03/03/2023, 11.43
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Lebanese Christians, the balance of power and the war of numbers over the exodus

by Fady Noun

Outgoing Prime Minister Mikati is expected at the Vatican in March to meet Pope Francis. Today, the emigration of young people is '80% Muslim'. The last national census dates back to 1932 and is now outdated. The war of numbers for representation has long since passed the Islamic-Christian balance.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - What is the percentage of Lebanese of Christian denomination, in relation to the total population of Lebanon? Are they only 19.2%, as the resigning Prime Minister Nagib Mikati recently claimed during an interview given to a local television station?

Are they 34.42% as corrected by a source close to the Maronite patriarchate? Or perhaps 42%, as Boutros Labaki, a renowned economist and statistician, along with other experts, assures?

The debate on this issue, which is a sensitive subject, was revived by Mikati who put forward the figure of 19.2% for the Christian population, which no one has been able to verify to establish the source or credibility. Spokesman Farès Gemayel pointed out that the prime minister 'does not want to reveal the names of the authors of the report that gives this figure'.

At the same time, Mikati added that he is concerned about a figure that is itself revealing a decline in the number of Christians in Lebanon and a more general phenomenon that affects not only the Land of the Cedars but the entire Arab world. He also intends to discuss this with Pope Francis, during a visit to the Vatican that should take place by the end of the month, although there is no official date yet. 

As one can imagine, Mikati's announcement has contributed to creating a rift in public opinion and among the Lebanese leadership. The Maronite Patriarchate immediately corrected him, pointing out that in the last general elections (May 2022), the Christian electorate in the lists - which included all the confessions present in the country - constituted 34.42% of the total number of voters, against 65.5% for the Muslim and Druze communities.

In the absence of a fully carried out census, the relevance of the electoral lists remains the best method to assess the overall number of Lebanese and their distribution in denominational terms. All this while bearing in mind that this figure remains approximate in the absence of an effective process of digitisation and updating of civil status registers.

In spite of the alarmist figures hastily put forward with a certain amount of improvisation for the camera, there are those who choose a more balanced and rational approach. Boutros Labaki, economist and university lecturer, former vice-president of the Council for Development and Reconstruction, along with other experts, assures that Mikati's figure is just 'a media operation'.

On the contrary, the professor assures that 'the demographic imbalance between Christians and Muslims is decreasing' and that Christians themselves now account for almost 43% of the total resident population. For the sake of completeness, we must mention here that the Christian and Muslim populations were equal in the middle of the last century.

The economist assures that the emigration of young Lebanese is currently '80% Muslim'. Basing himself on a study dating back to 2012, Labaky argues that this phenomenon "has been going on for at least twenty years" and has several causes: increasing levels of education and foreign language proficiency in Muslim communities; the development of networks in emigration countries (reunification of emigrants from the same village in the same country of emigration); and the development of communications.

Moreover, the economist adds, other factors have weighed in the process of accelerating emigration. Among these he cites the Israeli threat to the inhabitants of South Lebanon; the fight against illegal cultivation in the Bekaa; the war in Syria for the North.

Nevertheless, if in the midst of the presidential crisis the question of the respective demographic weight of the Lebanese communities has re-emerged, it remains unanswered in a country whose institutions are based on a distribution of the highest institutional offices among the various components.

And where, consequently, the numerical ratio between Christians and Muslims is likened to a 'state secret'. All this, knowing full well that the last national census in Lebanon dates back to... 1932.

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