Country Profile

Lebanon

Summary

Lebanon is heralded for its multi-sectarian identity and its uniqueness in the Middle East as a country where minorities are not protected communities, but key partners in the political process. However the country's fragile sectarian landscape has left it vulnerable, and it now faces both internal challenges and external threats.

1Lebanon’s unique religious demography led to the development of a ‘confessional’ political system based on rigid sectarian representation, which has served to contribute to the fragility of the Lebanese state.

2The country’s 14-year civil war saw the emergence of the Shia militia and political party Hizbullah, whose dominance of Lebanese politics and perceived willingness to destabilise Lebanon has led to a great deal of resentment, especially among the Sunni community.

3Overspill from the neighbouring Syrian conflict, in particular the millions of refugees that have entered the country, is having a detrimental effect on sectarian relations and, by extension, political stability in Lebanon.

Situation Report

Lebanon's religious landscape is unique in a region largely dominated by Sunni Islam, with the country's population being composed in almost equal numbers of Sunnis, Shia and Christians, in addition to a smaller number of Druze and other minorities. This mosaic has produced a political system based on power sharing among Lebanon's largest communities, which many credit for preventing Lebanon from descending into a failed state despite the many conflicts it has witnessed in its modern history. But Lebanon's 'confessional' political system, based on rigid sectarian representation, has served to contribute to the weakness of the Lebanese state. National identity in Lebanon is dominated by sectarian identity, leaving trust in national institutions weak while sustaining clientelistic relations between sect leaders and their followers. This fragile arrangement has left the country vulnerable when faced with internal challenges and external threats. Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, through to the Syrian conflict today, tensions among Lebanon's sects are rising while the strength of its political institutions is declining.

Lebanon is one of the world's few examples of an institutionalised sectarian government system. The country, especially considering its size, is extremely diverse, with 18 officially recognised religious groups. Though there has not been a census since 1932 due to concerns about demographic changes potentially spurring a change in each sect's political standing, however the World Religion Database estimates that the country is 26% Sunni and 28% Shia, 34% Christian of various denominations, with the Maronite Catholic group being the largest, and around 5% Druze. This diversity, however, is unique in that it is an officially codified structure of government that ensures representation for each group, in theory on a proportional basis to population and with certain positions reserved for specific sects. While the intention behind this system was to provide a stable form of government which guaranteed minority rights, in practice this has led to decades of constant instability, war and political deadlock. The Lebanese state structure, weak by design to prevent dominance by any single group, has instead created a situation in which all political identity and political dispute is inevitably drawn along sectarian lines. It has also forced Lebanese citizens to look towards their own community for basic needs and identity formation, as opposed to looking toward the state or a national identity.

  • Global Overview
  • 2. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: August 2016 3
  • 3. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: July 2016 1
  • 4. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: June 2016 3
  • 5. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: May 2016 1
  • 6. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: April 2016 1
  • 7. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: March 2016 3
  • 8. Violent Religious Extremism Incidents: February 2016 1
  • Counter-Extremism
  • Counter-Extremism Incidents: September 2016 2
  • State Counter-Extremism: Arrests: September 2016 1
  • State Counter-Extremism: Use of Force: September 2016 1