Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Lebanon is Being Sunk by Entrenched Corruption

What those leading corrupt oppressive regimes fail to realize is that they carry the seeds of their own failure. What is not always appreciated by these regimes is how corruption can undermine a country’s social fabric. In the end, governments succeed or fail according to their ability to deliver public services.

Under corrupt regimes, legal rules and standards are often nonexistent. In some cases, corrupt public officials shield criminals from accountability, which can lead to armed groups competing for control of limited resources. In fact, politicians are hardly corrupt by themselves. “They often act in groups, which not only collaborate but make the illegal action seem righteous and acceptable,” explains security expert Bruce Schneier.

While there is no standardized consensus on which nations have fallen into the failed category, experts have created indexes of “fragile states” to measure countries that have the worst-performing governments. The grading, however, undergoes the same difficulties as other forms of rankings. John Yoo, a law professor at the University of California, argues that “there will be disputes about the dysfunctional nature of a nation’s governmental institutions or the severity of internal armed conflicts.” The ranking may also treat cases differently depending on the cause of the state’s decline.

Unlike its neighbors, discussing corruption in Lebanon has rarely been a taboo subject. Technically speaking, Lebanon is well past an inflection point, it is falling further in real time. By every indicator, it is deteriorating. The World Bank has said the country’s economic and financial calamities could possibly be among the top three most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century. This clearly shows how highly corrupt countries are incapable of functioning efficiently or flourishing effectively at an economic level, causing societal suffering and instability within the entire governing system.

Corruption in failed states typically affects women, children, and the poor the hardest. At a very basic level, the underprivileged are much more prone to paying bribes to access public services, such as healthcare and education. In return, being charged above public utility rates places further economic stresses on deprived families, usually resulting in either higher prices or lower quality services, or both.

Withholding vital services instead of being provided as a basic human right has a disproportionate impact on disempowered women. Their dependence on public aid increases their vulnerability to the different consequences of corruption-related service provision. In some cases, women and girls are often asked to pay bribes in the form of sexual favors. Refugees, for example, report being asked for intimate relationships with relief workers in exchange for medicine and food.


“I saw with my own eyes, an old man letting a young woman walk before him. He may tell her that if she goes out with him, he would give her a box daily.”

Participatory group discussion with refugee women in Lebanon, The Global Women’s Institute

So-called “humanitarian assistance” actually sheds light on the various risks present across the programme cycle with corruption taking diverse forms. “These are not limited to financial forms of corruption and include sextortion, nepotism, and political interference,” notes doctoral researcher Thomas Shipley.

Few efforts have been made to curb corruption and promote fundamental rights. Decrepit and neglected public facilities have become a class issue where only those who can afford to pay the necessary bribes or hidden expenditures are able to access quality services. However, the cost of systematic corruption greatly exceeds the sum of bribes paid. Within a society, the more entrenched corrupt activity, the more difficult it is to deal with because further changes will be required.

In an era of narrowing freedoms and increased human rights violations, Lebanon is descending into further chaos. The bureaucracy has long ago lost its sense of accountability. It solely exists to carry out the orders of the executive and, in petty ways, to oppress its people. As state authority weakens and fails, and the state becomes criminal in its oppression of its citizens, lawlessness becomes more rampant.

“For protection, people naturally turn to warlords and other strong figures who express or activate ethnic or clan solidarity, thus offering the possibility of security at a time when all else, and the state itself, is crumbling,” writes Robert Rotberg, founding director of Harvard Kennedy School’s Program on Intrastate Conflict.

Corruption prospers in many states, but it often does so on an unusually destructive scale in failed states. Rotberg argues that “once the downward spiral starts in earnest, only a concerted, determined effort can slow its momentum; corrupt autocrats and their equally corrupt associates typically have few incentives to arrest their state’s slide, since they find clever ways to benefit from impoverishment and misery.”

Indeed, most corruption is practical in the sense that it serves a purpose. Corruption is a sign that public officials have abandoned the rule of law. They begin by subverting democratic norms and coercing the bureaucracy into subservience, thus ending judicial independence, blocking civil society, and suborning the security forces.

Corruption at all levels undermines legitimate government, although it may exist as a way of life for citizens in failed states. It is important to realize that failed states are completely man-made, not accidental.