Lebanon Country Report
Lebanon is a consociational parliamentary republic where Christians, Sunnis, and Shi'as share the positions of president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament, respectively. This small Middle Eastern country (6 million inhabitants) is nevertheless vulnerable to national and regional political crises, particularly as Iran and Saudi Arabia instrumentalize religious cleavages in the country and use local proxies to extend their areas of influence in a larger conflict between the two powers for regional geopolitical supremacy. The near-resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri on November 4 (a decision later rescinded on December 5) exemplifies the vulnerability of Lebanon's political environment to the conflict. In addition, included in the country's total population of 6 million are 997,905 Syrian refugees, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Clashes are also regularly reported on the borders with Syria.
REGIONS TO AVOID
Since the November 2017 political crisis - triggered by the now-rescinded resignation of Prime Minister Hariri - most governments advise against travel to Lebanon, and recommend that all individuals exercise caution while in the country.
The capital Beirut is generally safe; however, it is strongly recommended that travelers do not travel to the southern districts of the capital, including Bir Hassan, Ghobeiry, Chuya, Haret Hraik, Burj Al-Brajne, Mraije, Er Rouais and Laylake (i.e. neighborhoods located south of the city's Sports Center and Al-Hakim street). Despite a heightened security presence in Tripoli, trips to the city - and particularly to the city's northern neighborhoods - are not recommended.
Travel to Lebanon's border regions should be avoided, whether in the north (Halba, El-Minieh), in the east (Baalbek, Hermel, Aarsal, Machgara, Marjayoun), or in the south (Sidon, Nabatiyeh, Bent Jbail) due to relentless cross-border fighting between Lebanese soldiers and jihadist groups (including with Islamic State [IS] militants). Foreign visitors should particularly avoid locations where political meetings are held or political protests may be organized.
Travelers are advised to be vigilant in the southern regions of the country, where explosive devices (mines) represent a significant threat.
Caution must be exercised in the vicinity of Palestinian refugee camps; access is forbidden by the Lebanese authorities. All travel near the Sidon refugee camp of Ein El Helwe, which has seen violent confrontations between rival groups since the beginning of 2017, should be avoided.
Because of a high risk of kidnapping, some governments advise their nationals against travel to the Bekaa region.
Military counter-terrorism operations are conducted on a regular basis in some cities, particularly those in the northeast of the country (Ras Baalbeck, Qaa, and Aarsal) that serve as a hideout for IS militants coming from Syria.
The terrorist threat is high in Lebanon. Many groups - including Hezbollah, IS, Al-Qa'ida, Hamas, Hay'at Tahrir Al-Sham, the Palestinian Liberation Front - are present within Lebanon and take advantage of the country's porous borders and easy access to arms to establish themselves in areas beyond government control.
Militant groups are known to be active in Tripoli, in areas close to the Syrian border, and in Palestinian refugee camps. On June 30, 2017, six individuals set off explosive vests and threw a grenade in the Arsal camp in northeastern Lebanon, near the Syrian border. The attack killed one person and wounded seven more.
Lebanese government buildings and places often frequented by westerners (e.g. hotels, shopping areas, restaurants, bars, etc.) are often targeted, making the capital Beirut particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Since President Michel Aoun's inauguration (October 2016), the country's security apparatus has been strengthened. The army reportedly thwarted a series of bombings targeting Beirut in December 2016. On January 21, 2017, security forces also thwarted a suicide bombing attack in Beirut's Hamra neighborhood.
An increased risk of kidnapping also accompanies the heightened threat of terrorism in the country; militant groups have been known to target foreign nationals in the country.
Security measures have been increased at Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport (BEY) due to threats made against transportation infrastructure by various militant groups.
On several occasions over the past few years, rockets have been fired over the southern border into Israel; each time, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have retaliated, sometimes firing rockets dangerously close to residential areas. In early January 2016, violent clashes between Hezbollah fighters and the Israeli army broke out near Shebaa Farms (Golan Heights).
A wave of demonstrations erupted in December 2017 following the United States' recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Travelers are advised to monitor the situation, avoid any gatherings due to potential violence, and to follow instructions issued by local authorities. It is generally recommended to avoid addressing the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with locals.
Lebanon's political system was, until recently, in a state of turmoil as no clear political majority had been able to establish itself in parliament. The country also faced a serious institutional deadlock as no president had been elected between May 2014 and October 2016, until the parliamentary election of Michel Aoun on October 31. Aoun appointed Saad El-Hariri as prime minister of the government he then formed. The internal affairs of Lebanon are subject to external influence, most particularly influence from Iran and Saudi Arabia. Prime Minister Hariri's announcement of his resignation, while on travel to Saudi Arabia in November 2017, exemplified how Lebanon's political environment is subject to the Iran-Saudi Arabia proxy conflict. Saad Al-Hariri (a Sunni), while in Saudi Arabia (a Sunni country), had criticized President Aoun's tolerance vis-à-vis Hezbollah (a Shi'a party close to Shi'a Iran). Saad al-Hariri rescinded his resignation upon his return to Lebanon in early December, thus avoiding a new political crisis in the country.
The May 2017 legislative elections were postponed until May 2018 after political leaders were unable to find common ground on new voting laws that must be approved before the election can take place. Unable to reach an agreement, parliament attempted to extend its mandate for four years (which was already done in 2013), prompting President Aoun to suspend parliamentary sessions and give members a deadline by which an agreement must be reached.
A political movement based on fighting corruption in Lebanon began in the summer of 2015 when several thousand demonstrators took to the streets of Beirut several times to protest against the dramatic amount of garbage piling up in the streets of the city, forming the non-politically aligned movement known as "You Stink!" Though the number of those involved in protests has sharply decreased in recent months, leaders of the movement continue to call on their supporters to participate in related demonstrations in the capital Beirut, particularly in the city's downtown areas (Riad El-Solh Square, Grand Sérail, Gemayzeh, and Antelias neighborhoods). Municipal elections took place in Beirut and in five provinces in May 2016. The campaign period highlighted a deepening political crisis in Lebanon. This includes crumbling public infrastructure that has led to periodic water and electricity shortages.
Beirut maintains a close eye on changes to the political and security environment in Syria due to concerns that the crisis will associated crises will spill over the border (e.g. internal tensions between communities, destabilization in Damascus, violence, terrorist attacks, political assassinations, and an influx of Syrian refugees).
Lebanese authorities previously announced a significant fall in petty crime in Beirut and its surroundings in 2015 and 2016. The number of robberies, burglaries, and hijackings, however, remains high. Foreigners are sometimes victims of robberies inside collective taxis. The Lebanese Ministry of the Interior has advised against the use of the Uber ridesharing platform for security reasons in December 2017. It is therefore recommended to not wear anything valuable, avoid taking collective taxis, and avoid walking alone at night. In case of aggression do not offer resistance, as the situation could escalate.
Bank card fraud is occasionally reported.
SOCIAL RISKS and HUMANITARIAN SITUATION
Lebanon is struggling to deal with an unprecedented humanitarian crisis brought on by the stream of an estimated one million refugees fleeing Syria - approximately one-quarter of Lebanon's population - creating the world's highest proportion of refugees per inhabitant. The influx of refugees has placed a significant strain on the already fragile socioeconomic situation, and has discouraged tourism, especially from Gulf countries.
The humanitarian situation for refugees has caused concern as basic needs (water, electricity, education, etc.) are not met.
It is important to note that the border between Syria and Lebanon has been officially closed since October 20, 2014, except for humanitarian aid deliveries.
Beirut-Rafic Hariri International Airport (BEY) is located south of the capital Beirut, and links Beirut to neighboring countries as well as Europe's biggest cities. It is recommended to avoid landing at night as the ID verification process can be long and the wait for a visa upon landing can take up to six hours. Any traveler presenting a passport with an Israeli stamp or an Israeli airplane ticket will not be authorized to enter Lebanese territory.
The UK government has announced that passengers flying non-stop to the United Kingdom from Lebanon will be banned from transporting any electronic device larger than a standard-sized smartphone (16 cm x 9.3 cm x 1.5 cm / 6.3 in x 3.5 in x 0.6 in) in carry-on luggage. This includes laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, DVD players, and video games, which will have to be stowed in checked luggage for the duration of the flight.
Road accidents occur on a regular basis throughout Lebanon, Beirut included, due to aggressive driving behavior and a poorly maintained road network. The capital is often congested during peak hours and significant transportation disruptions are reported regularly. According to health authorities, road accidents have more than doubled over the past few years and are the primary cause of death among young people aged 15 to 30. Caution should be exercised when driving in Lebanon as traffic regulations are not always respected, even though Lebanese authorities are stricter than in the past.
Major roads as well as the road leading to the airport can be closed by protesters at any time without notice. In order to get to the airport or from the airport to the downtown area, it is advised to take the road that links Sidon to Beirut; it is not recommended to take the road passing by Beirut's southern suburbs.
For security reasons, Lebanese authorities have set up multiple checkpoints throughout the country. It is important to carry identification at all times and to cooperate with the police or to let the driver take care of the situation if you are a passenger.
Public transportation includes buses and public taxis (called "service"). These taxis are shared and usually have a taxi sign. Private taxi companies are generally safer than public transportation. It is advised not to take shared "service" taxis or rides from individuals offering private transportation from the airport; cases of violence against riders have been reported in the past. If you wish to take a taxi, it is preferable to rely on private companies recognizable by the company's taxi sign.
Railways are nonexistent in Lebanon and there are no domestic flights.
Although Lebanese healthcare infrastructure is adequate, medical treatment can be expensive. Most hospitals are well equipped and medical personnel speak French or English. Before traveling to Lebanon, it is necessary to verify health insurance coverage in the country and to have appropriate sums of money to cover medical treatment abroad as hospitals always check the health coverage and assets of their patients.
Tap water in Lebanon is not considered safe to drink.
Lebanon is on a list of countries where individuals are at risk of contracting Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a viral respiratory disease caused by a new coronavirus (MERS-CoV); however, no cases of MERS-CoV have been reported.
No vaccines are required to enter Lebanon, but it is advisable to be up to date on the diphtheria-tetanus-poliomyelitis (DTP) and tuberculosis vaccines. Vaccinations against hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and typhoid are also recommended in certain cases.
The risk of earthquakes is present in Lebanon, especially in Beirut, as the country is located on a fault line. The last major earthquake in Lebanon occurred in 1956 in Zrariyeh (Sidon district), killing more than 140 people. More recently, an earthquake struck near Jbeil in May 2014, leading to some material damage. Most buildings in the country do not conform to earthquake-resistant standards and several experts have stated that an earthquake with a magnitude of six or above in Beirut would destroy 25 percent of the city.
In winter, heavy snowfall can lead to roadblocks and traffic disruption in mountainous regions.
Lebanon is a relatively westernized and Francophone country, with both Muslim and Christian residents. Travelers should respect local traditions, customs, laws, and religions at all times and be aware of their actions to ensure they do not cause offense, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or in religious areas. Alcohol consumption is permitted in the country; however, it is not tolerated in southern Muslim cities such as Sidon. It is advised not to eat, drink, or smoke in front of Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
Photography should be limited to tourist sites. Photographing military sites is forbidden and could result in arrest. It is also advisable to avoid photography of public places. In general, it is advised to avoid photography of people without their consent. Many foreign travelers have been arrested and detained for several hours as their actions were deemed suspicious by authorities.
If you lose your passport, you must report it to the nearest police station and to your consular authority. You should then contact your country's local embassy. The General Directorate of General Security can provide a document that enables you to leave the country.
Firing weapons into the air is a common phenomenon in Lebanon, especially during holidays and political demonstrations. Make sure to avoid large public gatherings during shooting displays.
The Lebanese Criminal Code includes a general provision forbidding "any sexual act against nature." Lebanese courts consider this provision to include homosexuality.
Lebanon enjoys a Mediterranean climate. Summers are hot (30°C) and dry while winters are mild and rainy. Conditions in the mountainous regions are cooler, even cold, and snow is common in the winter.
Useful NumbersCountry Code: +961 Police: 112
Voltage: 110/220 V ~ 50 Hz
Lebanon: February 15 transportation strike called off /update 1
TIMEFRAME: from 2/12/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/15/2018, 11:59 PM (Asia/Beirut).
Lebanon: Four-hour transportation strike February 15
TIMEFRAME: from 2/12/2018, 12:00 AM until 2/15/2018, 11:59 PM (Asia/Beirut).