Lebanon Table of Contents

An important characteristic of the Lebanese is their migratory spirit, which can be traced back to the Phoenicians who were known for their exploratory expeditions. Substantial emigration occurred between 1860 and 1914. During this period, approximately 330,000 Lebanese emigrated from what is now Syria and Lebanon. Between 1900 and 1914 the annual rate was about 15,000. The rate dropped sharply during World War I and immediately thereafter, but resumed a net annual emigration rate of about 3,000 between 1921 and 1939. Those who had emigrated by 1932 included 123,397 Maronites, 57,031 Greek Orthodox, and 26,627 Melkites, but only 36,865 Muslims and Druzes. Following World War II the rate decreased somewhat until 1975; thereafter the Civil War caused the emigration of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese. In much of the pre-Civil War period, the proportion of Christian Lebanese emigrants to Muslims and Druzes was as high as six to one.

Rural to urban migration has also been a strong social force within Lebanon. Villagers have moved to the cities, Beirut in particular, to seek improved living conditions or to escape the horrors of war and poverty. The new city dwellers were known for maintaining ties to their home villages. Because of Lebanon's small size and short travel distances, many could continue to spend vacations and weekends in their villages, especially during harvest time. The newcomer to Beirut usually took up residence near fellow villagers and coreligionists. In the case of many Shias, the massive movement to the so-called "belt of misery," which denoted the southern and, until 1976, the eastern suburbs of Beirut, led to deep social resentment since affluent Maronite districts were adjacent to poor Shia districts. In fact, one of the first fronts of the war in 1975 was that between the Shia neighborhood of Shayah and the Christian neighborhood of Ayn ar Rummanah. The road that separated these neighborhoods became known as the Green Line, which in the 1980s designated the line separating Christian East Beirut from predominantly Muslim West Beirut.

More than twelve years of turmoil have resulted in considerable compulsory and voluntary displacement of ordinary people. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese left their country, some as permanent emigrants, others for what they hoped would be temporary exile. How many left is not known, but Lebanon has the dubious distinction of being the only developing country which the World Bank believes has actually witnessed a negative population growth rate in recent years. Lebanon's inability to hold a proper census, even in time of peace, means there are only estimates for the country's population. Whereas the population was thought by World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) sources to have grown by around 70 percent to 2.77 million over the 25 years to 1975, by 1984 the population was thought to have declined to 2.64 million.

There has been considerable internal migration as well. Again, it is not possible to quantify this precisely. But the repeated redrawing of militia lines of control, and the repeated fears of members of one community living in enclaves dominated by people of a different religious, national or political persuasion, make it not unreasonable to suppose that as much as a third of the country's inhabitants in mid-1987 had moved to new homes since 1975. It might also be argued that as many as half the people have at some stage moved away from their family homes for a while to escape the persistent violence. Such developments have had profound socioeconomic consequences. A disproportionate number of males have emigrated, while men presumably also account for the majority of those who have died in the years of conflict. Thus there has been a steady increase in the number of women entering the workforce and in female-headed households.

More about the Population of Lebanon.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress