Case Study: Sabaa Party, Lebanon

Lebanon’s Sabaa (“Seven”) Party was founded in 2016 by a group of civil society activists who had become frustrated with the dysfunction of Lebanon’s corrupt sectarian political system. As with many other movement-based parties, Sabaa had its roots in the 2015 Beirut garbage crisis, which came about after the country’s parties could not agree on a new landfill site and the streets of Beirut filled with garbage. The resulting protests fueled ineffective a new wave of civil society activism and new MBPs which sought to take on the country’s politics. Sabaa hoped in particular to provide voters with an appealing secular option which would cooperate  with other movements focused on improving governance. 


Sabaa had to find ways to raise resources and attract attention in a political system dominated by clientelism and corruption. It also hoped to build a party organization that could not be dominated by a single group in person, in contrast to Lebanon’s other political parties. Additionally, it needed to convince voters that it would “do politics differently” by advancing concrete policy proposals.


Before Lebanon’s 2018 parliamentary elections, Sabaa members traveled around Lebanon and held public meetings, engaged citizens, and listened to suggestions on various issues from the economy to health care and human rights. These informed the party’s 43-page manifesto, which became the centerpiece of their campaign. The party also adopted internal bylaws and procedures that were meant to institutionalize a “horizontal” party; for example, the party adopted a rule that no individual could fund more than 20% of the party’s expenses. Finally, in order to help unify the opposition, Sabaa recruited members of nearly a dozen social movements to support its Kollouna Watani (“We Are All My Nation”) Coalition. These groups represented diverse positions on issues but united in their stance against corruption and the failures of the ruling political class.  


Sabaa’s performance in the 2018 elections was mixed. The party received significant criticism for advancing candidates who lacked a clear identity, political vision, and clear commonalities. They were also criticized for wasting time in arguments over alliances, list formation, and candidate vetting. However, despite its campaign missteps, Sabaa and its Kollouna Watani coalition successfully put forward a cross-sectarian opposition coalition and kept the momentum alive for civil society and political movements attempting to disrupt the country’s failing political system. Although the party has since faced defections as a result of its alleged takeover by one if its founders, many of its current and former supporters hope that it will serve as a model for how to build coalitions to take on Lebanon’s sectarian and dysfunctional politics.
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