chapter  4
Practicing research in Lebanon: institutions and internationalization
Pages 37

Studies conducted over the past decade have identified the contours of the research system in Lebanon. This chapter is an overview of the institutional organization of research in Lebanon and the main challenges this small country, with rather strong academic institutions, has to face. Indeed, the four million inhabitants of Lebanon1 share some features that make it quite different from the neighboring Arab countries: high levels of education and a large student population;2 a significant scientific production; the recognized quality of its physicians and its hospitals; a high rate of emigration; and an economy that is primarily driven toward services. It is also a parliamentary democracy but at the same time a society divided into communities officially recognized by the political system and partly by its Constitution, inherited from the French protectorate. It is also a country deeply marked by a long and bloody civil war (1975-1990) (AbouRjeily and Labaki 1993).3 This sectarian system is reflected in the recruitment of public officers, particularly in the case of the Lebanese University, the largest university in the country, which includes half of the student population. In addition, Lebanon has a large portion of refugees: first, 250,000 Palestinian refugees since 1948 (a population that is very marginalized by the absence of their basic rights in Lebanon, such as the right to work or to own property, among others) and the recent waves of Syrian refugees since the onset of the Syrian uprising. These refugees constituted, in April 2014, one-quarter of the Lebanese population. It is thus a rich country, weakened by an unstable political situation that creates an unfavorable environment for research and innovation. Until 2006, very few papers described research in Lebanon.4 The journal of the Lebanese Association of Women researchers, Bahithat, gathered in one issue (no. 3, 1996-1997) a collection of articles, essentially essays that are not always based on data, on the state of research in the Arab world, mainly in Lebanon. This is probably the first systematic collection on this topic.5 In 2006, a research team was set up to investigate different aspects of the research organization as part of project ESTIME (2005-2007).6 A report by Jacques Gaillard (2007) presents an overview of the institutional system. This project was also the opportunity for some major fieldwork on research practices in the natural sciences, the social sciences, the innovation system and research funding available locally.7 This was the only comprehensive work on the research system and since then,

despite several attempts, research in Lebanon has not been the object of such a general assessment. Since then, one can find some analysis of the situation of research in Lebanon mainly in reports on the entire Arab world (UNDP 2004; 2005; 2009; Al Maktoum Foundation and UNDP 2009; Arab Thought Foundation 2009; chapters dedicated to the Arab states in the UNESCO World Science Report). All these general reports on the Arab world follow the tracks of the three first UNDP reports on Human Development in the Arab world. The latter had been insisting on the importance of education, research, the role of women and freedom of speech and opinions, as engines of progress. The 2009 Arab Knowledge Report Al-Maktoum Foundation and UNDP 2009) has insisted on the importance of a knowledge society and dedicated a whole chapter to scientific research. All these reports give Lebanon the image of a middle-rank economy among the Arab economies. We find this surprising, given the number of rather mature and renowned academic institutions, as well as the high level of qualifications of its population. As we mentioned in the introduction of this book, Antoine Zahlan (2012), who lives and works in Lebanon, has published a comprehensive study, mainly based on bibliometric data and insights from his own experience as an engineer. He maintains that research is not developed in the Arab region mainly because of the absence of a political project based on national sovereignty. Lebanon is not exactly Zahlan’s target, but his argument about sovereignty rings true with particular strength in a country that is strangled by foreign forces. When looking at Lebanon’s case we must thus remember that its situation is particular on more than one dimension, especially in what concerns intellectual life, scientific research and academic presence. It has also demonstrated a solid tradition of scientific collaboration which makes it more interesting. In all these aspects, Lebanon ranks rather favorably compared to its neighbors. However, if these above-mentioned international organizations (World Bank, UNDP, etc.) persist in giving this country a rather unfavorable view, it is mainly because of the unfavorable conditions for business and political instability. For example, in the first innovation survey ever conducted in the country (Arvanitis 2014), over 78 percent of companies surveyed declared that the political and security situation in Lebanon is a factor that impedes innovation (as well as research and development in firms). Lebanon also offers one of the very few innovative business incubators (Berytech) that is functional and successful in the Arab region. These features make Lebanon a distinct case and of particular interest. And, as we will review in this chapter, Lebanon rates rather favorably in terms of quality of research; despite the abominable political environment, it is still a place that offers quality research. This, by itself, is a paradox.