My Takeaway from Sarah Hariri Haykal Paper on Corruption in Lebanon

My Takeaway from Sarah Hariri Haykal Paper on Corruption in Lebanon

In this paper, Sarah Hariri explains the phenomenon of corruption in Lebanon by game theory and how corruption perpetuates itself because of prevailing social norms. Sarah Hariri Haykal is an Associate Professor at the University of Saint Joseph, Lebanon.

About the Paper

You can read the paper published in the European Scientific Journal in August 2017 here – > “SOCIAL NORMS AND CONDITIONAL CORRUPTION: THE CASE OF LEBANON”.


The paper puts forth the argument that the cause for endemic corruption is more because of social norms rather than structural issues.

In her words

Corruption is not always a cultural problem tied to unethical or defective behaviour. Nor is it explained by structural factors related to bad governance. It is a result of interactions between individuals through social norms based on a mutual betting of the behaviour of other members of society.

The ideas put forth is this paper are unique and counter intuitive as we have been mostly citing structural issues for the rampant corruption in Lebanon.

Game Theory

The tolerance of corruption depends on social norms of society. Individuals optimise their chances of winning. They make a cost-benefit analysis before deciding whether to be honest or corrupt. If many people use corruption, then society arrives at a tipping point, where corrupt actions are incentivised. The tipping point is where the percentage of people using corruption is greater than the people who are not using corruption.

Sarah Hariri has put up a mathematical model which proves it is irrational not be corrupt in a society plagued by endemic corruption after a certain percentage of people start using corruption.

The decision to use corruption is a choice governed by social norms.

If corruption is endemic, the strategy that brings the greatest gain to citizens is that of no “honesty” – Sarah Hariri Laykal.

Structural Issues not at the Root of Corruption in Lebanon

The paper postulates that corruption should be explained in terms of social norms and not only structural issues of bad governance. Every country has a different cultural, psychological, moral and political conditions. So looking at the roots of corruption only through one lens is overlooking other important issues. For e.g. A developed country could have no structural issues, yet the CPI (Corruption Perception Index) could be high.

For example, a developed country like Italy that doesn’t have a structural problem is still perceived as very corrupt.

She questions “Why 23.3% Lebanese tolerate corruption as against 1% in Switzerland?”

Social Norms as the Bigger Evil leading to corruption in Lebanon.

As per the paper, Sarah Hariri suggest that social norms is a bigger problem than the structural issues of bad governance, it outbalances the failure of public institutions.

More outrage about corruption may not help reduce corruption.

I would like to introduce a counter intuitive concept here from the paper. The more we cry hoarse about the scourge of corruption in Lebanon greater is the probability that people would lean more towards corruption. According to game theory, people will reason out that in a corrupt society, you are better off being corrupt.


How do we change social norms? If we can reduce the CPI (Corruption Perception Index) for Lebanon, which will bring back trust back in to society and, as per game theory, fewer people will use corruption.

I propose the following solutions:

  1. We need a role model from the current political class who has a clean image. He / She will help bring down the CPI for Lebanese citizens and improve the international image of our country.
  2. Every Lebanese should tackle corruption at the grass-root level. It could be your local body, your neighbourhood. I urge Lebanese citizens to always stand for integrity at whatever small organisation they represent.

Glossary as per the Paper

Corrupt behaviour is the result of failing to comply with ethical standards and civics

Social norm is defined as a rule of conduct shared by individuals and backed by a sanction.

Structural Issues means Bad governance which is related to fragile public structures or the country’s incompetency to provide the basic services to its citizens.

CPI is the Corruption Perception Index

Corruption in Lebanon

About the author

Financial advisor to UHNWI, private entities, family offices, and companies. Certified Anti-Corruption Manager from The American Anti-Corruption Institute
1 Response
  1. Gina

    Excellent presebtation!
    I agree with your conclusion tgatvevery Lebanese should be engaged in fighting corruption and working or prevention or deterrence while others work on discovery and accountability.
    Together we will make a difference!
    Gina Chammas, CPA, MSc, CACM
    Sr. Advisor to The American Anti-Corruption Institute in the MENA region

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