The infamous Lebanese Christian civil war slogan goes: “نحن هنا وهنا سنبقى.” If you google those words that translate to “we are here and this is where we’re staying,” you get plenty of Lebanese-centric references that can, even over 24 years after the theoretical end of the Civil War, get those same Christians riled up. As it stands, however, Harvard did some studies on behalf of the region, and the whole “نحن هنا وهنا سنبقى” slogan is not entirely correct.
Religion Demographics specialists Todd Johnson and Gina Zurlo have recently published a study (link) in the Harvard Journal of Middle Eastern Politics and Policies that examines the situation of Christians in the Middle East in general and in some of its countries in specific.
In general, they noted that the overall Christian population of the Middle East stood at 13.6% in 1910. That 13.6% decreased to a measly 4.2% in 2010. The projections for 2025 put the population at only 3.6%.
They attribute the shift to multiple reasons, including emigration due to wars, instability, the rise of Islamic extremism, etc…. But Lebanon is a focal point of the study due to the different nature of the country compared to the region, especially that they find the drop in the Christian population of Lebanon to be substantial.
These are their findings:
In 1910, prior to the founding of the state of Greater Lebanon (catch up on your history book), Christians constituted about 77.5% of the population of what was the Mutasarrifate of Mount Lebanon. Before the Lebanese civil war, the portion of Lebanese Christians relative to the general population was approximated to 62.5%.
Following the end of the civil war and in estimated numbers for 2010, Christians constituted 34% of the Lebanese population. This percentage is expected to drop even further come 2025 to about 30%.
The reason for the decrease is explained as follows:
- The Lebanese civil war and the emigration of Christians to Western countries,
- Lower birth rate in the Lebanese Christian population due to their generally higher economic status,
- Increasingly decreasing role and influence at a national level.
It’s eye-opening to see in numbers what we know in theory.
Decreasing percentages don’t mean that Christians are going to be wiped off from the country quite yet. The decrease has less to do with the propaganda of ISIS’ threat to existence through fear instilled by fear-mongering politicians, but more to do with how things are in the country as things stand today in 2015.
The purpose of this post is not to elicit sectarian talk. This isn’t about Christians as a religious establishment as much as a demographical agglomeration. The role of Christians in the building of Lebanon is historically established, so losing them is a disaster to the country. Their role in the advancement of the country cannot be denied: all the country’s major universities and schools were formed by missionaries; even our hospitals emanated from Christian religious establishment.
Changing demographics is a natural process in any country’s lifespan. Populations age, their characteristics change, their constitution gets altered over the years. So the solution isn’t to panic about the changes, but to see what they mean.
The Lebanese problem isn’t only that its Christians are becoming less and less of its population, but that those same Christians cannot 1) agree on a future for the country and 2) see that their future lies in stopping to look at themselves as Christians but as Lebanese first and foremost who have a country they need to build, especially given that Lebanon is probably the only country in the region where they can be safe and hope for a country. God, country, family – not in that order.
What Lebanon in general and its Christians in particular need at this point is to finally realize that the only hope, regardless of how demographical percentages change, is the establishment of a secular state in Lebanon where people are not defined by the religion they are born into, but as citizens with rights and duties that are not adjusted to their prayer building.
Certainly, the notion is beyond delusional at this point as it requires a massive leap of forward thinking from the entire Lebanese population. But if Lebanese Christians can’t see the danger of clinging to the status quo where the status quo is as moving as quicksand, then they have more things to worry about than decreasing percentages over a bunch of decades.
Less slogans, more plans. Less chants to civil-war-leaders, more criticism and accountability. Less religious marriages, more civil marriages. Less this faculty’s dean has to be Christian, more this faculty’s dean has to be competent. Less let’s massively panic about Khaled el Daher, more let’s ignore and try to take the higher road.
The “نحن هنا وهنا سنبقى” slogan is easy to say, but it’s tough to implement with no president, political deadlock, rising poverty, no prospect for jobs, and the urge to get visas stamped on your passport the moment you receive your college degree. I guess it all doesn’t matter in the face of fiery existential chants. If only, though, the numbers lied. Build a country in which you’d want to stay, not just shout about staying.