As Lebanese citizens start to express their frustration with the failure in national governance, the civil society has stepped in to play the role as a vehicle for accountability. The civil society and the media have indeed been the only two such avenues in the past decades, claiming more prominence when the country enters a period of political paralysis. This has especially been the case in Lebanon since the rise of youth movements in 2005.
Lebanon has traditionally housed the region's oldest and most active civil society, with groups emerging in 16th century Mount Lebanon. The nature of the debate has shifted, as earlier groups were focused on the fight for independence and Arab identity. The role of civil society organizations has also evolved, as did the breadth of their activities. Today, the Lebanese civil society covers issues ranging from censorship to violence, women's rights, secularism and electoral reform, among other issues. Many have tried to challenge the status quo, but critics argue that some are entrenched in the very politics that they seek to eliminate. The source of funding of these groups tends to taint their agendas and political agendas, oftentimes hampering their efforts towards progress on certain political grievances.
One common struggle many organizations continue to face has been the prevailing sectarian nature of the Lebanese political system. Although these organizations have had limited success in terms of catalyzing change, they continue to challenge the status quo and provide a silent minority with a voice.
Another challenge is structural weaknesses. Several, experts point out, suffer from the lack of a well-planned vision and need support in capacity building. Many need to find new ways to promote citizen engagement, build trust, and confront skepticism with solid action. Yet another challenge is lack of sufficient coverage by Lebanese media, but NGOs have started resorting to new ways of engagement.
The prevalence of social media has opened up new avenues of outreach for these groups and has empowered non-traditional groups to emerge. Last month, a group calling itself "The Third Voice for the Sake of Lebanon" protested the current state of politics and government failure. The protest was solely organized over Facebook and involved Lebanese diaspora in Canada. The ability to organize through social media has empowered some groups and given them more agency, freeing them - to a certain extent - of the need to register and fundraise.
Realizing the importance of the Lebanese civil society, U.S. and international donors continue to channel funding to organizations in Lebanon and sometimes do so to circumvent the inefficiencies and corruption of government institutions. To avoid falling prey to the same stigmas, civil society organizations must adopt structured approaches as well as high standards of reporting. They must also institutionalize a number of internal reforms to ensure transparency, implement best practices, foster citizen participation, and develop a common and a well formulated vision. Despite the challenges, Lebanon's civil society remains one of the most thriving sectors and a constructive force in a country where most institutions are resistant to change.