Thursday, January 11, 2007

Demo(graphics) Ahoy!

Everyone is after going after Hezb and Aoun, and “HassAoun” is chasing after all… Each side is far gone that a fight is imminent; there will be winners and loser in this game.

But one thing is for sure; we Lebanese, rather than being an inspiration to others, risk becoming the ultimate losers if this sectarian game continues.

Sectarian Demographics

A crassly sectarian mode of thinking is a la mode nowadays.

The Al-Nahar newspaper published statistics that purported to show that the communities were more or less evenly matched. I think there was more to the numbers… In spite of the poor quality of the data, we can do still do some digging in the numbers; this is (more or less) valid because we are not looking at Absolute terms, but carrying out a Relative comparison. What emerges was a completely different picture.

A look at the data shows that:

1- The Young: Christians have the highest average age of the group. Then come the Shiites. Then come the Sunnis.

2- Baby Boom: While Shiite and Christian fertility rates have been converging, the fertility rates in northern Sunni areas are about 50% more than the rest of Lebanon. And those are the “declared” babies…

3- Vanishing Christians: Within the next 5 years, the proportion of Christians will fall further, below 20%, under the combined effect of decreased fertility and increased emigration.

4- Rising Sunnis: The Shiites appear to be on top today. But the Sunnis are more than catching up, thanks to their higher fertility and younger population. If they have not already done so; some yet unpublished statistics actually show that Sunnis may already be the largest single community.

If you disagree, wait about 5 years. This is time Lebanon does not have; the geniuses in charge are driving us into a helluva confessional collision that would further undermine the region’s sectarian equilibrium…

Sectarian Equilibrium

Hezb wants to ride the wave of a “Shiite Majority”, and has taken over that community. Monsignor Nasrallah thinks he has the upper hand; no one would try to “dislodge” an entire community… Or wouldn’t they?

They have taken up too much, and I fear that Hezb has already been beaten at his own fundamentalist game… Hezb may not survive its own “victory”, and may already be on the way out. In the crass sectarian politics of the Middle East, I fear the rise of a Salafi fundamentalist force that would take over as the power of Hezb wanes, and after Iranian money is spent… This force is similar to those currently "allied" with Hariri's Future Movement. This will in turn mean the rise of a "Salafi power".

Hezb may be the top dog today, but the Salafists are now on the rise, and will prove far nastier than Hezb can ever be. Think about it; they have a democracy, of sorts in Mullah-dominated Iran, but woman cannot drive in Wahhabi ruled Saudi Arabia… And you know, Hezb was not involved in those embassy burnings, but guess which terrorist flavour was there?

To top it all, this has the potential for a renewed push for the "greater Syria". No, not your grandfather’s nightmare, but worse; the Syria of the Ottomans…

So far so good, The Turks are back...

Follow-Up (January 12th, 2007)

It seems that experts agree that Salafis are the main threat. In its findings, the “Task Force on Future Terrorism” formed by the “Homeland Security's Advisory Council” considers that “the most significant terrorist threat to the homeland and to U.S. interests abroad today is a growing radical, extremist movement underpinned by a jihadist/Salafist ideology”.

This maybe an opening to Iran. will they will jump on the opportunity to make a deal?


R said...

good post Jeha! I tried touching on the various subjects you discuss here, a couple of times and came up with these posts:
I guess we agree that there is a big problem in the system in Lebanon. What I fail to see is whether this sectarian system is reversible, or even transformable into a working sectarianism (if such a thing exists), whether it is possible to morph it into a functioning secular one, and most importantly whether most of the Lebanese across the sects have the courage to shelve their fear of the other to accept such a change...

Jeha said...

To re-use a tired cliche;

there is Switzerland, Canada, the United States, Malaysia... We can find a way to make Lebanon into a manageable country.

However, as long as someone like HassAoun think they can "win" and impose their view on all of us, we will all revert back into "crab" mode and pull those uppity crabs back in the basket.

Amir in Tel Aviv said...

Very true and worrying indeed!!
What can be done? First of all 'ALIYAH' ; just what Israel does in order to persuade Jews to come; a national program to repatriate Lebanese.
And I agree that the main threat in the ME are the Sunnis, not the Shi'i. Instead of stupid try (by the Shias) to lead the Arab/Muslim in the struggle against the Jews, they should join the Jews and the Christians to assemble an alliance, and to deal together with the Sunni threat.

Jeha said...


Just to clarify. I do not mean that Sunnis are a threat, just that the worse prevailing brands of extremism today happen to be within the Sunni creed. Those brands are the Salafi and Wahabi.

To use a parallel with Israel, Hezb would be no more extreme than the hardcore followers of "Kahane Hai".

The Salafis are far worse; in their search for purity, they happen to claim they are Sunnis, but in fact represent a far more radical departure from religion, similar to sect of the Assassin's schism from mainstream Ismaili Islam. I do not know of any equivalent to this brand in other religions, save for (maybe) the more rabid elements of the RSS in India.

The Wahhabis would be a little bit "milder", but not by far. Their main beef is with the modern emphasis on logic over the "faith" as they see it. A Christian equivalent of their mode of thinking would be Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell.

I may be oversimplifying a little, but the point is that extremism is not a property of any given religion. More like the unfortunate side effect of any religion. We may not like Hezb today, but among the forces that oppose him are nastier elements. Nasrallah and his masters, in their vanity, do not see the danger their policies pose to all of us. And to them.

ghassan karam said...

I have authored and coauthored a number of large statistical surveys and I must tell you that the study reported in AnNahar does not strike me as one whose results or methodology are to be trusted. Let me immediately add, however, that religious affiliations become totally peripheral once a modern state is erected because then ones political identity will be fashioned by ideas outside of religion. I know what you are going to say, we are not a secular country and we might never get there. In that case your conclusions in regard to the Christian Lebanese community are accurate. One can make such projections without ant need for serious statistical studies because the rate of growth in population is primarily a function of the fertility rate. It is obvious to all that a group that practices birth control and believes that a family must not be in general larger that 2-3 children is a group that will just maintain its numbers and that is a good thing. The number of Christian Lebanese will barely grow but the rate of population growth among the Sunnis and Shia will grow at over 2 percent a year i.e the Moslem population will double in less than 35 years while the Christian one will barely budge. Demography is destiny.

Such demographic projections are unsetlling not only for the Lebanese but for many other countries as well. The EU is very much concerned about the growing North African population, some in the US are worried about the influence that the Latino population will exert on the nation, The Israeli are scared about what will happen when the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza double ever 30 years.

Any investigation of the fertility rate in the world will always reveal the tendency for the poorest segment of the population to grow at the fastest rate i.e. have the highest fertility rate. The Exceptions to that trend are rich oil producing Islamic countries. Given that Islam is a common denominator but keeping in mind that the Shia are overall less better off and less urban than their Sunni counterparts in Lebanon I find it difficult to accept , without serious documentation, the unlikely assertion that the Sunni fertility rate in Lebanon is higher than that of the Shia..

If we are to assume that Lebanon is to evolve into a secular society then the composition of the population by religious affiliation will not be an important factor, it will be replaced by class concerns. If on the other hand Lebanon is to stay mired in its sectarianism and confessionalism then the relative economic well being of the Lebanese population leads to to suspect that the Shia would outgrow the Sunnis in Lebanon.

Jeha said...


I agree with you that the "Christian [population] will barely budge", but I base my assertion about Sunnis on studies by J. Courbage. In a couple of papers that I read, he showed data with fertility rates across all of Lebanon have converged in the 1990's (2.3 to 2.9 childrem/woman), except for Northern Lebanon, especially the Sunni areas of Akkar (3.1 to 4.0 childrem/woman). I do not have the exact title at hand. If you have other references, I would love to know about them; could you email me some titles?

Still, I agree with you that if we build a normal country, sectarian demographics will matter less than class, or regionalism... Many economic issues are class or regional; the expansion of the port of Tripoli or Saida is a regional issue, the increase in VAT is a class issue. But the Lebanese political make-up is such that sectarian interests hide those issues.

And those interests are getting too strong; as they face Hezb, the Hariri appear to have made a deal with some less savoury elements. While it is true that only a "diamond can cut a diamond", I fear that they will regret having ever made that deal. And with changing demographics, the window of opportuinity for real change in Lebanon is closing fast.

Amir in Tel Aviv said...


"Cahana khai" is baned in Israel. Israel does not allow racist movements.
I thought that the Wahabis (or in general, those who come from the desert of Arabia) are more extreme than the Salafis, and more violent; have to check it out.
In Christianity there were the Crusaders of course, the Templers and the Puritans from England. In early Judaism there were the Sikaris who helped in irritating the Roman empire, and gave them an excuse to destroy the second temple in Jerusalem.

Jeha said...


Good point. As opposed to the Wahhabi creed, or even the Salafi creed in some cases, "Kahane Hai" is banned in Israel.

In Christianity, the Crusaders were nasty in many respects, as they famously desecrated the church of Hagia Sophia and butchered the population of Beirut (the site is now known as "Baouchrieh") but in general, they remain "milder" than modern Christian extremisms. The Crusaders were essentially brutal Feudal lords who did make local deal and adapt to local politics. Many of the battles of the period were fought among Crusader states, each with local Arab and Turkic allies.

ghassan karam said...

I am not sure that there are many, maybe none, reliable demographic studies about the composition and the actual number of the Lebanese population. (Sometime I wonder whether we have any reliable data about anything!!!). Anyway, the only book that is semi serious but again with a slightly questionable methodology is that by Kamal Feghali titled Al Tawaeef fi Lubnan. I am not questioning Mr. Feghalis knowledge but when the data is not available then you make do with the best proxy that you have. As a result, if my memeory serves me correctly, he relies on the lists of eligible voters. My rough guess is that the population that is under the age of twenty one numbers close to 40% of the population and what is more significant is that the young population is expected to have a radically different composition than the older population. As you well know population growth is very much affected by the number of young females so much so that in some very young populations a replacement fetility rate requires a seventy year period before the population in question is stablized.

Jeha said...


I agree; those electoral lists are also very tricky; I have done much "pointage" during the elections, and in some areas, more than 60% of the population had permanent emigrated.

And yes, because of the impact of the unaccounted young population, we may already in the midst of a population shift in Lebanon.

Amir in Tel Aviv said...

"... The Crusaders were essentially brutal Feudal lords who did make local deal and adapt to local politics".

Could this describe present Christians of Lebanon too??

Jeha said...


Not quite; the Crusaders remained essentially outsiders. Their local deals were merely tactical.

In Lebanon, we're all very much "insiders", with roots dating way back. But we never united, and our allegiances grew increasingly complex over time; local, to our own hometown or clan, and religious, to our sectarian group... Outwardly, we do have a semblance of unity; this was demonstrated to a certain extent recently. A case in point;

To most, Hezb's March 8 demonstration in support of Syria is an unforgiveable sin, but when it came to the war of July 2006, few were unhappy to see the Israelis defeated. But now, most are incensed that Hezb is trying to leverage it's victory for political gains; after all, they and the pro-Syrians did destroy a country they had been robbing blind for the past 15 years.

It is never black and white in the Middle East, let alone Lebanon.

Abu Jaafar said...

"[The Hizb] and the pro-Syrians did destroy a country they had been robbing blind for the past 15 years."

Hi Jeha,
The Hizb was robbing the country? I thought it was the Harriri Dyansty along with his friends in Syria (e.g. Khaddam).

Jeha said...

Hello Abu Jaafar,

Good point. But partial; the fact is that they were ALL robbing us blind. Hariri and Khaddam in their "robber-baron" style, and Hezb and Berri in their parasitic style.

Hariri took Solidere, part of the Telecom (with Khaddam), and Banque Du Liban.

Hezb/Berri took EDL/Water, as well as UL, Majliss El-Jounoub, and part of the Interior Ministry, as well as another part of the Telecom. And never mind Banque el-Madina...

It was all big and happy family until Bush invaded Iraq and Bachar started asking for a bigger piece of the pie. May he rest in peace, Hariri still did some good; he distributed scholarships, not missiles. And he never dragged us into a destructive war for the sake of a foreign country, and not even an Arab one at that.

So yes, Hezb is robbing the country. And now Hezb is killing it.

AM said...

Hi Jeha,

Interesting blog and interesting post, never heard or read of the Salafis before ... I know it's shameful but hey, there is always a first time :)

Thank you for the info which is also mentioned in the comments section, as interesting as the blog itself.

On the other hand, I do agree with your views about the hizb ... and I thought they were the only ones who create a sort of worry ... apparently not.