Lebanese Confessional Societies

Lebanese Confessional Societies

The Lebanese confessional societies reflect the tensions at the heart of Lebanese society. While Muslims and Christians have lived together in Lebanon for over a century, their deep disagreements over the Lebanese political formula and state make it unrealistic to treat all Lebanese as members of one social unit.

Since the creation of the republic, the Lebanese have disagreed over the identity of the new state. Although Muslims, specifically the Sunnis, were inclined toward a close association with Greater Syria and the Arab world, Christians, particularly the Maronites, opted for linking Lebanon culturally and politically to the Western world. Christians were not opposed to economic cooperation with Arab countries, to which Lebanon exported most of its products, but they insisted on distinguishing Lebanon's foreign policy from that of its Arab neighbors. The question was not whether Lebanon should be Arab, since as early as 1943 the National Pact (the governing formula) declared Lebanon as having "an Arab face." Rather, the postindependence debate was really over how Arab Lebanon should be. This debate was exacerbated in the 1950s by former Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser's pan-Arab activism on the one hand, and former Lebanese President Camille Shamun's (also seen as Chamoun) pro-Western administration on the other.

The controversy over the identity of Lebanon extended beyond the political realm to encompass questions of culture and literature as these were presented in school textbooks. Muslims in general, as well as the Greek Orthodox, insisted that Arab and Islamic culture and literature should be emphasized, whereas Uniate Christians refused to commit Lebanese education to what they considered an inferior culture. The Maronite political movement viewed Lebanon's culture as distinctively Lebanese in its origins and values.

Regardless of sectarian affiliation, Lebanon has no civil code for personal matters. Lebanese citizens therefore live and die according to sectarian stipulations. Each sect has its own set of personal status laws that encompass such matters as engagement, marriage, dowry, annulment of marriage, divorce, adoption, and inheritance. These laws are binding on the individual, whether one is a practicing member of the sect or not. The confessional system of personal-status laws strengthens the role of communal religious leaders and impedes the evolution of Lebanese nationalist or universalist secular ideas.

The economic history of Lebanon has been marred by an unequal distribution of national income and misallocation of benefits and funds. The central government tended to regard the regions that were annexed to what was Mount Lebanon in 1920 as marginal parts of Lebanon. Furthermore, the centralization of government in Beirut worsened the conditions of the rural areas, luring many Lebanese to crowded, confessional community, poverty belts around the metropolitan center. The central government's neglect of southern Lebanon, particularly, contributed to a feeling of humiliation by the Shias, who in 1987 constituted the largest sectarian community.

The economic situation in peripheral Lebanon, which geographically comprises the provinces of Al Janub and, Al Biqa, and the Akkar region in Ash Shamal Province, differed sharply from that around Beirut. Economic exploitation was more evident in these areas, with the dominance of feudalistic production patterns. The land was divided among a small elite, and working conditions on the large estates were harsh. In addition, state services were scarce outside the capital. Beirut and its suburbs became politically and socially explosive when people from the impoverished periphery migrated to the city and came in contact with the affluent city dwellers.

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