Previously dubbed “the Switzerland of the Middle East” and a country of refuge for Christians in the region, Lebanon has been ruined by conflict. At the same time as this degradation, the particularity of this country with multiple confessions, even in the distribution of power, is increasingly threatened with the constant reduction in the number of Christians.
In the Land of Cedars, executive functions have been shared between denominations since the National Pact of 1943. The Presidency of the Republic goes to a Maronite Christian, that of the Council to a Sunni, the posts of Deputy Prime Minister and Vice-President of Parliament to the Greek Orthodox. At the legislative level, the Speaker of Parliament is a Shiite Muslim.
This originality compared to the rest of the Arab world is due to the numerical importance of the various religious communities. During the last census carried out by the Lebanese authorities, Christians constituted 53% of the population. But their numbers continued to decline. The civil war from 1975 to 1990 which claimed 90 lives saw a strong emigration of Christians to Western countries.
Population decline and increased danger
Today, Christians are a minority in Lebanon and could face persecution, according to the Algemeiner Journal. The demographic change has also affected the birth rate and immigration with the arrival first of Palestinian refugees, then that of Syrians fleeing the civil war which began in 2011.
The devastated economy despairs many young Christians who prefer to go into exile. Moreover, many of them “unfortunately feel like foreigners in their own country”, according to Jad Chlouk, a Maronite priest, who adds:
“it negatively affects the whole Christian community, because it loses most of its brightest and best elements, and especially its young people, who are supposed to be the future of Christians here.”
Today, Christians represent only 32,4% of the population (compared to 67,8% Muslims and 4,5% Druze), estimates the CIA's World Factbook. Thirteen years ago, they were 13% according to Statistics Lebanon (for 45% Muslims and 48% Druze). These figures relate only to the Lebanese population and do not include Palestinian and Syrian refugees who are mainly Muslims.
If the changes continue at this rate, the country could find itself with proportionally half as many Christians as in 2010.
“Lebanese Christians perceive their situation in the country as an existential battle. Surrounded by Islamic populations, they themselves adopted a siege mentality. If the current trends of emigration and falling birth rates continue, their percentage could decrease to 20-25 percent and Lebanon will lose its historical character,” a Greek diplomat told the Survey Project. terrorism, points out the Algemeiner Journal.
Even more, the question of the religious security of Christians would be raised, as Father Jad points out:
“The number of Christians in the country is decreasing day by day, which seriously affects the situation and creates even more pressure for those who remain, in a situation where they may soon suffer persecution.”
Christians are increasingly threatened by Hezbollah, such as when the pro-Iranian terrorist movement fired on the headquarters of a Christian political party in Beirut in 2018 or when its militants attacked a Christian neighborhood in November 2019 to scare the demonstrators who were protesting against the leaders of the country largely held by said Hezbollah. There have also been attacks like cthem in the Christian village of al-Qaa committed by the Islamic State in 2016.
Robert Rabil, a professor of political science at Florida Atlantic University and a specialist in political Islam and Lebanese politics, told the Algemeiner Journal that the threats are multiple:
“Christians in Lebanon face multiple external and internal challenges: external influence from Syria, local Salafist networks and incompetent state authorities.”