The Family

Lebanon Table of Contents

The Family

The primacy of the family manifests itself in all phases of Lebanese life including political, financial, and personal relationships. In the political sphere, families compete with each other for power and prestige, and kinsmen combine forces to support family members in their quest for leadership. In business, employers give preference to hiring relatives, and brothers and cousins often consolidate their resources in operating a family enterprise. Wealthy family members are expected to share with less prosperous relatives, a responsibility that commonly falls to expatriate and urban relatives who help support their village kin.

In the personal sphere, the family has an equally pervasive role. To a great extent, family status determines an individual's access to education and chances of achieving prominence and wealth. The family also seeks to ensure an individual's conformity with accepted standards of behavior so that family honor will be maintained. An individual's ambitions are molded by the family in accordance with the long-term interests of the group as a whole. Just as the family gives protection, support, and opportunity to its members, the individual member offers loyalty and service to the family.

The traditional form of the family is the three-generation patrilineal extended family, consisting of a man, his wife or wives, their unmarried children of both sexes, and their married sons, together with the sons' wives and children. Some of these groups live under one roof as a single household, which occurred in earlier generations, but most do not.

The family commands primary loyalty in Lebanese society. In a study conducted by a team of sociologists at the American University of Beirut in 1959, loyalty to the family ranked first among both Christians and Muslims, males and females, and among both politically active and noncommitted students. Next to the family in order of importance were religion, nationality or citizenship, ethnic group, and finally the political party. The results of this study probably reflected the attitudes of the Lebanese in 1987. If anything, primordial ties appear to have increased during the 1975 Civil War. The rise of Islamic and Christian fundamentalism encouraged the development of ethnic and familial consciousness. Among Maronites, there has always been an emphasis on the family; for example, the motto of the Phalange Party is "God, the homeland, the family."

The family in Lebanon has been a means through which political leadership is distributed and perpetuated. In the Chamber of Deputies of 1960, for example, almost a quarter of the deputies "inherited" their seats. In the 1972 Chamber, Amin Jumayyil (who became president in 1982) served with his father Pierre Jumayyil after inheriting the seat of his uncle Maurice Jumayyil. Because "political families" have monopolized the representation of certain sects for over a century, it has been argued that family loyalty hinders the development of a modern polity.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress