In the 1960s and early 1970s, Lebanon was referred to as “the Riviera of the Middle East,” the prestigious tourist destination where people from all over came to sit and sunbathe on the beautiful coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. However, in 1975, Lebanon quickly switched from the place to be, to the place to avoid. With an already religiously diverse public, surge of Palestinian refugees, and the ending of the Cold War further dividing the public politically, a wave of multi-faceted armed conflicts arose between Lebanon’s Christian and rising Muslim population, which itself was divided between Shias and Sunnis.
Also fighting, in what is now known as the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990, were Lebanon’s neighbors Syria and Israel; first, entering the war in regard to protecting their own territory and later, using Lebanon as the “perfect playground” to settle the growing hostilities between the two. The 15-year civil war eventually ended in Syrian military occupation intended to assist the new government and with the formation of two major political parties: the March 14 Alliance, led by Maronite-dominated groups with an anti-Syrian stance, and the March 8 Alliance, led by the Shia-dominated terrorist organization Hezbollah with a pro-Syrian stance. The two alliances were dedicated and named after the Cedar Revolution in 2005, a series of peaceful demonstrations aiming to and successfully forcing the withdrawal of the Syrian military from Lebanon.
Today, Lebanon maintains a parliamentary republic where each high-ranking official must be a member of a specific religious group; for example, the President must be a Maronite Christian and the Prime minister a Sunni Muslim. While the U.S. follows the idea of a separation of church and state to prevent religious conflicts, Lebanon, with its extremely diverse religious population, uses this system as a way to fairly represent the 18 religious groups in the government.
Religious Demographics of Lebanon in 2006
Although a national census has not been conducted since 1932 due to the sensitivity of demographics and diversity, 95% of the Lebanese population is either Muslim or Christian, divided among various sects and denominations. The two largest religious groups being the Maronite Christians, one of the two original founders of Lebanon, and Sunni Muslims. For ethnicity, Lebanon is mainly composed of Arabs and a small portion of Armenians; however, the Arabs themselves originate from many different Arab countries where today, a large majority of refugees are from Palestine and Syria. Arabic is the official language of Lebanon with Lebanese Arabic as its spoken dialect. In addition, due to Lebanon’s history as a mandated country under France, French as well as English are also taught in many Lebanese schools.
In regard to the Human Development Index, Lebanon is a developing country ranking 112nd out of the 191 countries worldwide. Due to an ongoing financial and economic crisis, it is estimated that 82% of the population lives in multidimensional poverty. Other factors include its unstable political system, high GDP ratio, unreliable internet services, and proximity to conflict-ridden Israel/Palestine and Syria. Despite its low ranking on a global scale, Lebanon ranks as one of the highest Arab states in the Middle East, not counting the oil-rich gulf countries.
“Lebanon Ranks among the World’s Best Countries.” 2019. Usnews.com. 2019. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-countries/lebanon.
Science, Christian. 2015. “Lebanon’s Paradise before the Civil War – the Christian Science Monitor.” The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor. April 26, 2015. https://www.csmonitor.com/Photo-Galleries/In-Pictures/Lebanon-s-Paradise-Before-the-Civil-War/(photo)/903384.
BBC News. 2018. “Lebanon Profile – Timeline,” April 25, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-14649284.
“Human Development Report 2020 the next Frontier: Human Development and the Anthropocene Briefing Note for Countries on the 2020 Human Development Report Lebanon.” n.d. Accessed September 12, 2022. https://hdr.undp.org/sites/default/files/Country-Profiles/LBN.pdf.