Economic and Political Overview

flag Lebanon Lebanon: Economic and Political Overview

In this page: Economic Outline | Political Outline | COVID-19 Country Response

 

Economic Outline

Economic Overview

After years of neglect, corruption, financial mismanagement and the war next door in Syria, the Lebanese economy entered a full-blown crisis in 2019, sparking mass protests that demanded sweeping reforms. The economic crisis deteriorated further since, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rising public debt, a sovereign default, a currency collapse and an explosion at the port of Beirut. The traditional engines of growth in Lebanon (real estate, construction and tourism) have stalled and the banking sector, which until then had been praised for its resilience, has collapsed. Between 2022 and early 2023, the economy experienced a temporary stabilization after undergoing significant contraction in previous years, primarily attributed to the contributions of tourism and substantial remittances. According to the World Bank’s projections, the Lebanese economy was expected to see a modest growth of 0.2% in 2023, a positive projection for the first time since 2018, driven by a successful summer tourism season, strong remittances supporting consumption growth, and increasing dollarization of salaries. Signs of ongoing stabilization in private sector activity further contributed to the positive economic outlook. Nevertheless, with the onset of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and its repercussion in Lebanon, the latest estimates projected a recession in 2023 (-0.6% to -0.9%, depending on the extent of the tourism shock).

In 2023, the fiscal and primary deficits narrowed to an estimated 1.3% and 0.3% of GDP, respectively (World Bank). With the successful implementation of planned revenue measures, revenues reached 8.8% of GDP. However, expenditures, driven by increased current spending, transfers to Électricité du Liban, and the continuation of social assistance schemes for public servants, rose to 10.1% of GDP. With a sharp currency depreciation and economic contraction, sovereign debt stood at 179.2% of GDP in 2022 (latest data available), highlighting its unsustainability without comprehensive debt restructuring. However, since the default on sovereign debt on March 9, 2020, minimal advancements have been made in formulating a debt restructuring strategy or reaching an agreement with foreign creditors. Gross foreign currency reserves have increased by USD 425 million between end-July and mid-November 2023, reaching USD 14,213 million (World Bank). The temporary economic stabilization had a ripple effect on the exchange rate, which experienced a temporary steadiness. This stability was influenced by reduced demand for dollars due to widespread dollarization in the economy. In 2023, inflation surged to around 230%, primarily due to the ongoing decline in the overall macroeconomic conditions. This acceleration was predominantly influenced by the depreciation of the exchange rate in the first half of 2023 and the rapid dollarization of economic transactions, especially within the components of the consumer price index basket.

The country faces many humanitarian and social issues in addition to macroeconomic and political challenges. The massive influx of Syrian refugees (25% of the country's population) has shaken the country's demographic balance and labour market, and is putting pressure on the costs of rent, infrastructure and supply of public services such as water and electricity. Unemployment has skyrocketed following the inflow of Syrian refugees, which are competing with Lebanese workers in the informal sector and could hit over a quarter of the workforce. According to the World Bank, more than 60% of the country's young people are not in employment, education or training and over 70% of refugees live under the poverty line. The country faces significant social inequalities: in 2022, the World Bank reclassified Lebanon as a lower-middle-income country, down from an upper-middle-income country. In 2023, the IMF estimated GDP per capita (PPP) at USD 11,794, while according to Human Rights Watch 78% of Lebanon's population was in poverty as of end-2021 - triple the estimated number in 2020.

 
Main Indicators 20222023 (E)2024 (E)2025 (E)2026 (E)
GDP (billions USD) 21.780.000.000.000.00
GDP (Constant Prices, Annual % Change) 0.00.00.00.00.0
GDP per Capita (USD) 3,2830000
General Government Balance (in % of GDP) -8.70.00.00.00.0
General Government Gross Debt (in % of GDP) 283.20.00.00.00.0
Inflation Rate (%) 171.20.00.00.00.0
Current Account (billions USD) -7.860.000.000.000.00
Current Account (in % of GDP) -36.10.00.00.00.0

Source: IMF – World Economic Outlook Database, Latest data available.

Note : (E) Estimated data

 

Main Sectors of Industry

Lebanon has fertile lands and benefits from a moderate climate and abundant water resources. However, the agricultural sector is underdeveloped and only contributes 1.4% of the GDP and 4% of employment (World Bank, latest data available). Key agricultural products include fruits (mainly apples, oranges, bananas and grapes, but also significantly olives) which account for around 30% of total agricultural production, and vegetables (such as potatoes, tomatoes and maize) which account for more than 60% of total production; whereas coffee is the main export product. Just 11% of Lebanon’s population lives in rural areas, but more than one-fifth of households in the agricultural sector are classified as very poor (IFAD). According to the latest figures from FAO, the total cereal production for 2023 was projected at around 134,000 tonnes, approximately 5% lower than the five-year average. This figure is in proximity to the harvests of 2022 and 2021, which were already impacted by the ongoing economic crisis.

Industry, which accounted for 12.5% of GDP in 2019, dropped to 6.6% in 2020 due to the COVID-related crisis and stood at just 2.8% in 2021, one of the lowest ratios in the world. It employs 21% of the workforce (World Bank, latest data available) and is dominated by the manufacturing of agricultural products, metals, minerals, furniture and other manufactured goods. The primary manufacturing sub-sectors comprise food industries, constituting approximately 19% of the total number of firms, followed by plastic and chemicals at 14%, paper and packaging as well as minerals at 11% (Lebanese Centre for Policy Studies).

Services are the dominant sector of the Lebanese economy, representing 94.1% of the country's GDP and employing 75% of the workforce. The banking sector was traditionally the mainstay of the economy, but it is going through a major crisis. Banking activity, even when it was sustained and lucrative, did not constitute real support for the private sector since most of the liquidity coming from banks is used to finance public debt. Tourism accounts for almost 20% of GDP and employs around 18% of the active population. The sector currently suffers from the serious economic and political crisis that the country is going through, although it showed signs of recovery: according to the Ministry of Tourism, Lebanon welcomed 1,404,768 tourists in the first nine months of 2023, marking a 25.3% increase from the same period in 2022 and a significant 113.2% surge from 2021.

 
Breakdown of Economic Activity By Sector Agriculture Industry Services
Employment By Sector (in % of Total Employment) 3.8 20.8 75.4
Value Added (in % of GDP) 1.4 2.8 94.1
Value Added (Annual % Change) -7.1 -6.9 -4.9

Source: World Bank, Latest data available.

 

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Indicator of Economic Freedom

Definition:

The Economic freedom index measure ten components of economic freedom, grouped into four broad categories or pillars of economic freedom: Rule of Law (property rights, freedom from corruption); Limited Government (fiscal freedom, government spending); Regulatory Efficiency (business freedom, labour freedom, monetary freedom); and Open Markets (trade freedom, investment freedom, financial freedom). Each of the freedoms within these four broad categories is individually scored on a scale of 0 to 100. A country’s overall economic freedom score is a simple average of its scores on the 10 individual freedoms.

Score:
51,4/100
World Rank:
154
Regional Rank:
12

Economic freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Index of Economic Freedom, Heritage Foundation

 
 

Country Risk

See the country risk analysis provided by Coface.

 

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Political Outline

Current Political Leaders
President – Vacant
Prime Minister: Najib Mikati (since 10 September 2021)
Next Election Dates
Presidential: ongoing
National Assembly: May 2026
Current Political Context
Lebanon is characterised by a high level of political instability, aggravated by a severe economic crisis. The political system aims at preserving the balance between the main religious groups. Parliamentary elections took place in May 2022, whose results produced a hung parliament with fragmented blocs and seats, with non-party affiliates earning a significant number of seats. The Lebanese Forces (Christian) and the protest opposition also gained seats, whereas Hizbullah’s allies lost some. Prime Minister Mikati, whose government went into caretaker mode upon parliamentary elections, was re-appointed as prime minister in 2022 in a caretaker role.
President Aoun’s term ended in 2022, leaving a void as the parliament has so far been unable to agree on his successor (as of January 2024, the Lebanese Parliament failed to elect a new president), resulting in an unprecedented institutional vacuum amid a dramatic economic and political situation.
The stability and security of Lebanon could be negatively influenced by the political and security conditions in the wider Middle East, particularly in neighbouring Syria and, more recently, in Israel.
Main Political Parties
Political forces are assigned by a fixed number of seats according to their religious denomination. They group to form electoral alliances, but such coalitions are weakly connected in practice. The main parties represented in the parliament are:

- Free Patriotic Movement: right-wing, christian democracy, civic nationalism
- Development and Liberation Bloc: coalition formed by the Amal Movement and the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party
- Hezbollah: Shia Islamist political party and militant group
- Progressive Socialist Party: centre/centre-left, its confessional base is in the Druze sect
- Lebanese Forces: Christian-based and former militia during the Lebanese civil war, right-wing
- Kataeb Party: right-wing, Christian.

Type of State
Republic based on confessionalism, parliamentary democracy. This means that each political position must be filled by a person of a particular denomination.
Executive Power
The President is the head of the state and is elected by the National Assembly for a six-year term. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President in consultation with the National Assembly and acts as the head of the government, to serve a four-year term. Though the Prime Minister enjoys the executive powers which include implementation of the law in the country and running the day-to-day affairs, the President also holds a strong and influential position which includes the promulgation of laws passed by parliament and ratification of treaties. The Cabinet is chosen by the Prime Minister in consultation with the President and members of the National Assembly. As per the constitution of the country, the President must be a Maronite Catholic Christian and the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim.
Legislative Power
The legislature in Lebanon is unicameral. The parliament called National Assembly consists of 128 seats; with its members elected by popular vote on the basis of proportional representation, with quotas according to religion,  to serve four-year terms. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the parliament. The executive branch of the government is directly or indirectly dependent on the support of the parliament, often expressed through a vote of confidence. The Prime Minister cannot dissolve the parliament nor can he veto its enactments. The Speaker of the Parliament must be a Shiite Muslim.
 

Indicator of Freedom of the Press

Definition:

The world rankings, published annually, measures violations of press freedom worldwide. It reflects the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists, the media and digital citizens of each country and the means used by states to respect and uphold this freedom. Finally, a note and a position are assigned to each country. To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders (RWB) prepared a questionnaire incorporating the main criteria (44 in total) to assess the situation of press freedom in a given country. This questionnaire was sent to partner organisations,150 RWB correspondents, journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It includes every kind of direct attacks against journalists and digital citizens (murders, imprisonment, assault, threats, etc.) or against the media (censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment etc.).

World Rank:
107/180
 

Indicator of Political Freedom

Definition:

The Indicator of Political Freedom provides an annual evaluation of the state of freedom in a country as experienced by individuals. The survey measures freedom according to two broad categories: political rights and civil liberties. The ratings process is based on a checklist of 10 political rights questions (on Electoral Process, Political Pluralism and Participation, Functioning of Government) and 15 civil liberties questions (on Freedom of Expression, Belief, Associational and Organizational Rights, Rule of Law, Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights). Scores are awarded to each of these questions on a scale of 0 to 4, where a score of 0 represents the smallest degree and 4 the greatest degree of rights or liberties present. The total score awarded to the political rights and civil liberties checklist determines the political rights and civil liberties rating. Each rating of 1 through 7, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of freedom, corresponds to a range of total scores.

Ranking:
Partly Free
Political Freedom:
5/7
Civil Liberties:
4/7

Political freedom in the world (interactive map)
Source: Freedom in the World Report, Freedom House

 

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COVID-19 Country Response

Travel restrictions
Regularly updated travel information for all countries with regards to Covid-19 related entry regulations, flight bans, test and vaccines requirements is available on TravelDoc Infopage.
To find information about the current travel regulations, including health requirements, it is also advised to consult Travel Regulations Map provided and updated on a daily basis by IATA.
Import & export restrictions
A general overview of trade restrictions which were adopted by different countries during the COVID-19 pandemic is available on the International Trade Centre's COVID-19 Temporary Trade Measures webpage.
Economic recovery plan
For the general overview of the key economic policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic (fiscal, monetary and macroeconomic) undertaken by the government of Lebanon, please consult the country's dedicated section in the IMF’s Policy Tracker platform.
Support plan for businesses
For an evaluation of impact of the Covid pandemic on SMEs and an inventory of country responses to foster SME resilience, refer to the OECD's SME Covid-19 Policy Responses document.
You can also consult the World Bank's Map of SME-Support Measures in Response to COVID-19.

 

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Latest Update: June 2024