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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Maronite Christians in Lebanon

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Lebanon Facts
Area:    10,400 sq. km.
Capital:    Beirut
Total Population:    3,506,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Maronite Christians in Lebanon exhibit several of the risk factors for rebellion, although other factors offset these. Maronites are somewhat concentrated geographically and have generally high levels of group organization and organizations with histories of violence representing their interests. Furthermore, Lebanon has experienced high levels of political instability in recent years. However, efforts at negotiation and transnational support for negotiations among the various ethnic groups in Lebanon offset risks. Additionally, Maronite Christians are guaranteed the presidency, further lessening incentives for rebellion against the state.

Protest is far more likely, as Lebanon is a partial democracy with long histories of instability. The continued interference into Lebanese politics by Syria and other actors is also likely to spur protests. Sporadic ethnic violence is also likely. There is also tension between different Maronite Christian factions, which are split between the pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian camps.


Analytic Summary

The Maronites follow the doctrine of the Maronite Church. As a result of persecution by the Byzantine Church its members retreated from Syria into remoter parts of Lebanon in the seventh century. In the 13th century the Maronites established relations with Rome and from the 17th century onward they developed an affinity for Europe, particularly France. The French controlled Greater Syria (which included Lebanon) following World War I. During the French mandate period, Lebanon was declared a distinct geopolitical entity from Syria by the French in an effort to create a district where their allies, the Maronites, could constitute a majority. Lebanon's Maronite community is the country's second largest ethnopolitical group at approximately one-quarter of the population, and they reside mainly in Beirut and its suburbs (GROUPCON = 2). The Maronites have traditionally been an advantaged minority in Lebanon. However, U.S. State Department reports indicate that Maronite churches have been subject to random bombings by Sunni extremists, resulting in the death of one person in fall 1999 when a bomb exploded in a Maronite church in an eastern Beirut suburb. Since 2001 there have been scattered instances of conflict between Maronites, Druze and Sunni Muslims.

Outnumbered by Muslims, the Maronites have retained a tenuous hold on power in the last quarter century, resulting in Syrian intervention in 1975 and a civil war that plunged the country into chaos and destruction. Since resolved, Lebanon's fragile peace is dependent on a sectarian governmental structure, where the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shi'a Muslim. The Parliament consists of 128 deputies, equally divided between Christian and Muslim representatives, yet recent trends in Lebanon point to more power being given to its Muslim communities. After decades of chaos the first signs of hope are now visible in Lebanon. Parliamentary elections were held most recently in 2005, and most of the warring factions were satisfied with the reforms to the electoral system and took part. Several militias have disbanded and/or disarmed. The relationships between the many diverse religious and ethnic groups remain tense, but violence between the groups has lessened with only some scattered instances of violence between Druze and Christians and Muslims and Christians. For example, in a shooting incident in 2002, a Shi'a Muslim killed eight employees of the Ministry of Education, seven of whom were Christians. And in 2001, Christians ravaged a Druze village and the Druze retaliated by doing the same. However, for the first time in decades, this tension does not constitute the greatest threat to Lebanese stability.

The greatest threat to Lebanon's stability is the ongoing Israeli-Syrian conflict, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ongoing Syrian intervention in Lebanese politics. In the first case, as long as Israel and Syria remain in an official state of war, Lebanon's strategic value will remain quite high. Israel and Syria have supported one group or another since the civil war in 1976 in an attempt to control Lebanon and with it, a territorial corridor to their enemy in case of invasion. Large demonstrations occurred between 2004 and 2006 to protest Syrian intervention after Lebanese leaders, including Rafik Hariri and Maronite Pierre Gemayel, were assassinated. As long as conflict continues, Israel and Syria will both likely continue to play disruptive roles in Lebanese politics.

As an advantaged minority, the Maronites face little to no cultural, economic, or political discrimination in Lebanon as long as they play within the governmental system (ECDIS06 = 0, POLDIS06 = 0). However, in recent years, a few anti-Syrian demonstrations by Christian groups have been banned; there's been some discrimination in judicial proceedings; and anti-Syrian Christians who have protested have been investigated, arrested and imprisoned.

Maronites in Lebanon are represented by multiple political parties. These include (in the anti-Syrian coalition) the Lebanese Forces, Phalangist and National Liberal parties and (in the pro-Syrian coalition) the Free Patriotic Movement. (GOJPA06 = 2) In recent years, Maronites have not engaged in any rebellion (REB04-6 = 0), but they have engaged in protest (PROT04 = 2; PROT05 = 3; PROT06 = 5). They have not faced government repression in recent years (REPGENCIV04-05 = 0; REPNVIOL04-06 = 0; REPVIOL04-06 = 0).



Amnesty International. 2003. 2002 Human Rights Report., accessed 2/24/2004.

LexisNexis. Various news reports. 1993-2003.

O'Loughlin, Ed. 12/16/2006. "Charges and counter-charges in Lebanon's not so-civil war of words." Sydney Morning Herald (Australia).

U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. 2001-2003.

Wilson, Scott. 12/20/2004. "Lebanese Wary of a Rising Hezbollah: Fears of Militia's Broader Ambitions Reignite Debate Over Its Populist Agenda." The Washington Post.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006