Lebanon’s physical religious divide

Taleen writes*

While it is impossible to determine one specific cause of the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), it cannot be denied that the religious division that is so deeply ingrained into Lebanese society played a massive role. This is evidenced by the fact that each party involved in the multi-faceted war was determined by religion. For example, the Druze religious sect’s militia was the the Progressive Socialist Party, and the Muslim Shia religious sect’s militia was the Amal Movement (Abouzeid, 2021).

After 15 years of conflict, bloodshed, and death, the Taif Agreement was introduced to Lebanon in hopes to put an end to the war. Interestingly, one of the main conditions of the agreement was that once the war would end, the government was to be restructured according to a sectarian regime (Nagle & Clancy, 2019). This was to be done using religious quotas for parliament seats — e.g., 34 seats for Christian Maronites and 27 seats for Muslim Sunnis (Rosiny, 2015). The thought process behind this was that no single religious group would be able to gain enough power to have an unfair political advantage over the others.

The implementation of a sectarian regime was also done in foolish hopes that somehow this would phase out religious division and reduce hostility and animosity between the sects; it did not. In fact, it did the complete opposite. One particularly interesting piece of evidence that corroborates this is how the Taif Agreement manifested a physical divide among the religious sects which severely reinforced the societal divide. To elaborate, after the Taif Agreement was signed, the strategy that was implemented in order to disarm all militias in the country physically solidified divisions among the faiths, erasing any hope of creating a socially cohesive society.

The strategy in question dictated that the Druze Progressive Socialist Party would retreat to the Chouf mountains, the Shia Amal Movement would withdraw to the eastern Bekaa, and the Maronite Lebanese Forces would go north to the Kesrouan range. The figure below depicts the current distribution of Lebanon’s main religious groups.

One can easily see that the religious groups remained in their designated areas, resulting in societal divisions that remain to this day. The Taif Agreement failed before it was even fully implemented.

 

Bottom Line: The Taif Agreement aimed to end the civil war and remove  religious divisions amongst the population, but it failed miserably by physically embedding those divisions into Lebanon’s map.

 


* Please help my Economic Growth & Development students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “Lebanon’s physical religious divide”

  1. Hi Taleen! I really enjoyed reading your blog post and learning about Lebanon. You mention that there was already a religious division between parties in the civil war, and throughout the post, you show that the Taif Agreement has maintained these fragmentations. This left me thinking if there are other institutions (maybe informal?) in Lebanon that support this kind of social order – other than the Taif Agreement -. Do you think that these divisions benefit someone, and that is why some structures still enforce them? or is it too culturally embedded?

  2. Hi Taleen! I find it interesting how the Taif Agreement illustrates how double-edged efforts to maintain a balance between different groups can be. On the one hand the agreement ensured that no one group would dominate the others —thus stabilizing the balance of power between Maronites, Druzes, Sunni and Shia. On the other hand the Taif Agreement further crystallized existing differences and strengthened identities, leading to more instability. In the short run, it allowed a form of religious cohabitation that avoided immediate violence, but in the long run it increased social divides.

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