About 95% of the population of Lebanon is either Muslim
, split across various sects and 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.
The absence of data and comprehensive statistics also concerns all other demographic studies unrelated to religious balance, due to the all but total inactivity of the concerned public agencies. The only recent (post-war
) statistics available are estimates based on studies made by private organizations.
The biggest study made after the independence on the Lebanese Population was made by the Central Administration of Statistics (in French: "Administration Centrale de la Statistique") under the direction of Robert Kasparian and Grégoire Haddad
's Social Movement: "L'enquête par sondage sur la population active au Liban en 1970" (in English: "The survey on the active population in Lebanon in 1970"). It was conducted on a sample of 130,000 individuals.
There are over 4 million
Lebanese and descendants of Lebanese worldwide, mostly Christians, compared with the internal population of Lebanon of around 4.6 million citizens, in 2020.
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. The Arabs invaded and occupied Phoenicia in the 7th century AD from Arabia. The predominant cultural backgrounds and ancestry of the Lebanese vary from Canaanite (Phoenician), Aramean (Ancient Syria) and Greek (Byzantine). The question of ethnic identity has come to revolve increasingly around aspects of cultural self-identification more than descent. Religious affiliation has also become a substitute in some respects for ethnic affiliation.
Generally, the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Lebanese people is a blend of both indigenous elements and the foreign cultures that have come to rule the land and its people over the course of thousands of years. Moreover, in a 2013 interview, the lead investigator, Pierre Zalloua
, pointed out that genetic variation preceded religious variation and divisions: "Lebanon already had well-differentiated communities with their own genetic peculiarities, but not significant differences, and religions came as layers of paint on top. There is no distinct pattern that shows that one community carries significantly more Phoenician
Three Lebanese women in 1873.
The sectarian system
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 Middle Eastern country
, but both Christians and Muslims
are sub-divided into many splinter sects and denominations. Population statistics are highly controversial. The various denominations and sects each have vested interests in inflating their own numbers. Shias
and Eastern 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 1970s, 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.
Natural Growth Rate in Lebanon throughout years
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. Shia Muslims (by now the second 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.
18 recognized religious groups
An estimate of the area distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups
Distribution of Lebanon's religious groups according to 2009 municipal election data
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
The 1932 census stated that Christians
made up 50% of the resident population. Maronites
, largest among the Christian denomination and then largely in control of the state apparatus, accounted for 29% of the total resident population.
Total population of Lebanon was reported to be 1,411,000 in 1956.
The largest communities were Maronites (424,000), Muslims (286,000), Shiites (250,000), Greek Orthodox
(149,000), Greek Catholics
(88,000), Armenian Orthodox
(64,000), Armenian Catholics
(15,000), Protestants (14,000), Jews (7,000), Syriac Catholics
(6,000), Syriac Orthodox
(5,000), Latins (4,000) and Nestorian Chaldeans (1,000).
A 2010 study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, cited by the United States Department of State
found that of Lebanon's population of approximately 4.3 million was estimated to be:
- 45% Christian (Maronite, Eastern Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Protestant, other Christian denominations non-native to Lebanon like Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, and Copt)
- 48% Islam (Shia and Sunni)
- 5.2% Druze (included within the Muslim group in the Lebanese Constitution.)
In 2020, the CIA World Factbook
specified that of those residing in Lebanon, 48% are Muslims
, 22% Shia
, 0.5% Alawites
), 45% are Christians
, Eastern Orthodox
, Melkite Catholics
, Armenian Apostolic
, Assyrian Church of the East
, Syriac Orthodox
, Chaldean Catholic
, Syrian Catholic
), 5% are Druze
, and 1% are "Other".
Census of 1932
A map of religious and ethnic communities of Syria and Lebanon (1935)
According to the CIA World Factbook
in 2018 the Muslim population was estimated at 61.1% within Lebanese territory and 20% of the over 4 million
Lebanese diaspora population. In 2012 a more detailed breakdown of the size of each Muslim sect in Lebanon was made:
- The Shia Muslims are around 22.5%–29% of the total population. The Speaker of Parliament is always a Shia Muslim, as it is the only high post that Shias are eligible for. The Shias are largely concentrated in northern and western Beqaa, Southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut.
- The Sunni Muslims constitute also about 25.5%–29% 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 Sunnis are mostly concentrated in west Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, Central and Western Beqaa, and Akkar in the north.
- Other Muslim sects have a small presence, with the Isma'ilis and Alawites combined comprising less than 1% of the population and are included among Lebanese Shia Muslims.
According to the CIA World Factbook
in 2020 the Christian population was estimated at 45% within Lebanese territory and 80% of the over 4 million 
Lebanese diaspora population. In 2012 a more detailed breakdown of the size of each Christian sect in Lebanon was made:
- The Maronites are the largest of the Christian groups about 30% of the population of Lebanon. 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. 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 Shia communities, and was resisted by most of the others. Today the Maronites are believed to compose about 26% of the population, scattered around the Lebanese countryside but with heavy concentrations on Mount Lebanon and in Beirut (Greater Beirut).
- The second largest Christian group is the Eastern Orthodox that constitute at least 9% of the population. The church exists in many parts of the Arab world and Eastern 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 Eastern Orthodox Lebanese Christians have a long and continuous association with Eastern Orthodox European countries like Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania. The Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the deputy Prime Minister are reserved for Eastern Orthodox Christians.
- The Melkite Catholics are thought to constitute about 6% of the population.
- The Protestants are thought to constitute about 1% of the population.
- The remaining Christian churches are thought to constitute another 5% of the population (Roman Catholics, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, and Assyrians.)
of the population and can be found primarily in the rural, mountainous areas of Mount Lebanon and the Chouf District
. Traditionally, the Druze tended to prefer Syria over the West, but after the civil war and the emergence of Hezbollah, the Druze hold a powerful negativity towards the Syrian Regime, Iran, and Hezbollah, and now the Druze strongly prefer to ally with the West. Even though the faith originally developed out of Ismaili Islam
, most Druze
do not identify as Muslims
and they do not accept the five pillars of Islam
Other religions account for only an estimated 0.3% of the population mainly foreign temporary workers, according to the CIA World 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.
Prominent Lebanese Figures
وجوه من لبنان
Prominent Lebanese people and people of Lebanese descent.
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 80% 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.
Many Shias from Southern Lebanon resettled in the suburbs south of Beirut. 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
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.
CIA World Factbook demographic statistics
US Census Statistics
The following demographic statistics are from the CIA World Factbook
, unless otherwise indicated.
0–14 years: 23.32% (male 728,025/female 694,453) 15–24 years: 16.04% (male 500,592/female 477,784) 25–54 years: 45.27% (male 1,398,087/female 1,363,386) 55–64 years: 8.34% (male 241,206/female 267,747) 65 years and over: 7.03% (male 185,780/female 243,015) (2018 est.)
Population growth rate:
1.04% (2005 est.)
0.96% (2011 est.)
−3.13% (2018 est.)
Net migration rate:
−4.43 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2011 est.)
−40.3 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2018 est.)
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: 77.9 years
male: 76.6 years
female: 79.3 years (2018 est.)
Registered births and deaths
Births for 2018 includes Lebanese births (69,646) and non-Lebanese (59,041)
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
and South East Asian
countries such as Indonesia
, the Philippines
, Sri Lanka
as well as smaller numbers of other immigrant minorities, Colombians
(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.
Armenians, Jews and Iranians
French and Italians
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, and Beirut
is still known as the "Paris
of the Middle East".
Around 175,555 Palestinian refugees
were registered in Lebanon with the UNRWA
in 2014, who are refugees or descendants of refugees from the 1948 Arab–Israeli War
. Some 53% live in 12 Palestine refugee camps
, who "suffer from serious problems" such as poverty and overcrowding.
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 less than 7% 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.
Palestinian refugees, who constitute nearly 6.6% 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 Shia Muslims also look unfavorably upon the Palestinian presence since the refugee 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 lack 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 Strip
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 Eastern Orthodox or other Christian communities.
60,000 Palestinians have received Lebanese citizenship, including most Christian Palestinians.
In 1976, the then 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 ended the Syrian occupation of Lebanon.
In 1994, the Lebanese government under the pressure of the Syrian government, gave Lebanese passports to thousands of Syrians.
Due to the US-led invasion of Iraq
, Lebanon 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.
There are an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 Kurdish refugees from Turkey and Syria within Lebanese territory. Many of them are undocumented
. As of 2012, around 40% of all Kurds in Lebanon do not have Lebanese citizenship
The Turkish people
began to migrate to Lebanon once the Ottoman
sultan Selim I
conquered the region in 1516. Turks were encouraged to stay in Lebanon by being rewarded with land and money.
Today the Turkish minority numbers approximately 80,000.
Moreover, since the Syrian Civil War
, approximately 125,000 to 150,000 Syrian Turkmen
refugees arrived in Lebanon
, and hence they now outnumber the long established Turkish minority who settled since the Ottoman era.
migrated to the Ottoman Empire including Lebanon and neighboring countries in the 18th and 19th century. However, they are mostly located in Akkar Governorate
, in which they have come to Berkail
since 1754. Today the Circassian minority numbers approximately 100,000.
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