Lebanon – Sitting on a demographic timebomb!

 

A reminder of the past for Beirut - Holiday Inn building, as it is today and has since the beginning of the civil war in 1976

 Hearing the news of the start of  sectarian violence again in Lebanon is no surprise after my recent trip in glitzy Beirut.

This time last week on a friday afternoon l was in Beirut near the blue mosque, where l kept being asked whether l was a sunni or shia. If anything this illustrates well the extent of sectarianism in Lebanon more clearly to me then anything else. Striking me as not dissimilar to Northern Ireland where everybody seems to know if your catholic or protestant but probably alot worse, if l’m reading the situation well.

Don’t get me wrong, the country has plenty to offer a tourist particularly in Beirut with its multilingual, fashion-conscious residents. You can see one of Rome’s most lavish temples in Baalbek, the “Sun city” of th ancient world. You can go to ski resorts like the Cedars, Lebanons oldest up at 2000m altitude which is akin to a European ski destination. Byblos, north along the coast from Beirut has some very impressive archaeological remains with a charming ancient harbour and a seafood feast awaiting you at any joint. And finally discovering the clubs and bars in Beirut makes one realise why its the Middle East’s most vibrant city.

But it all appears to come back to a demographic timebomb there. So whats the demographic timebomb?  Well since a census in 1932, it has been pre-determined that Lebanon has a Maronite christian as a President;  Sunni Prime Minister and the speaker of the parliament is a shia Muslim. The cabinet also reflects the sectarian mix. The problem with such a power division along sectarian lines is that the make-up of the population has changed some what and does not reflect today the make-up of the communities in 1932. Furthermore, when elections occur you can only vote for one of your faith!Knowingly no new census has occurred in Lebanon since 1932, as this would lay claim to change this sectarian division of power.  

This of course leaves out more recent arrivals like the Palestinians struck in camps since 1948, where in many instances you will now have up to 3 generations living in these very basic camps waiting to return to Palestine.

So any chance of a Census today? No chance but rather its ignored to their peril.

This is all before the troubles next door in Syrian crosses over the border!  It was clear from the local papers that the political classes are in a state of denial on this front. Everyone else has been fully aware that the unrest in neighbouring Syria has been felt most keenly in Lebanon’s second capital during May. Amid the battle between residents of rival neighbourhoods, there has been a clear rise in animosity between members of different sectarian communities and everyone is fully aware that the unrest in Tripoli is fully capable of spreading elsewhere in Lebanon including Beirut as indeed reports from the BBC have suggested since my return. So you can imagine a demographic time bomb is the least of Lebanonese concerns at the moment.

All this is really a reflection of the previous French policy of “divide and rule” in Lebanon in the early 1940’s which in the first instance divided their mandate in Lebanon from Syria along religious grounds with a Syrian republic for Muslim majority and a Lebanon which included Tyre, Beirut and Tripoli.   |

I wish the best for a beautiful country like Lebanon but l’m very anxious about its immediate future after a very relaxing trip there with friends as a tourist.