Country Listing

Lebanon Table of Contents



Figure 4. Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon, 1986

In 1987 the dominant culture among the various communities was an Arab culture influenced by Western themes. Lebanon's shared language, heritage, history, and religion with its Arab neighbors, however, tended to minimize the distinctiveness of the Lebanese culture. Ethnically, most Lebanese are Arabs, many of whom can trace their lineage to ancient tribes in Arabia. This ethnic majority constitutes more than 90 percent of the population. Muslim and Christian Lebanese speak Arabic, and many of their families have lived in what is now Lebanon for centuries. Moreover, the difference in dialects in Lebanon is a function of geographical location and not of confessional affiliation. Minority non-Arab ethnic groups include Armenians, Kurds, and Jews, although some members of these groups have come to speak the language and identify with the culture of the majority.

Despite the commonalities in Lebanese society, sectarianism (or confessionalism) is the dominant social, economic, and political reality. Divisiveness has come to define that which is Lebanon. Sects should not be viewed as monolithic blocs, however, since strife within confessional groups is as common as conflict with other sects. Even so, the paramount schismatic tendency in modern Lebanon is that between Christian and Muslim.

Sectarianism is not a new issue in Lebanon. The disintegrative factors in society preceded the creation of modern Lebanon in 1920. Before that date, historical Lebanon, or Mount Lebanon, was shared primarily between the Druzes and the Maronites. The two communities, distinguished by discrete religious beliefs and separate cultural outlooks, did not coexist in peace and harmony. Rather, the Druzes and Maronites often engaged in fierce battles over issues ranging from land ownership, distribution of political power, foreign allegiances, and petty family feuds. At least twice in the last century, the conflicts between the two confessional communities developed into full-scale civil wars, which were only ended by the intervention of foreign powers. The Lebanese sectarian problem became more acute in 1920, when the French authorities annexed territories to Mount Lebanon to form Greater Lebanon. Although the new state comprised diverse confessional communities, a political system favoring the majority Christians was established by the French (see Mandate Period , ch. 1).

Data as of December 1987