The People Of Lebanon
Lebanon has not taken a census since 1932. The 1997 estimated population was 3,200,000, but this figure, provided by the Lebanese government, does not include Palestinian refugees and foreign workers, mainly Syrian. An independent 2000 estimate placed the population at 3,800,000, yielding a population density of 346 persons per sq km (897 per sq mi). Densities are highest along the coast and on the lower western slopes of the Lebanon Mountains. Some 89 percent of the population is urban. Emigration from Lebanon to other countries, especially among Christians, has been steady since the mid-19th century, and it increased sharply during the 1975 war. Within the country, thousands of Shiite refugees have fled fighting in southern Lebanon and moved into shantytowns in Beirut's southern suburbs.
Lebanon's major cities were greatly affected by the war. Beirut has gradually regained most of its prewar population and remains the country's largest city. Tripoli, the northern port, is the second largest city, followed by Jûniyah, north of Beirut. Jûniyah was developed as a wartime port and subsequently had a population boom. Zahle, a once-large city overlooking the Bekáa, lost much of its population during the war. The southern towns of Saydâ (Sidon) and ªûr (ancient Tyre).
Lebanese is the spoken Language, Arabic is the official language, but French is commonly used, especially in government and among the upper class. English is also widely used, particularly as the language of business and education. Most Armenians speak Armenian and many Christians Speak Syriac.
The government policy of confessionalism, or the grouping of people by religion, plays a critical role in Lebanon's political and social life and has given rise to Lebanon's most persistent and bitter conflicts. At the time of Lebanon's independence in the 1940s, there were more Christians than Muslims. In the following years, many Muslims immigrated to Lebanon and had a higher birthrate than the Christians. The government recognizes 18 distinct religious sects: 5 Muslim (Shiite, Sunnite, Druze, Ismailite, and Alawite), 11 Christian (4 Orthodox, 6 Catholic, and 1 Protestant), and Judaism.
Lebanon has one of the most educated and technically prepared populations in the Middle East. In 2000, 86 percent of Lebanese aged 15 and older were literate. Primary education in Lebanon is free and compulsory for five years; school attendance is near universal for primary school-aged children. Beirut is home to six universities: the well-known American University of Beirut; the Jesuit-sponsored Saint Joseph University; the government-supported Lebanese University; the Egyptian-sponsored Beirut Arab University; the Lebanese American University; and the Armenian Hagazian College. Lebanon also has more than 100 technical, vocational, and other specialized schools.
Way of Life
The Lebanese value individualism, which contributes to their creativity and inventiveness. Close family relations, loyalty to family and friends, and honor are also important. People strive to gain influence and to accumulate and display wealth, which are signs of success that win respect. Men and women mix freely and attend schools in equal numbers. Christian women are similar to Western women in dress, attitude, and activities. Most Muslim women are more conservative in attitude and dress than their Christian counterparts. Men generally wear Western clothes, although some older Muslim men wear the Arab headdress, or kufiyah. In their leisure time, Lebanese people enjoy participating in outdoor activities, and eating good food. Traditional foods include kebbe, a dish of lamb and crushed wheat, and tabbouleh, a salad made of parsley, mint, tomatoes, and crushed wheat. People enjoy a variety of foods, however, and restaurants serve everything from Lebanese, French, Turkish, Persian, and Greek specialties to hamburgers and pizza.