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Assessment for Maronite Christians in Lebanon

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Maronite Christians in Lebanon, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 25 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Lebanon Facts
Area:    10,400 sq. km.
Capital:    Beirut
Total Population:    3,506,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Given the scattered data that is available, it is unclear whether the majority of Maronite Christians prefer a Syrian-dominated system where they retain their political advantages or a system free of Syrian influence where they would be outnumbered by Lebanon's Muslim communities. U.S. State Department reports indicate that Maronite churches have been subject to random bombings by Sunni extremists, resulting in the death of one person in the fall of 1999 when a bomb exploded in a Maronite church in an eastern Beirut suburb. Since 2001 there have been scattered instances of conflict between Maronites, Druze, and Sunni Muslims. While the unilateral 2000 Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon has eased tensions, and the Lebanese presidency remains in Maronite hands, Maronite Christians face an uncertain future regardless of whether Syria ultimately decides to maintain or forego its military presence within Lebanon. While overall discrimination against Maronites remains almost nonexistent, future discrimination is a possibility given that there were instances of more discrimination against Maronites since 2001, particularly with regard to freedom of speech and political organizing. While it is unlikely that violence will erupt again into civil war, sporadic violence between Maronites and other groups in Lebanon will probably continue until full-scale reconciliation takes place.

Analytic Summary

The Maronites follow the doctrine of the Maronite Church. As a result of persecution by the Byzantine Church its members retreated from Syria into remoter parts of Lebanon in the seventh century. In the 13th century the Maronites established relations with Rome and from the 17th century onward they developed an affinity for Europe, particularly France. The French controlled Greater Syria (which included Lebanon) following World War I. During the French mandate period, Lebanon was declared a distinct geopolitical entity from Syria by the French in an effort to create a district where their allies, the Maronites, could constitute a majority. Lebanon's Maronite community is the country's second largest ethnopolitical group at approximately one-quarter of the population, and they reside mainly in Beirut and its suburbs (GROUPCON = 2). The Maronites have traditionally been an advantaged minority (ATRISK3 = 1) in Lebanon

However, subsequently outnumbered by Muslims, the Maronites have retained a tenuous hold on power in the last quarter century, resulting in Syrian intervention in 1975 and a civil war that plunged the country into chaos and destruction. Since resolved, Lebanon's fragile peace is dependent on a sectarian governmental structure, where the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shi'a Muslim. The Parliament consists of 128 deputies, equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives, yet recent trends in Lebanon point to more power being given to its Muslim communities. After decades of chaos the first signs of hope are now visible in Lebanon. Parliamentary elections were held in 1992 and 1996, and most of the warring factions were satisfied with the reforms to the electoral system and took part. Several militias have disbanded and/or disarmed. The relationships between the many diverse religious and ethnic groups remain tense, and there have been some scattered instances of violence between Druze and Christians, as well as Muslims and Christians. For example, in a shooting incident in 2002, a Shi'a Muslim killed eight employees of the Ministry of Education, seven of whom were Christians. And in 2001, Christians ravaged a Druze village and the Druze retaliated by doing the same. However, for the first time in decades, this tension does not constitute the greatest threat to Lebanese stability.

The greatest threat to Lebanon's stability is the ongoing Israeli-Syrian conflict and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the first case, as long as Israel and Syria remain in an official state of war, Lebanon's strategic value will remain quite high. Israel and Syria have supported one group or another since the civil war in 1976 in an attempt to control Lebanon and with it a territorial corridor to their enemy in case of invasion. As long as the conflict continues, Israel and Syria will both likely continue to play disruptive roles in Lebanese politics.

As an advantaged minority, the Maronites face little to no cultural, economic, or political discrimination in Lebanon as long as they play within the governmental system (ECDIS03 = 0, POLDIS03 = 0). However, in recent years there have been some instances of discrimination (POL#02=-1), although it is difficult to ascertain if this is indicative of an overall trend since the government generally targets the anti-Syrian Maronite opposition, and not the general Christian population. For example, a few anti-Syrian demonstrations by Christian groups have been banned (POLIC401-03=1); there's been some discrimination in judicial proceedings (POLIC302-03=1); and anti-Syrian Christians who have protested have been investigated, arrested, and imprisoned (REP0102=1, REP0201=1). Anti-Syrian Christian protesters have also been beaten at demonstrations (REP1901=1, REP1803=1). In 2002, Lebanese security forces shut down the Christian opposition television station MTV and radio station RML, which were the main voice of Lebanese Christians opposed to the Syrian presence in Lebanon (POLIC101-02). However, the Maronites are by no means a cohesive group, especially in regard to the continued influence that Syria plays within Lebanon. Political aspirations have ranged from the conventional, most prominently in the formation of the Maronite Christian National Liberal Party, to the militant (such as the emergence of the Lebanese Forces (LF) under the leadership of Bashir Jumayyil, which consistently battled Syrian forces during the 1975-1990 civil war, but has since been disbanded).


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