The Society

Lebanon Table of Contents

SINCE THE MID-1970s, Lebanon has been convulsed by the protracted tragedy of civil strife among the numerous segments and factions of its multiethnic and multisectarian society. The violent civil war of the mid-1970s was followed by incursions, invasions, and occasional occupation by the armed forces of foreign powers and organizations. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s scores of thousands of Lebanese fled their homeland, thousands more were killed, and the warring communities tended to become ever more intransigent in their demands for social autonomy. In the late 1980s the social systems remained severely fragmented, and a national society could not be said to exist. Prior to the 1975 Civil War some features of social change reflected an underlying trend toward modernization. Decline of kinship ties, social differentiation, rapid urbanization, and an improvement in living standards were all at play, but only within a fragmented social context in which the process of modernization lacked national uniformity. Furthermore, the tension between the forces of continuity and change retarded the pace of modernization, especially when the Lebanese political system did not adapt by expanding the scope of political representation and expression.

Generally speaking, Lebanese society was a traditional one that was exposed to forces of modernization in its urban centers. While some parts of the capital, Beirut, were undergoing a rapid process of modernization, a great influx of villagers to the cities created a "ruralizing" effect. Not only were the forces of change weakened by the value systems of the newcomers, but migration also led to social alienation in the so-called "belt of misery." This area was inhabited mostly by Shias who were driven out of southern Lebanon in the 1960s by the deteriorating political and security conditions resulting from the Israeli-Palestinian war of attrition. Moreover, the prosperity of Beirut and prospects of jobs lured skilled and unskilled laborers.

Lebanon did not come into existence until 1920, when the French--governing the region under a League of Nations mandate-- annexed the peripheral coastal area, the Biqa Valley, the northern region, and Jabal Amil (southern Lebanon) to the mutasarrifiyah of Mount Lebanon to create Greater Lebanon. Before the creation of the republic, Lebanon was politically and socially fragmented among the various Ottoman vilayets (provinces) and the confessional communities that sought refuge in its rugged mountains to avoid persecution.

Lebanese society is divided into numerous sects that are separated from each other by recognizable geographical lines of demarcation and perhaps even more by fear and suspicion. Some communal groups have resisted the changes associated with secularization and modernity by identifying more closely with their own sects and by vehemently opposing the existing political system. In 1987, after twelve years of civil war, Lebanon continued to be confessionally organized. Furthermore, the military battles had reinforced the distances between sects by causing demographic changes through the eviction of members of a whole sect from one region to another. This movement has not only affected Christian-Muslim relations, but also sects of the same faith.

Finally, the war had weakened the loose bonds of national loyalty and the feeling of belonging to one society. Although some Lebanese still believed in the efficacy of restoring the unity of a society that would comprise all sects, voices of religious fanaticism and self-interest rejected national and political integration within a system of mutual tolerance. This lack of consensus on national issues partly accounted for the continuation of war and conflict in Lebanon in the late 1980s.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress