BEIRUT: A Beirut-based firm has sought to shed light on the sectarian demographics of Lebanon, 87 years after the country’s first and last census.
Information International, a research and consultancy firm based in Beirut, published a report Saturday showing the overall growth in Lebanon’s population from 1932 until the end of 2018, as well as a breakdown of these figures by sect.
The data shows that the country’s population of Lebanese nationals had increased by about 4.4 million people - 426 percent - from 1932 to 2018, bringing the current total to around 5.5 million.
Among the 5.5 million Lebanese nationality holders, it is estimated that 4.2 million reside in the country and 1.3 million live abroad. There is currently no data on people of Lebanese origin who do not hold Lebanese nationality. The firm estimates that this number could be close to several million.
Lebanon’s only census was conducted in 1932, when the population was calculated at 1,046,164. Data from the 1932 census showed Christians to be the majority, constituting 58.7 percent of the population compared to the 40 percent that were Muslims - Sunnis, Shiites, Druze and Alawites. The total number of Christians grew by 174.5 percent since then, whereas the total number of Muslims grew by 785.1 percent.
Over the decades, the proportion of Christians in Lebanon has been declining due to slower birth rates and more immigration. Despite the increased number of Christians in Lebanon, their share of the population has reduced to 30.6 percent, whereas the proportion of Muslims has increased to 69.4 percent.
The numbers published Saturday show that Shiites are Lebanon’s largest community, comprising 31.6 percent of the population, with a growth of about 946.7 percent - marking a near-tenfold increase since 1932. This is followed by Sunnis, who represent 31.2 percent of the population, followed closely by Christians. The sect that experienced the highest percentage of growth was the Alawite community at 1,052.7 percent, followed by Shiites. The lowest rate of increase was among the Jewish population, which grew by 20 percent to 4,805 people in 2018.
Population statistics have always been a sensitive matter in Lebanon, a country whose system is based on a power-sharing agreement between the various sects. Demographics can be a major sticking point on many issues, for example on women’s right to pass on their nationality to their children and spouses.
Twitter users have expressed similar worries. One tweet mockingly said, “Please, don’t let [Minister] Gebran Bassil see these numbers.”
“Does Information International belong to [Prime Minister Saad] Hariri?” another user asked.
Information International’s founder and managing partner Jawad Adra said these figures had been received with shock and surprise. “I’m surprised people are reacting like this. Why is everybody shocked? Everybody who has been following the elections in the last 50 years should know this is the case,” Adra told The Daily Star.
He attributed these reactions to current political tensions, but he insisted that “what we’ve published has nothing to do with the political debate that is going on now.”
To see that there is nothing new, Adra said, one had only to look at information that was already available. Adra said the numbers that Information International disseminated Saturday were based on Interior Ministry figures from 1932 and 2006, as well as numbers from the 2018 election. He added that the data could also be calculated through the numbers of births and voters in previous elections by sects.
Based on the ministry’s numbers until 2006 and the 2018 election data, Adra said the rate of population increase between 2006 and 2018 could be assumed as similar to previous decades. “These numbers confirm the same kind of growth or stagnation or decrease in each sect.”
“Things have changed since the greater Lebanon was created. We have to come to realize this. The question is: Do we continue to consider Lebanon as a sectarian state or do we become secular?”