging demonstrations against the guerrilla warfare and urban terrorism that was destroying Lebanon’s civil society from 1975 to 1990. The professional sector consists of some 200 sectoral workers and employees associations, over 50 owners and business associations, and the syndicates for lawyers, engineers, journalists, accountants and the like that are especially influential in Lebanon as in many other Arab countries. Professional umbrella organizations include the International Chamber of Commerce in Lebanon, the Beirut Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Association of Lebanese Industrialists. The Confederation of General Workers of Lebanon (CGTL) is the main trade union federation. The Lebanese Center for Policy Studies considers that the Rassemblement des Dirigeants et Chefs d' Entreprises Libanais (RDCL), a lobbying group of businessmen, bankers, and industrialists who believe very strongly in liberal economic principles and in Lebanon’s need for reform, is “one of the few genuine institutions in civil society representing economic interests.”
Some of Lebanon’s social welfare associations date back to the nineteenth century, and many of them are non-confessional or multi-confessional. They not only survived the civil war but also flourished, filling the vacuum of state authority and compensating for the breakdown of public services. Of the 300 significant NGOs based in Beirut, some fifty are relatively large, with staffs of over 10 and branches and activities throughout the country. Another interesting development has been the rise of family and local “communal” associations that are of long standing in Lebanon and grew larger and stronger during the war, as they moved to meet pressing humanitarian needs. In Beirut alone there are some 300 registered family associations and 60 neighborhood associations, and the government has fitted many of them into its patronage structure.
The Lebanese NGO Forum works in a variety of fields including humanitarian social work, upholding the rights of underprivileged and vulnerable groups, coordinating the efforts of humanitarian NGOs in the country, collaborating with state institutions and complementing their activities, and cooperating with UN agencies and foreign and voluntary humanitarian associations. The Collective of Lebanese Voluntary NGOs also works to coordinate social development work within the country. In doing so, it assists private civil associations, contributes to Lebanese legislation, assists with humanitarian organizations, represents its members before public, national, and international authorities, and establishes a civic forum for development.
5. Among Lebanon’s many human rights advocacy groups the National Association for Lebanese Detainees in Israeli Prisons maintains an online presence. Amnesty International was given a regional office in Beirut in 2000 by the Lebanese authorities. The largest human rights group is the Institute for Human Rights in Lebanon which is part of the Beirut Bar Association. This group has a strong local and on-line presence. It also publishes reports on human rights in the country and is actively involved internationally. As a legal organization, it focuses on strengthening and implementing laws relevant to freedom of expression and association.
Media and Government Regulations
The Lebanese media remain rich and varied despite the government decision in 1996 to drastically reduce the number of television stations, some fifty of which had proliferated in the context of the civil war. Article 13 of the National Constitution provides for freedom of the press. The Ta’if Accords mandate, however, that “all audio-visual and printed media conform with the… principle of responsible freedom.” Six major television stations and over 40 radio stations survive, along with eight major Arabic daily newspapers available online and a variety of others, including English and French language publications. An-Nahar and Al-Safir enjoy a regional as well as local readership, as does The Daily Star.
Restrictions still apply to various aspects of freedom of expression; for example, authorities shut down the MTV channel in 2002 after it covered the elections in the Metn area, giving the opposition airtime to express its opinion. There have also been some reports of students being arrested and beaten for political activity by the secret police.