Christians Are Disappearing From Lebanon

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:

  1. The Lebanese civil war and the emigration of Christians to Western countries,
  2. Lower birth rate in the Lebanese Christian population due to their generally higher economic status,
  3. 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.

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6 thoughts on “Christians Are Disappearing From Lebanon

  1. * I know that you’re not the one behind this very study, my remarks concerning the methodology, figures and sources aren’t addressed to you *

    I also couldn’t agree more about your feelings, ideas and suggestions about the future of Lebanon, the ideal of a secular state and the how the past and current turmoil are affecting the demographics of the region, but still, there are many remarks and corrections I have to write about because some of the above-presented figures are incorrect.

    …So this « research » paper used figures about Mount-Lebanon in order to illustrate a % change in Lebanon -AS WHOLE- ?

    Is it relevant/useful/rational to use figures concerning a given administrative area and re-use them to illustrate a hypothetical change in a far bigger and (and vastly different) administrative area?

    Christians most probably still constitute >70% of the population of Mount-Lebanon today, even in spite of the growth of the Dahyeh and the growing migration of Beiruti Sunnis away from (inner) Beirut.

    Concerning Lebanon as whole:

    In 1932 Christians accounted for 58% of the total citizenry and 50% of the citizens living in Lebanon.

    Note that there were many under-counting of Muslims in the Akkar/Hirmil/Anti-Lebanon areas as well as the statistically-significant refusal of « Arabist » Muslims town-dwellers to participate in French censuses.

    In the 1910s/1920s/1930s The Lebanese Christian population received sizable numbers of Armenian, Assyrian, Chaldean and Syriac Christians from Anatolia as well as many Syro-Palestinian (Christian) neo-citizens.

    The 50% figure in 1932 was mainly reached via the above-mentioned migrations and subsequent naturalization.

    It is also believed that the 50-50% balance was (artificially) maintained in Lebanon until the late 1960s-early 1970s, mainly, once again, via the naturalization of foreign Christians (Palestinian Christian refugees, bourgeois Syrians and wealthy Egyptian Copts…).

    The 62,5% figure in 1970 is simply unbelievable as it would mean that Christians gained no less than 12,5 percentage points between 1932 and 1970, while their birth rates were far lower than Muslim’s, especially in the 1960s and 1970s.

    The 2010 figure seems almost okay, as most articles and studies point to a percentage in the 35-41,5% range.

    For example, as of 2011, 41,5% of registered voters aged 21+ were Christians.

    That would mean :

    1930s : 50% -ish
    1970s : >40%-35-40% ish

    The roundish % would be :

    1930s : 50%
    1970s : 37,5%

    From 50%-ish to almost 40% in 80 years is not much of a dramatic decline if you ask me … Especially given the fact that the 50%-mark was reached via the naturalization of Armenian/Assyrian and Syro-Palestinian Christians.

    Studies have shown that Muslim have represented the majority of emigrants since the 1970s, which further strengthened the fact that Christians haven’t been « decimated » by emigration.
    Fertility rates have been converging: Muslims, as of 2004, had a fertility rate of around 1,9, while Christians had an average of 1,6. Druzes were the least fertile sect with around 1,5.

    As of 2005, the national Lebanese fertility rate was 1,75. Lebanese Muslims had a fertility rate 5-10% higher than the national average, while Christians had a fertility rate 5-10% lower than the national average.

    Data from 2007, 2009 and 2011 show that the % of people aged 0-5 is now almost identical in all Lebanese Muhafazat, showing a recent convergence in birth rates.

    In the 1970s the Muslim fertility rate was 7 (with an exceptional 8,5 for Shiites) while Christians and Druzes had a fertility rate slightly above 3.

    As of 2015, emigrations and birth rates have converged to the extent that one can’t discuss a potential Christian disappearance caused by either (or both).

    Other corrections:

    The figure about Christian population in Israel is correct, but why would it decline in the next 15 years?

    The Christian Palestinian population in Israel has a robust growth rate, very limited emigration and an above-replacement fertility of 2,3 children/woman. It is far unlikely that it would experience a loss of 10-15% in the next decade, considering the permanent, stable and noticeable growth of its population in the past 2-3 decades.

    The same applies to Jordan – (Christian) emigration might be noticeable, but it is mostly directed toward countries where naturalization are impossible/and return to Jordan inevitable : GCC countries. Christian Jordanians have a lower birth rate than their Muslim counterparts, but the traditional structure of the Jordanian society as whole makes it far unlikely for them to have reached a fertility rate under 2, which would explain the loss of population between now and 2025.

    Syria and Iraq are war-zone; demographic projections can’t be made. Or at least, as with all serious demographic studies, they should have included 3/4/5 types of scenario (pessimistic, apocalyptic, median, optimistic…).

    Sources :

    http://www.lkdg.org/webfm_send/157

    http://www.lstatic.org/PDF/demographenglish.pdf

    http://www.ifes.org/~/media/Files/Publications/White%20PaperReport/2011/Lebanon_electoral_districts_2011.pdf

    http://www.mercatornet.com/articles/view/the_myth_of_disappearing_lebanese_christians

    Among others !

    Reply
  2. Pingback: “Christians are disappearing from Lebanon” (A Separate State of Mind) | WORLD CHRISTIAN RESEARCH

  3. Pingback: Svensk-libaneser: Sverige er som Libanon om 20 år « Snaphanen.dk

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