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Ethnic groups in Lebanon

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Ethnic groups in Lebanon

Demographics of Lebanon
Indicator Rank Measure
GDP (PPP) per capita 51st $16,000
Unemployment rate ↓ 21st 20.89%*
CO2 emissions 78th 3.05t
Electricity consumption 77th 49.72GWh
Economic Freedom 95th 2.98
Human Development Index 72nd 0.745
Political freedom Unknown 4
Corruption (A higher score means less (perceived) corruption.) ↓ 134th 2.5
Press freedom 45th 74.00
Literacy Rate 43rd 96.7%
Number of Internet users 59th 2,604,000 users
E-readiness 14th 7.16±
Ease of Doing Business 24th Unknown
Life Expectancy 59th 77.0
Birth rate 113th 15.6
Fertility rate 157th 1.77††
Infant mortality 127th 14.39‡‡
Death rate 157th 7.5
HIV/AIDS rate 127th 0.10%
* including several non-sovereign entities
↓ indicates rank is in reverse order (e.g. 1st is lowest)
per capita
± score out of 10
per 1000 people
†† per woman
‡‡ per 1000 live births

This article is about the demographic features of the population of Lebanon, including population density, ethnicity, education level, health of the populace, economic status, religious affiliations and other aspects of the population.

Identifying all Lebanese as ethnically Phoenicians is a widely employed example of panethnicity since in reality, the Lebanese “are descended from many different peoples who have occupied, invaded, or settled this corner of the world,” making Lebanon, “a mosaic of closely interrelated cultures”.[1] While at first glance, this ethnic, linguistic, religious and denominational diversity might seem to cause civil and political unrest, “for much of Lebanon’s history this multitudinous diversity of religious communities has coexisted with little conflict”.[1] About 99% of the population of Lebanon includes numerous Muslim sects and Christian denominations. Because the matter of religious balance is a sensitive political issue, a national census has not been conducted since 1932, before the founding of the modern Lebanese state. Consequently there is an absence of accurate data on the relative percentages of the population of the major religions and groups.[2] There are about 18 millions Lebanese, worldwide; about 80% of them are Christians

Ethnic Groups

The Lebanese

Main article: Lebanese people

Ethnic background is an important factor in Lebanon. The country encompasses a great mix of cultural, religious, and ethnic groups which have been building up for more than 6,000 years. Although most of the population is today considered Arab, in the sense that Arabic is the national language, the ethnic self-designations vary. The Arabs first reached Lebanon in the 3rd century AD when the Ghassanids (mostly Christian Arabs) migrated north. The predominant cultural backgrounds and ancestry of the Lebanese vary from Aramaean (Ancient Syria) to Canaanite (Phoenician), and Greek (Byzantine). Lebanese are overall genetically similar to the people of Cyprus and to the other modern Levantine populations, such as the Syrians, the Jews and the Palestinians.[3] The question of ethnic identity has come to revolve more around aspects of cultural self-identification more than descent. Religious affiliation has also become a substitute in some respects for ethnic affiliation.[4] Generally it can be said that all religious sects and denominations comprise many different ethnic backgrounds, and that clear ethnic boundaries are difficult to define due to common conversions and inter-faith marriages.

Religious Groups of Lebanon

The Maronite Christians, belong to the West Syriac Rite. Their Liturgical language is the Syriac-Aramaic language.[5][6]

Melkite Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, tend to focus more on the Greek heritage of the region from the days of the Byzantine Empire, and the fact that Greek was maintained as a liturgical language until very recently. Some Lebanese even claim partial descent from Crusader knights who ruled Lebanon for a couple of centuries during the Middle Ages, also backed by recent genetic studies which confirmed this among Lebanese people, especially in the north of the country that was under the Crusader County of Tripoli. This identification with non-Arab civilizations also exists in other religious communities, albeit not to the same extent.

The Sectarian System

Lebanon's religious divisions are extremely complicated, and the country is made up by a multitude of religious groupings. The ecclesiastical and demographic patterns of the sects and denominations are complex. Divisions and rivalries between groups date back as far as 15 centuries, and still are a factor today. The pattern of settlement has changed little since the 7th century, but instances of civil strife and ethnic cleansing, most recently during the Lebanese Civil War, has brought some important changes to the religious map of the country. (See also History of Lebanon.)

Lebanon has by far the largest proportion of Christians of any Arab country, but both Christians and Muslims are sub-divided into many splinter sects and denominations. All population statistics are by necessity controversial, and all denomination and sects have a vested interest in inflating their own numbers. Sunnis, Shi'as, Maronites and Greek Orthodox (the four largest denominations) all often claim that their particular religious affiliation holds a majority in the country, adding up to over 150% of the total population, even before counting the other denominations. One of the rare things that most Lebanese religious leaders will agree on is to avoid a new general census, for fear that it could trigger a new round of denominational conflict. The last official census was performed in 1932.

Religion has traditionally been of overriding importance in defining the Lebanese population. Dividing state power between the religious denominations and sects, and granting religious authorities judicial power, dates back to Ottoman times (the millet system). The practice was reinforced during French mandate, when Christian groups were granted privileges. This system of government, while partly intended as a compromise between sectarian demands, has caused tensions that still dominate Lebanese politics to this day.

The Christian population majority is believed to have ended in the early 1960s, but government leaders would agree to no change in the political power balance. This led to Muslim demands of increased representation, and the constant sectarian tension slid into violent conflict in 1958 (prompting U.S. intervention) and again in the grueling Lebanese Civil War, in 1975–90.

The balance of power has been slightly adjusted in the 1943 National Pact, an informal agreement struck at independence, in which positions of power were divided according to the 1932 census. The Sunni elite was then accorded more power, but Maronites continued to dominate the system. The sectarian balance was again adjusted towards the Muslim side but simultaneously further reinforced and legitimized. Shi'a Muslims (by now the largest sect) then gained additional representation in the state apparatus, and the obligatory Christian-Muslim representation in Parliament was downgraded from a 6:5 to a 1:1 ratio. Christians of various denominations were then generally thought to constitute about 40% of the population, although often Muslim leaders would cite lower numbers, and some Christians would claim that they still held a majority of the population.

The 18 Recognized Religious Communities, Sects and Religions

The present Lebanese Constitution officially acknowledges 18 religious groups (see below). These have the right to handle family law according to their own courts and traditions, and they are the basic players in Lebanon's complex sectarian politics.

Religious Population Statistics

Lebanese Christians[7][8][9][10][11]
Year Percent

Note: stateless Palestinians and Syrians are not included in the statistics below since they do not hold Lebanese citizenship. The numbers only include the present population of Lebanon, and not the Lebanese diaspora.

The 1932 census stated that Christians made up 54% of the population. Maronites, largest among the Christian denomination and then largely in control of the state apparatus, accounted for 29% of the total resident population. But since the 19th century, Muslim birth rates have been continually higher than Christian birth rates. Also, far larger numbers of Christians emigrated from Lebanon than Muslims.

A recent demographic study published in May 20, 2013 and conducted by the U.S. Department of State under the name 2012 Report on International Religious Freedom states that approximately:

According to recent statistics by the CIA Factbook, 59.7% of the Lebanese population are Muslims, while 39.7% are Christians.[13] However, the most recent study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, found that approximately 59% Muslim (27% Sunni; 27% Shia; 5% Druze), 41% Christian (21% Maronite, 8% Greek Orthodox, 5% Melkite Catholic, 7% other Christian groups such as Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant).[14]


Today, it is estimated that the Christian population makes up about 41.5% [13] [14][15] of the total population.

  • The Maronites are the largest of the Christian groups about 21% [14] of the population. They have had a long and continuous association with the Roman Catholic Church, but have their own patriarch, liturgy, and customs. Traditionally they had good relations with the Western world, especially France and the Vatican. They traditionally dominated the Lebanese government, and the President of Lebanon is always a Maronite. Their influence in later years has diminished, because of their relative decrease in numbers but also due to the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which generally benefited Muslim communities, and was resisted by most Maronites. Today the Maronites are believed to compose about 21% of the population, scattered around the Lebanese countryside but with heavy concentrations on Mount Lebanon and in Beirut.
  • The second largest Christian group is the Greek Orthodox at least 10% [14] of the population. The church exists in many parts of the Arab world and Greek Orthodox Christians have often been noted for pan-Arab or pan-Syrian leanings; it has had less dealings with Western countries than the Maronites. The Greek Orthodox Lebanese Christians have a long and continuous association with Greek Orthodox European countries like Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Serbia. They are believed to constitute about 10% of the total population. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the deputy Prime Minister are always a Greek Orthodox.
  • The Greek Catholics or Melkites are thought to constitute about 5% [14] of the population.
  • The remaining Christian churches are thought to constitute another 7% [14] of the population (Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Assyrians, Protestants, Roman Catholics). Please refer to their articles in the list above, for more information.


Today, there is consensus that Muslims constitute a solid part of the population. According to the CIA World Factbook The Muslim population is estimated at around 60% within the Lebanese terretories, but about 15 % of all Lebanese worldwide [14] (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri).[13] Sectarian Breakdown:

  • The Shi'a Muslims are around 27% [14] - 29%[16][17] of the total population. Shias are the only sect eligible for the post of Speaker of Parliament.[18][19][20][21] The Shiites are largely concentrated in northern and western Beqaa, Southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut.[22]
  • The Sunni Muslims constitute also about 27%[22] - 29% [14] of the total population. Sunni notables traditionally held power in the Lebanese state together, and they are still the only sect eligible for the post of Prime Minister[23] Sunnis are mostly concentrated in west Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Central and Western Beqaa, and Akkar in the north.[22]
  • The Druze constitute 5% [14] of the population and can be found primarily in Mount Lebanon and the Shouf District.
  • Other Muslim sects have a small presence, with the Isma'ilis and Alawites combined comprising less than 1% of the population and usually included among Lebanese Shi'a Muslims.

Other Religions

Other religions account for only an estimated 0.3% of the population mainly foreign temporary workers, according to the CIA Factbook. There remains a very small Jewish population, traditionally centered in Beirut. It has been larger: most Jews left the country after the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990) as thousands of Lebanese did at that time.

The Lebanese Diaspora

Prominent Lebanese Figures
وجوه من لبنان


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Main article: Lebanese diaspora

Apart from the three and a half million citizens of Lebanon proper, there is a sizeable Lebanese diaspora. No accurate numbers are available, so estimates on the total size of the diaspora vary wildly, from conservative estimates of 4–5 million to a maximum, and probably inflated, figure of 15 million. Most Lebanese emigrants and their descendants are Christian; however, there are some who are Muslim. Lebanese Christian families are economically and politically prominent in several Latin American countries (in 2007 Mexican Carlos Slim Helú, son of Lebanese immigrants, was determined to be the wealthiest man in the World by Fortune Magazine), and make up a substantial portion of the Lebanese American community in the United States. The largest Lebanese diaspora is located in Brazil, where about 6–7 million people have Lebanese descent (see Lebanese Brazilian). In Argentina, there is also a large Lebanese diaspora of approximately 1.5 million people having Lebanese descent. (see Lebanese Argentine). In Canada, there is also a large Lebanese diaspora of approximately 250,000-500,000 people having Lebanese descent. (see Lebanese Canadians).

The large size of Lebanon's diaspora may be partly explained by the historical and cultural tradition of seafaring and traveling, which stretches back to Lebanon's ancient Phoenician origins and its role as a "gateway" of relations between Europe and the Middle East. It has been commonplace for Lebanese citizens to emigrate in search of economic prosperity. Furthermore, on several occasions in the last two centuries the Lebanese population has endured periods of ethnic cleansing and displacement (for example, 1840–60 and 1975–90). These factors have contributed to the geographical mobility of the Lebanese people.

While under Syrian occupation, Beirut passed legislation which prevented second-generation Lebanese of the diaspora from automatically obtaining Lebanese citizenship. This has reinforced the émigré status of many diaspora Lebanese. There is currently a campaign by those Lebanese of the diaspora who already have Lebanese citizenship to attain the vote from abroad, which has been successfully passed in the Lebanese parliament and will be effective as of 2013 which is the next parliamentary elections. If suffrage was to be extended to these 1.2 million Lebanese émigré citizens, it would have a significant political effect, since as many as 90% of them are believed to be Christian.

Lebanese Civil War Refugees and Displaced Persons

With no official figures available, it is estimated that 600,000–900,000 persons fled the country during the Lebanese Civil War (1975–90). Although some have since returned, this permanently disturbed Lebanese population growth and greatly complicated demographic statistics.

Another result of the war was a large number of internally displaced persons. This especially affected the southern Shi'a community, as Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1978, 1982 and 1996 prompted waves of mass emigration, in addition to the continual strain of occupation and fighting between Israel and Hizbullah (mainly 1982 to 2000).

Many Shi'a resettled in hastily constructed slum suburbs south of Beirut, the so-called "belt of misery". After the war, the pace of Christian emigration accelerated, as many Christians felt discriminated against in a Lebanon under increasingly oppressive Syrian occupation.

According to a UNDP study, as much as 10% of the Lebanese had a disability in 1990.[24] Other studies have pointed to the fact that this portion of society is highly marginalized due to the lack of educational and governmental support of their advancement.[24]

Languages in Lebanon

Commonly spoken languages in Lebanon include Lebanese Arabic, French and English. The minority languages mainly spoken between their respective populations are Armenian, Kurdish, Greek and many others.

CIA World Factbook Demographical Statistics

The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook, unless otherwise indicated.

  • Population:
Total population: 4,143,101 (July 2011 est.)
  • Age structure:
  • 0–14 years: 21.5% (male 487,930/female 464,678)
  • 15–64 years: 68% (male 1,370,628/female 1,466,173)
  • 65 years and over: 10.5% (male 173,073/female 200,619) (2010 est.)
  • Median age:
Total: 29.34 years
Male: 27.28 years
Female: 31.43 years (2011 est.)
  • Population growth rate:
1.04% (2005 est.)
0.96% (2011 est.) according to CIA Factbook
  • Net migration rate:
-4.43 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
  • Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.92 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.83 male(s)/female
total population: 0.94 male(s)/female (2005 est.)
  • Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 76.82 years
male: 75.28 years
female: 78.36 years (2010 est.)

Vital Statistics

UN Estimates[25]

Period Live births per year Deaths per year Natural change per year CBR1 CDR1 NC1 TFR1 IMR1
1950-1955 61 000 24 000 38 000 39.9 15.4 24.4 5.74 90.0
1955-1960 70 000 23 000 47 000 39.3 12.7 26.6 5.72 72.8
1960-1965 77 000 22 000 55 000 37.6 10.7 26.9 5.69 61.1
1965-1970 81 000 21 000 59 000 34.5 9.2 25.3 5.34 53.4
1970-1975 83 000 21 000 62 000 31.9 8.1 23.8 4.78 47.0
1975-1980 85 000 22 000 63 000 30.5 7.8 22.7 4.31 44.2
1980-1985 84 000 21 000 62 000 29.5 7.6 21.9 3.90 40.6
1985-1990 78 000 21 000 57 000 26.7 7.3 19.4 3.31 36.8
1990-1995 80 000 23 000 57 000 24.8 7.1 17.8 3.00 31.4
1995-2000 81 000 26 000 56 000 22.6 7.1 15.5 2.70 28.1
2000-2005 69 000 27 000 42 000 17.7 6.9 10.8 2.09 25.6
2005-2010 66 000 28 000 38 000 15.9 6.9 9.1 1.86 22.7
2010-2015 63 000 29 000 34 000 14.8 7.1 7.7 1.81 18.7
1 CBR = crude birth rate (per 1000); CDR = crude death rate (per 1000); NC = natural change (per 1000); TFR = total fertility rate (number of children per woman); IMR = infant mortality rate per 1000 births

Registered Births and Deaths[26]

Average population Live births Deaths Natural change Crude birth rate (per 1000) Crude death rate (per 1000) Natural change (per 1000) Total fertility rate (TFR)
2007 80 896 21 092 59 804 21.5 5.6 15.9
2008 84 823 21 048 63 775
2009 90 388 22 260 68 128
2010 95 218 25 500 69 718

Population Estimates

Year Population
January 1, 2010 4,073,000
January 1, 2011 4,081,000 +0.19%
January 1, 2012 4,088,000 +0.17%
January 1, 2013 (est) 4,093,000 +0.12%
January 1, 2014 (est) 4,097,000 +0.09%


Immigrants and Ethnic Groups

There are substantial numbers of immigrants from other Arab countries and non-Arab-speaking Muslim countries. Also, recent years have seen an influx of people from Ethiopia[27] and South East Asian countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka,[28] as well as smaller numbers of other immigrant minorities, Colombians and Brazilians (of Lebanese descent themselves). Most of these are employed as guest workers in the same fashion as Syrians and Palestinians, and entered the country to search for employment in the post-war reconstruction of Lebanon. Apart from the Palestinians, there are approximately 180,000 stateless persons in Lebanon.


Lebanese Armenians, Jews, Iranians form more distinct ethnic minorities, all of them in possession of a separate languages and a national home area outside of Lebanon. However, they total 5% of the population.


During the French Mandate of Lebanon, there was a fairly large French minority and a tiny Italian minority. Most of the French and Italian settlers left after Lebanese independence in 1943 and only 22,000 French Lebanese and 4,300 Italian Lebanese continue to live in Lebanon. The most important legacy of the French Mandate is the frequent use and knowledge of the French language by most of the educated Lebanese people.


There are an estimated 40,000 Assyrians (Syriac Christians) in Lebanon (estimate do not include the member of the Maronite Syriac Church).[29][30] They belong to various Syriac denominations, including the Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, and the Chaldean Catholic Church.

Palestinian Refugees

402,582 descendants of Palestinian refugees were registered in Lebanon with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in March 2005, almost all refugees or descendants of refugees from the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Some of these may have emigrated during the civil war, but there are no reliable figures available. There are also a number of Palestinians who are not registered as UNRWA refugees, because they left earlier than 1948 or were not in need of material assistance. The exact number of Palestinians remain a subject of great dispute and the Lebanese government will not provide an estimate. A figure of 400,000 Palestinian refugees would mean that Palestinians constitute more than 10% of the resident population of Lebanon.

Palestinians living in Lebanon are considered foreigners and are under the same restrictions on employment applied to other foreigners. Prior to 2010 they were under even more restrictive employment rules which permitted, other than work for the U.N., only the most menial employment. They are not allowed to attend public schools, own property, or make an enforceable will.[31]

Palestinian refugees, who constitute nearly a tenth of the country’s population, have long been denied basic rights in Lebanon. They are not allowed to attend public schools, own property or pass on inheritances, measures Lebanon says it has adopted to preserve their right to return to their property in what constitutes Israel now.

Their presence is controversial, and resisted by large segments of the Christian population, who argue that the primarily Sunni Muslim Palestinians dilute Christian numbers. Many Shi'a Muslims also look unfavorably upon the Palestinian presence since the camps have tended to be concentrated in their home areas. The Lebanese Sunnis, however, would be happy to see these Palestinians given the Lebanese nationality, thus increasing the Lebanese Sunni population by well over 10% and tipping the fragile electoral balance much in favor of the Sunnis. Late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri—himself a Sunni—had hinted on more than one occasion on the inevitability of granting these refugees Lebanese citizenship. Thus far the refugees are denied Lebanese citizenship as well as many rights enjoyed by the rest of the population, and are confined to severely overcrowded refugee camps, in which construction rights are severely constricted.

Palestinians may not work in a large number of professions, such as lawyers and doctors. However, after negotiations between Lebanese authorities and ministers from the Palestinian National Authority some professions for Palestinians were allowed (such as taxi driver and construction worker). The material situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is difficult, and they are believed to constitute the poorest community in Lebanon, as well as the poorest Palestinian community with the possible exception of Gaza refugees. Their primary sources of income are UNRWA aid and menial labor sought in competition with Syrian guest workers.

The Palestinians are almost totally Sunni Muslim, though at some point Christians counted as high as 40% with Muslims at 60%. The numbers of Palestinian Christians has diminished in later years, as many have managed to leave Lebanon. During the Lebanese Civil War, Palestinian Christians sided with the rest of the Palestinian community, instead of allying with Lebanese Greek Orthodox or other Christian communities.

60,000 Palestinians have received Lebanese citizenship, including most Christian Palestinians.[32][33]


In 1976, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad sent troops into Lebanon to fight PLO forces on behalf of Christian militias. This led to escalated fighting until a cease-fire agreement later that year that allowed for the stationing of Syrian troops within Lebanon. The Syrian presence in Lebanon quickly changed sides; soon after they entered Lebanon they had flip-flopped and began to fight the Christian nationalists in Lebanon they allegedly entered the country to protect. The Kateab Party and The Lebanese Forces under Bachir Gemayel strongly resisted the Syrians in Lebanon. In 1989, 40,000 Syrian troops remained in central and eastern Lebanon under the supervision of the Syrian government. Although, the Taif Accord, established in the same year, called for the removal of Syrian troops and transfer of arms to the Lebanese army, the Syrian Army remained in Lebanon until the Lebanese Cedar Revolution in 2005 to relaease the Syrian Occupation. However, in 1994, the Lebanese Government under the pressure of the Syrian regime has given the Lebanese passport to almost 250,000 Syrian citizens, in order to have voting power in later parliamentary elections. Today, there are already an estimated 20,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon while Syria demands Lebanese search for Free Syria Army members hiding along the border.


Due to the US-led invasion of Iraq, Lebanon has received a mass influx of Iraqi refugees numbering at around 100,000. The vast majority of them are undocumented, with a large number having been deported or put in prison.[34]


There are about 200,000 Mardalli in Lebanon, i.e. people originating from the Mardin province in Turkey, most of them live in Beirut. The Mardallis are often referred to as Kurds by the Lebanese people due to their close culture and similar vocabulary with the Kurdish peoples of Mardin. But the Mardallis are a mix population, as is the population in Mardin itself.


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