“Lebanese Muslims outnumber Christians 2-1,” by Alistair Lyon

Lebanese Muslims outnumber Christians.
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters
November 13 2006

November 13 2006

Beirut – Lebanon's political system, which is once again in crisis, aims to share power equally between Christians and Muslims, but a survey published on Monday shows that Christians form only 35 percent of the population.

Private statistician Youssef al-Duweihi, a Maronite Christian, said his figures were based on identity registration records and electoral rolls throughout the country.

"This is scientific, not political," he told Reuters by telephone from his north Lebanon home. "I want to tell the Lebanese this is Lebanon and if there is a problem, resolve it."

According to his survey, published in the independent an-Nahar newspaper, Lebanon has 4,855-million people, of whom just over 35 percent are Christian, 29 percent Shi'a Muslim, 29 percent Sunni Muslim and 5 percent Druze.

Such figures are so sensitive in Lebanon that the last official census was conducted in 1932 during the French Mandate, which said Christians made up 55 percent of the population.

Duweihi, a mathematician, said his survey showed Lebanon's demography was at odds with the power-sharing setup. "It's time to discuss the political system and the electoral law," he said.

His figures appeared at a time of political crisis that pits an anti-Syrian majority coalition government against the Shi'a Hezbollah and Amal factions backed by a Christian group.

If Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's government falls, there may be calls for new parliamentary elections, reopening controversy over how to reform a Syrian-designed electoral law that most Lebanese leaders say should be scrapped.

The Taif agreement which ended the 1975-90 civil war modified the complex religious power-sharing system, set up at the birth of modern Lebanon in 1943. Taif gave Muslims and Christians equal representation in parliament instead of the 6 to 5 advantage Christians had enjoyed previously.

It stipulated that the president should remain a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shi'a, while calling for the eventual abolition of the system that distributes state posts among Lebanon's 17 recognised sects.

Duweihi's figures show the number of Lebanese entitled to passports, not the number actually residing in the country. Lebanon also hosts more than 400 000 Palestinian refugees and a substantial number of Syrian and other guest workers.

Abdo Saad, the director of the Beirut Centre for Research and Information, said Duweihi's results appeared "reasonable", but added that he did not know what methodology he had used.

Saad said he had had access to Interior Ministry figures in 2000, which showed Christians made up about 33 percent of the population, Shi'as 31,5 percent and Sunnis about 30 percent.

Comments (17)

The Lounsbury said:

The figures sound close to most guestimates, estimates and assumptions I have seen or heard since at least the late 90s, so on the face of it there is little reason to doubt him.

But of course, the reality of the numbers is not the core issue, it is the politics of the numbers.

The problem is if the numbers are made “official.” Everyone knows the rough proportions. Just don’t say them “out loud” (that is, officially….)

December 2nd, 2006, 11:35 pm


Enlightened said:

These numbers will surprise no one. The last census was undertaken in 1932, what surprises me though is the rough split among shias and sunnis, most commentarys on the population have had the shias as having more numbers.

But now the numbers are out it will be surprising if they are published or made official. The easiest way out would be to draft a new electoral law and deconfessioalise the system, but in this part of the world it is hardly possible. Hence the only real possibility would be to have a revolving presidency and prime ministership and forming a senate to form checks and balances on the government, while building state institutions.

Many readers might point to the failed Yugoslavia model and its failures , but i feel this system might be a last resort, hence no community might feel disenfranchised.

December 3rd, 2006, 12:12 am


Ghassan said:

Numbers are not everything. I agree that Hizb-Iran is very effective in mobilizing its Shite but they are concentrated in only 2 areas in Lebanon: South and North Biqaa. So, they can win big there but are not a majority in other areas. In a free election (when Hizb-Iran will not intimidate other candidates or there is no fatwa to prohibit running against them) Hizb can win about 1/3. Still the others will have the 2/3!

Another issue, numbers will backfire sooner or later. The numbers will demand jobs and services. If Hizb-Iran are in control who will provide them with financial assistance. Syria? They were sucking money out of Lebanon? Iran? If it was not the increase in oil prices, Iran can’t feed its own people!

December 3rd, 2006, 2:41 am


Akbar Palace said:

They should also show the same statistics for Bethlehem and Nazareth.

The bottom line is, Christians are decreasing in percentage in Israel and Palestine. And it is no accident. It’s all about muslim “tolerance”. Just ask Hamas and Hezbollah.

December 3rd, 2006, 4:33 am


Laurie Irani said:

Yeah, but the real problem is that dead Lebanese outnumber living Lebanese. News flash: We are humans first, Muslim, Christian, Druze, or Atheist second.

As for the decrease of Christians in Israel and the West Bank, it’s not Muslim intolerance that’s bothering them, but Zionist policies designed to make life a living hell for anyone who aspired to dignity and hope. Christians have more contacts, family, history outside and it’s usually easier for them to leave.

December 3rd, 2006, 4:45 am


Dubai Jazz said:

Dr. Landis, off the topic, I think the ‘previous posts’ botton at the bottom of each post is not working.

December 3rd, 2006, 7:05 am


Jad said:

Ghassan forgot that Shiites are also STILL (despite intensive bombing of israeli) “concentrated” in the south suburb of Beyrouth…

December 3rd, 2006, 10:25 am


t_desco said:

I guess it’s one of the privileges of posting on this blog that you even get the chance of a direct feedback from the author you criticized. That’s great. Thanks a lot!

My choice of words was a bit harsh, but it was directly proportional to my anger over Blanford’s choice of words… 🙂

It is obvious that his book is the result of a lot of work and effort and it is full of interesting stories and information. He conducted a great number of interviews (mainly from one side of the aisle), but sometimes he seems to rely too much on those interviews where it would have been better to seek additional information (like in the article quoted by As’ad AbuKhalil: the portrait of Misbah Al-Ahdab is not complete without the information about what happened to his bodyguard).

There seems to be a certain anti-Syrian bias in the book: a tendency to believe any conspiracy theory involving Syria (like the story about those famous Iraqi WMD’s and their alledged transport to Syria). It is certainly necessary to be highly critical of Syria’s role in Lebanon, but that doesn’t mean that all criticism of Syria is automatically correct. Like in the case of Ahmed Salim Miqati and the plot against the Italian embassy: it seems plausible that this was indeed planned by al-Qa’ida (it wouldn’t be the first plot against an embassy: Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Jakarta, Singapore, Rome, Amman, Baghdad, Istanbul…). Not everything is the result of a Syrian conspiracy… 🙂

December 3rd, 2006, 1:12 pm


Bach7ayfina said:

Yes the numbers sound right, but one must a complete idiot to put Shiites and Sunnis in the same categories. Hence, the title is misleading (as usual with most of apologist Landis’ articles, and opinions). Muslims do not outnumber Christians 2 to 1. The proper statement would be Shiites and Sunnis equal, and Christians undeniable majority.

December 3rd, 2006, 1:14 pm


Akbar Palace said:

“As for the decrease of Christians in Israel and the West Bank, it’s not Muslim intolerance that’s bothering them, but Zionist policies designed to make life a living hell for anyone who aspired to dignity and hope.”

Lauri Irani –

I should have known another Arab would be decrying “Zionist Policies”. The “broken record” doesn’t miss a beat (or skip).

We all know Christians are treated so much better in Arab countries than Israel. A cursory search of Christian communities in Eygpt, Lebanon, the PA shows a much more delightful experience for Christian Arabs;)


December 3rd, 2006, 4:48 pm


Alex said:

Akbar Palace,

Christians are doing juat fine in Syria thank you. And the few jews left in Syria are also doing great. the Arabs can surely learn many lessons from the state of Israel, but respect for human rights and respect for the other religions are not among them. When it comes to those, you are one of the most backward countries in the world. More backward thatn the most backward Arab country.

I have a Christian Palestinian friend who have finally decided to immigrate to Montreal after he realized that the way Israeli soldiers in the streets were insulting his mother, and other mothers, every other day was not a random thing at all. It was designed to make him hate living there and just leave. So he and his family finally left.

You want another story? this same friend was once on a bus and Israeli soldiers stopped them and asked all the MUSLIM men to go outside the bus to be searched and questioned. He (Charlie) and his other Christian freind (George) decided to join their Muslim friends. When the Israeli soldier looked at their ID cards and found out they are Christians, they were beaten for disobeying orders.

True in many Arab countries Christians are not treated as equals at all, but if I am given the choice of living as a Christian in Egypt vs being a Palestinian Christian under Israeli occupation, I will not hesitate to take Egypt any time.

Israel has great potential to be a natural addition to the Middle East, but for now, it in still a paranoid selfish country that is creating the most damage to the whole area.

December 3rd, 2006, 5:20 pm


The Lounsbury said:

It probably is pointless to engage in rational discourse on the issue of anything touching on Israel and Palestine, or Xian and Muslim, but what the hell.

First, of course, decreasing percentage of Xians as a proportion of population certainly has multiple drivers, Akbar supra presumes emmigration is the reason. Certainly emmigration is a reason. So is differential demographic growth, the key and clear driver for the minority Shia having grown as proportion of overall population since 1932 – Akbar making the simple-minded “pie is only one size” mistake.

Second, of course leaving aside the clear religious bigotry involved in Akbar’s comment (and the queer denialism in responses.

December 3rd, 2006, 9:36 pm


The Lounsbury said:

This also was queer: Hence, the title is misleading (as usual with most of apologist Landis’ articles, and opinions). Muslims do not outnumber Christians 2 to 1.

As both Shia and Sunni are Muslim, they do outnumber Xians. If one wants to go for sectarian slicing and dicing, to remain intellectually consistent one can’t look at merely Xians, but Orthodox, Armenian and Maronite church affiliations if one wants to slice and dice the Muslims.

There of course are some valid reasons for doing so (slicing and dicing), but one rather has the senstation that analytical clarity is not the motivator of that comment.

December 3rd, 2006, 10:26 pm


Laurie Irani said:

For clarity’s sake, I am not an Arab, but an Irish-Lithuanian American who married into a Lebanese Maronite family. I got Lebanese citizenship that way, and as a Lebanese citizen, regardless of my family’s heritage, I take an interest in my adopted country and its fate, and in that vein, hope to see the end of confessionalism for the sake of all Lebanese.

As I said earlier, all Lebanese (and Syrians, and Israelis) are first and foremost human beings and all should be treated with dignity. If dignity is denied, then people have the right to fight for it, but not necessarily by taking up arms. Sometimes that’s the only way, but one should know who or what is denying one’s dignity. If it’s a system, that system should be taken apart, whether it’s confessionalism in Lebanon or Zionism in Israel or Islamic fundamentalism.

December 4th, 2006, 5:20 am


blowback said:

Personally I would rather believe an “independent” third party such as the CIA (they do have their own interests) rather than a Maronite Christian.

Shia Muslim – 1,140,000 – 38%
Sunni Muslim – 690,000 – 23%
Maronite Christian – 600,000 – 20%
Other Christian – 360,000 – 12%
Druze – 210,000 – 7%
Total – 3,000,000 – 100%

Population Estimates, 1991 quoted by the Congressional Research Service.

An argument can be made that the electorate is different to the population but population estimates from 14 years ago will be quite close to the electorate today. Given the demographics of Lebanon, the Maronites should accept they are probably now a minority and start to act as such.

December 5th, 2006, 1:21 pm


blowback said:

closing a tag

December 5th, 2006, 2:20 pm


Juan de la Cruz said:

The world is just a small place to live – let us share it all together. Faith is great, but you need good politics to balance things out. Thats why we are born with a heart and a brain, and that is to balance faith and reason. Dont waste your brains not deducing things.

September 13th, 2007, 3:48 am


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