The Lebanese people (Arabic: الشعب اللبناني / ALA-LC: ash-shaʻb al-Libnānī Lebanese Arabic pronunciation: [eʃˈʃaʕeb ellɪbˈneːne]) are the inhabitants of the country of Lebanon and their ancestors. The term may also include those who had inhabited Mount Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountains prior to the creation of the modern Lebanese state.
The cultural and linguistic heritage of the Lebanese people is a blend of both indigenous Phoenician elements and the foreign cultures that have come to rule the land and its people over the course of thousands of years. In a 2013 interview the lead investigator, Pierre Zalloua, pointed out that genetic variation preceded religious variation and divisions:"Lebanon already had well-differentiated communities with their own genetic peculiarities, but not significant differences, and religions came as layers of paint on top. There is no distinct pattern that shows that one community carries significantly more Phoenician than another."
As the relative proportion of the various sects is politically sensitive, Lebanon has not collected official census data on ethnic background since the 1932 under the French Mandate. It is therefore difficult to have an exact demographic analysis of Lebanese society. The largest concentration of people of Lebanese ancestry is in Brazil having an estimated population of 5.8 to 7 million. Like the Phoenicians, the Lebanese have always traveled the world, many of them settling permanently, most notably in the last two centuries.
Reduced in numbers and estimated to have lost their status as a majority in Lebanon itself, largely as a result of their emigration, Christians still remain one of the principal religious groups in the country. Descendants of Lebanese Christians make up the majority of Lebanese people worldwide, appearing principally in the diaspora.
Cultural and linguistic shifts
Aramization transformed the ancient Lebanon into an Aramaic-speaking and identifying region, making the population abandon their indigenous Canaanite Phoenician language and cultural norms. Most of the population would also abandon the polytheistic Canaanite religion in favour of Christianity.
Aramaic cultural norms would remain dominant until the commencement of the era of Arabization (often, but not always, in conjunction with Islamization), which transformed the Levant and most of the Middle East and North Africa during the Arabian Muslim conquest. Thus, it is from the Arabization of Lebanon that the people receive the strongest cultural, linguistic and ethnic imprint to date, although most would remain Christian. As a result of this, in modern discourse, the Lebanese people (as is also the case with Syrians, Palestinians, Egyptians, Moroccans, etc.) are now often referred to as Arabs, or as forming part of the Arab world, albeit all with their own separate and distinct ancestral origins and ancient histories.
Immediately prior to Arabization, the people residing in Lebanon—both those who would become Muslim and the vast majority who would remain Christian, along with the tiny Jewish minority—still spoke Aramaic, or more precisely, a Western Aramaic language. However, since at least the 15th century, the majority of people of all faiths living in what is now Lebanon have been Arabic-speaking, or more specifically, speakers of Lebanese Arabic, although up until the 17th century, travellers in the Lebanon still reported on several Aramaic-speaking villages.
Among the Lebanese Maronites, Aramaic still remains the liturgical language of the Maronite Church, although in an Eastern Aramaic form (the Syriac language, in which early Christianity was disseminated throughout the Middle East), distinct from the spoken Aramaic of Lebanon, which was a Western Aramaic language. As the second of two liturgical languages of Judaism, Aramaic was also retained as a language in the sphere of religion (in the Talmud) among Lebanese Jews, although here too in an Eastern Aramaic form (the Talmud was composed in Babylonia in Babylonian Aramaic). Among Lebanese Muslims, however, Aramaic was lost twice, once in the shift to Arabic in the vernacular (Lebanese Arabic) and again in the religious sphere, since Arabic (Qur'anic Arabic) is the liturgical language of Islam.
Some Lebanese, mainly Christians, identify themselves as Phoenician rather than Arab, seeking to draw "on the Phoenician past to try to forge an identity separate from the prevailing Arab culture". They argue that Arabization merely represented a shift to the Arabic language as the vernacular of the Lebanese people, and that, according to them, no actual shift of ethnic identity, much less ancestral origins, occurred. Their argument, based on the premise of ancestry, has recently been vindicated by some emerging genetic studies as discussed below. Thus, Phoenicianists emphasize that the Arabs of Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Iraq, and all other "Arabs", are different peoples, each descended from the indigenous pre-Arab populations of their respective regions, with their own histories and lore, and that therefore they do not belong to the one pan-Arab ethnicity, and thus such categorisation is erred or inapplicable. Certain portions of Lebanon's Christian population in particular tend to stress aspects of Lebanon's non-Arab prior history to encompass all Lebanon's historical stages, instead of considering the beginning of Lebanese history ibeing with the Arab conquests, an attitude that prevails in the rest of the Arab world. Some consider addressing all Lebanese as Arabs somewhat insensitive, and prefer to call them Lebanese as a sign of respect of Lebanon's long non-Arab past.
Among the Arabists, most do not dispute the differing ancestral origins of not only the Lebanese, but every other "Arab" group, nor do they disagree with acknowledging those roots. However, they do contest the Phoenicianists' assertion that a shift to an Arab identity did not occur, whether from a Phoenician or later pre-Arab identity. Arabists argue such a shift did in fact occur, if not for the population as a whole and for generations up until the rise of modern Phoenicianism, then at the very least for the larger part of the population, up to and including today. Further, they contend that this was the case for the Lebanese even in light of the differing Lebanese religious communities, especially pointing to the fact that most of the leading Arabists in recent Lebanese history were in fact Christians. The Arabists' point of contention is that Phoenicianists and Phoenicianism disregards and often altogether seems to relegate the reality of the Arab cultural and linguistic heritage of Lebanon and the Lebanese, given the extent to which the culture and customs of today's Lebanese people are indebted to that period of Lebanon's history. This is argued especially when the Arab cultural elements are quantified against the elements that can be attributed to have originated prior to, and survived, the Arab period into the modern time and culture. Therefore, they see the notion of deriving a Lebanese identity based on pan-Arabism as valid, and thus many Lebanese, whether Muslim, Christian or other, do identify as Arabs.
In light of this "old controversy about identity", some Lebanese prefer to see Lebanon, Lebanese culture and themselves as part of "Mediterranean" and "Levantine" civilization, in a concession to Lebanon's various layers of heritage, both indigenous, foreign non-Arab, and Arab. Arab influence, nevertheless, applies to virtually all aspects of the modern Lebanese culture.
The total population of Lebanese people is estimated at 13-18 million. Of these, the vast majority, or 8.6 - 14 million, are in the Lebanese diaspora (outside of Lebanon), and approximately 4.3 million in Lebanon itself.
There are approximately 4.3 million Lebanese people in Lebanon.
Lebanon is also a multi-ethnic society. Prominent ethnic minorities in the country include the Armenians, the Kurds, the Turks, the Assyrians, the Iranians and many European ethnicities (Greeks, Italians, French).
There are also a small number of nomadic Dom Gypsies (part of the Roma people of South Asian, particularly, Indian descent)
In 1994, the Lebanese government estimated there were 15.4 million Lebanese immigrants worldwide with 43.2% living in Brazil (1996) and 26.1% of these residing in the USA.
The Lebanese diaspora consists of approximately 8.6 - 14 million, both Lebanese-born living abroad and those born-abroad of Lebanese descent. The majority of the Lebanese in the diaspora are Christians, disproportionately so in the Americas where the vast majority reside. An estimate figure show that they represent about 75% of the Lebanese in total.
The largest number of Lebanese is to be found in Brazil, where there is an estimated 10 million people of Lebanese descent. The Lebanese government claims there are 7 million Brazilians of Lebanese descent. Large numbers also reside elsewhere in North America, most notably in the United States and Mexico with close to half a million in both countries. In the rest of the Americas, significant communities are found in Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Venezuela, with almost every other Latin American country having at least a small presence.
In Africa, Ghana and the Ivory Coast are home to over 100,000 Lebanese. There are significant Lebanese populations in other countries throughout Western and Central Africa. Australia hosts over 180,000 and Canada 250,000. In the Arab world, the Gulf States harbour around 400,000 Lebanese. Lebanese people also can be found in all of the 28 member states of the European Union. More than 2,500 ex-SLA members remain in Israel.
Currently, Lebanon provides no automatic right to Lebanese citizenship for emigrants who lost their citizenship upon acquiring the citizenship of their host country, nor for the descendants of emigrants born abroad. This situation disproportionately affects Christians. Recently, the Maronite Institution of Emigrants called for the establishment of an avenue by which emigrants who lost their citizenship may regain it, or their overseas-born descendants (if they so wish) may acquire it.
Note: An important percentage of Arabs in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, Venezuela, Bulgaria, Denmark, Austria, Romania, Serbia, Republic of Macedonia, Italy, Portugal, Spain, New Zealand, Ghana and Ivory Coast are of Lebanese ancestry. They are denoted ** for this purpose.
Lebanon has several different main religions. The country has the most religiously diverse society in the Middle East, encompassing 17 recognized religious sects. The main two religions are Christianity (the Maronite Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Melkite, the Protestant Church, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church) and Islam (Shia and Sunni). There is also the Druze quasi-Muslim sect.
No official census has been taken since 1932, reflecting the political sensitivity in Lebanon over confessional (i.e. religious) balance.
A study conducted by Statistics Lebanon, a Beirut-based research firm, cited by the United States Department of State found that of Lebanon's population of approximately 4.3 million is estimated to be:
- 40.5% Christian (21% Maronite, 8% Greek Orthodox, 5% Melkite, 1% Protestant, 6% other Christian denominations like Roman Catholic, and also non-native to Lebanon Christian denominations like Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Chaldean, Assyrian and Copt)
- 5.5% Druze (a quasi-Muslim sect who do not consider to be Muslim, even though under the terms of the Lebanese Constitution the Druze community is designated as a part of the Lebanese Muslim community.)
The CIA World Factbook specifies that of those residing in Lebanon, 59.7% are Muslims (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Sufi and Alawites) and 39% are Christians (mostly Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Melkite, Armenian Apostolic Church, Armenian Catholic Church, Assyrian Church of the East, Syriac Orthodox, Chaldean Catholic, Syrian Catholics) and 1.3% "Other".
However, as soon as the diaspora is included, the Christians become an absolute majority. Lebanon has a population of Mhallamis also known as Mardinli), most of whom migrated from northeast Syria and southeast Turkey are estimated to be between 75,000 and 100,000 and considered to be part of the Sunni population. These have in recent years been granted Lebanese citizenship and, coupled with several civil wars between Islamic extremists and the Lebanese military that have caused many Christians to flee the country, have re-tipped the demographic balance in favour of the Muslims and the Sunnis in particular. In addition, many thousands of Arab Bedouins in the Bekaa and in the Wadi Khaled region, who are entirely Sunnis, were granted Lebanese citizenship. Lebanon also has a Jewish population, estimated at less than 100.
Even though Lebanon is a secular country, family matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance are still handled by the religious authorities representing a person's faith. Calls for civil marriage are unanimously rejected by the religious authorities but civil marriages held in another country are recognized by Lebanese civil authorities.
Legally registered Muslims form around 54% of the population (Shia, Sunni, Alawite). Legally registered Christians form up to 41% (Maronite, Greek Orthodox Christian, Melkite, Armenian, Evangelical, other). Druze form around 5%. A small minority of 0.1% includes Jews, and foreign workers who belong to Hindu and Buddhist religions.
Even though non-religion is not recognized by the state, in 2009, the Minister of the Interior Ziad Baroud made it possible to have the religious sect removed from the Lebanese identity card, this does not, however, deny the religious authorities complete control over civil family issues inside the country.
In recent years efforts have been made by various genetic researchers,[who?] both in Lebanon and abroad, to identify the ancestral origins of the Lebanese people, their relationship to each other, and to other neighbouring and distant human populations. Like most DNA studies that attempt to identify a population's origins and migration patterns in the region that may have influenced the genetic make-up—these studies have focused on two human genome segments, the Y chromosome (inherited only by males and passed only by fathers) and mtDNA (mitochondrial DNA, which passes only from mother to child). Both segments are unaffected by recombination, thus they provide an indicator of paternal and maternal origins, respectively.
Theories from some studies propose to corroborate that the Lebanese trace genetic continuity with earlier inhabitants, including the Phoenicians, regardless of their membership to any of Lebanon's different religious communities today. "The genetic marker which identifies descendants of the ancient Levantines is found among members of all of Lebanon's religious communities" as well as some Syrians and Palestinians. By identifying the ancient type of DNA attributed to the Phoenicians, geneticist Pierre Zalloua was also able to chart their spread out of the eastern Mediterranean. These markers were found in unusually high proportions in non-Lebanese samples from other parts of the "Mediterranean coast where the Phoenicians are known to have established colonies, such as Carthage in today's Tunisia." The markers were also found among samples of Maltese and Spaniards, where the Phoenicians were also known to have established colonies. The study shows that 1 out of 17 people in the countries surrounding the Mediterranean basin can be identified with the Phoenician genetic markers in their Male Chromosomes. However, the particular marker associated by some studies with the historical Phoenicians, haplogroup J2, actually represents a complex mosaic of different demographic processes which affected the Mediterranean in prehistoric and historic times.
Beyond this, more recent finds have also interested geneticists and Lebanese anthropologists. These indicate foreign non-Levantine admixture from some unexpected but not surprising sources, even if only in a small proportion of the samples. Like a story written in DNA, it recounts some of the major historical events seen in the land today known as Lebanon.
Among the more interesting genetic markers found are those that seem to indicate that a small proportion of Lebanese Christians (2%) and a smaller proportion of Lebanese Muslims are descended, in part, from European Crusader Christians and Arabian Muslims respectively. The author states that the "study tells us that some European crusaders did not just conquer and leave behind castles. They left a subtle genetic connection as well." In much the same manner, some of the Arabian Muslims did not just conquer and leave behind mosques.
It was during a broader survey of Middle Eastern populations conducted for the Genographic Project of the National Geographic Society that the findings were stumbled upon. "We noticed some interesting lineages in the dataset. Among Lebanese Christians, in particular, we found higher frequency [2%] of a genetic marker — R1b — that we typically see only in Western Europe."
The lineage was seen at that "higher" frequency only in the Christian populations in Lebanon, even though among the Muslims it was not altogether absent. "The study matched the western European Y-chromosome lineage against thousands of people in France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom." On the other hand, in the Lebanese Muslim population a similar pattern, this time associated with genetic markers from Arabia, was also observed in "higher" preferential frequencies, although they too were not altogether absent in the Christian population. "We found that a lineage that is very common in the Arabian Peninsula — Hg J*— is found in slightly higher frequencies preferentially in the Muslim population." The author of the study added that the findings "certainly doesn't undermine the similarities among the various Lebanese communities, but it does agree with oral tradition."
Other unrelated studies have sought to establish relationships between the Lebanese people and other groups. At least one study by the International Institute of Anthropology in Paris, France, confirmed similarities in the Y-haplotype frequencies in Lebanese, Palestinian, and Sephardic Jewish men, identifying them as "three Near-Eastern populations sharing a common geographic origin." The study surveyed one Y-specific DNA polymorphism (p49/Taq I) in 54 Lebanese and 69 Palestinian males, and compared with the results found in 693 Jews from three distinct Jewish ethnic groups; Mizrahi Jews, Sephardi Jews, and Ashkenazi Jews.
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