BEIRUT – Lebanon’s political system, which is once again in crisis, aims to share power equally between Christians and Muslims, but a survey published on Monday shows that Christians form only 35 percent of the population.
Private statistician Youssef Al Duweihi, a Maronite Christian, said his figures were based on identity registration records and electoral rolls throughout the country.
‘This is scientific, not political,’ he told Reuters by telephone from his north Lebanon home. ‘I want to tell the Lebanese this is Lebanon and if there is a problem, resolve it.’According to his survey, published in the independent an-Nahar newspaper, Lebanon has 4.855 million people, of whom just over 35 percent are Christian, 29 percent Shia Muslim, 29 percent Sunni Muslim and 5 percent Druze.Such figures are so sensitive in Lebanon that the last official census was conducted in 1932 during the French Mandate, which said Christians made up 55 percent of the population.Duweihi, a mathematician, said his survey showed Lebanon’s demography was at odds with the power-sharing setup. ‘It’s time to discuss the political system and the electoral law,’ he said.His figures appeared at a time of political crisis that pits an anti-Syrian majority coalition government against the Shia Hezbollah and Amal factions backed by a Christian group.If Prime Minister Fouad Siniora’s government falls, there may be calls for new parliamentary elections, reopening controversy over how to reform a Syrian-designed electoral law that most Lebanese leaders say should be scrapped.The Taif agreement which ended the 1975-90 civil war modified the complex religious power-sharing system, set up at the birth of modern Lebanon in 1943. Taif gave Muslims and Christians equal representation in parliament instead of the 6 to 5 advantage Christians had enjoyed previously.It stipulated that the president should remain a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni and the parliament speaker a Shia , while calling for the eventual abolition of the system that distributes state posts among Lebanon’s 17 recognised sects.Duweihi’s figures show the number of Lebanese entitled to passports, not the number actually residing in the country. Lebanon also hosts more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees and a substantial number of Syrian and other guest workers.Abdo Saad, the director of the Beirut Centre for Research and Information, said Duweihi’s results appeared ‘reasonable’, but added that he did not know what methodology he had used.
Saad said he had had access to Interior Ministry figures in 2000, which showed Christians made up about 33 percent of the population, Shia s 31.5 percent and Sunnis about 30 percent.