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Lebanon: Photo: “Beirut protests 2019,” by Shahen Araboghlian licensed under CC Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Vértes, Sára, Chris van der Borgh, and Antoine Buyse. “Negotiating civic space in Lebanon: The potential of non-sectarian movements.” Journal of Civil Society (2021): 1-21.


Shrinking civic space is a global trend in governance impeding citizens’ enjoyment of the fundamental freedoms of association, expression and peaceful assembly. While deeply affected by this phenomenon, civil society organizations and collectives in Lebanon have cultivated a series of non-sectarian opposition movements that warrant an assessment of how these may contribute to reconciling deeply divided identities. The authors examine the specific challenges imposed on civil society in Lebanon’s hybrid democratic setting, where power and resources are allocated along confession-based cleavages. Additionally, they discuss the strategies through which Lebanese civil society collectives push back against government pressures and defend, as well as expand, their available room for manoeuvre. The strategies of two recent opposition movements are analysed: (i) the coalition ‘Kollouna Watani’, a crossover into politics for the 2018 Lebanese elections by actors originally associated with civil society organizations, and (ii) the mass protest movement starting in October 2019. The findings highlight these non-sectarian movements’ potential to promote cooperation among the fragmented realms of civil society, as well as the hardships of challenging well-established elites and their interests via formal politicization. In doing so, they also show the potential and agency of civil society to counter the phenomenon of shrinking civic space.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.