Lebanese Demographics: The stubborn myth of a Lebanese Shia "majority"

Lebanese Demographics: The myth of a Lebanese Shia majority

Numbers are important. Especially in a democracy- They say that in a democracy, demography is destiny.

A large number of scholars get Lebanese demography wrong.

One key reason they get it wrong is that in Lebanon the government does not conduct a census of the population. It is a well known fact that the percentage of Christians in the population, for a number of reasons that include a lower birthrate and emigration, has been declining over the years. The population of Lebanon has been dominated, numerically, by Muslims for years now.

However, the Taif Accord that created the Lebanese Second Republic and ended the civil war was premised on the idea of parity between the Christians and the Muslims. As a result the representation in the parliament was split in half between Muslims and Christians and the powers of the three top positions in government were recalibrated making the Maronite presidency a less powerful position than it was under the First Republic.

This is all agreed on and uncontroversial.

However, what is not clear is the demographic distribution within the two confessional groups. The focus has always been on the breakdown within the Muslim community. Serious scholars have made far -fetched claims as to the confessional breakdown within the Islamic community- always exaggerating the percentage of the Shia in the population. Fouad Ajami, Augustus Norton, Shaeri-Eisenlohr, among many others, make the claim that the Shia are a “majority” of the population and make a strong argument for the changing of the political regime based on this claim that they present as a clear fact that has scientific veracity beyond questioning. They actually imply, directly and indirectly, that Lebanon is some sort of apartheid South Africa where the Shia are “oppressed and marginalized” by the political system when their numbers entitle them to rule the country. After all- isn’t democracy the one person – one vote- y’all?

Ajami is excused because he admits that he is not a numbers guy but an old school political scientist who dislikes numbers and he got into the business before sophisticated numeracy was the norm. That is fine- he will not be publishing in the MPSA's AJPS anytime soon. However, despite that aversion to numbers, he is willing to call the population percentages by gut instinct it seems.

The best proxy of the demographics of the country is the study of the voters’ rolls prepared by the government. The government keeps track of voters by sect. These records approximate the demographics of the country.  Based on these records, in 2013 the Sunnis are 28.1 %  of the population, the Shia 27.6%, and the Maronites 20.1%. The Muslims are  62.1% of the population.

Below is the link to the Assafir story citing the study:



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