Lebanon: Situation of Christians and treatment by society, authorities, Hezbollah [Hizballah, Hizbollah, Hizbullah, the Party of God], and other armed groups; state protection (2020–August 2022) [LBN201147.E]

Research Directorate, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada

1. Overview

According to the US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report for 2021, Statistics Lebanon Ltd, an independent Beirut-based research firm (Statistics Lebanon Ltd n.d.), estimates that the population of Lebanon was 32 percent Sunni Muslims, 31.3 percent Shia Muslims, and 32 percent Christians; of the Christian population, 52.5 percent are Maronite Christians and 25 percent are Greek Orthodox (US 2 June 2022, 2).

Sources report that Lebanon officially recognizes 18 religions, including 12 Christian denominations (US 2 June 2022, 5; MRG May 2020). According to the US International Religious Freedom Report for 2021, the 12 officially recognized Christian groups are as follows: Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Assyrian, Chaldean, Copt, evangelical Protestant, and Roman Catholic (US 2 June 2022, 5). The same source notes that the unrecognized Christian groups include several Protestant groups and the Church of Jesus Christ (US 2 June 2022, 5).

2. Legislation

The Constitution of Lebanon provides the following:

Preamble to the Constitution

H. Eliminating political sectarianism is a basic national objective, to be achieved

according to a transitional plan.

I. The territory of Lebanon is one for all Lebanese. Every Lebanese has the right to reside on any part thereof, and enjoy it under the sovereignty of the law. No segregation of the people on any belonging whatsoever. No segregation, no partition, and no inhabitation.

Article 9

Freedom of conscience is absolute. In assuming the obligations of glorifying God, the Most High, the State respects all religions and creeds and safeguards the freedom of exercising the religious rites under its protection, without disturbing the public order. It also guarantees the respect of the system of personal status and religious interests of the people, regardless of their different creeds.

Article 95

The Chamber of Deputies, elected on the basis of half Moslems and half Christians, must take the appropriate measures to eliminate political sectarianism, according to an interim plan, and the formation of a National Council under the presidency of the President of the Republic consisting, in addition to the President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Prime Minister, political, intellectual and social notables.

The mission of the Council is to study and suggest the means capable of eliminating the sectarianism, and introducing them to the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of Ministers, and to follow up on the interim plan. (Lebanon 1926, bold in original)

Sources indicate that based on an agreement for power sharing [1],

  • the President shall be a Maronite Christian;
  • the Prime Minister shall be a Sunni Muslim; and
  • the Speaker of Parliament shall be a Shia Muslim (US 2 June 2022, 6; President 25 July 2022; Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. A1).

3. Situation of Christians

According to sources, Christians hold 50 percent of the seats in parliament (Professor of political science 29 July 2022; President 25 July 2022). In a telephone interview with the Research Directorate, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, whose research focuses on political and social tensions in the Middle East, indicated that not all Christian denominations are "equally" represented in the government (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). In an interview with the Research Directorate, a Graduate Program Director at the Institute for Ismaili Studies (ISS), whose research focuses on religion and sectarianism in the Middle East, similarly noted that other than Maronite or Orthodox Christians, members of Christian sects are "unlikely to have any real representation" in the political system (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

Sources report that Christians are free to travel within the country (Associate Professor 26 July 2022; Professor of political science 29 July 2022; Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

Freedom House notes that individuals whose denominations are not officially recognized "have difficulty obtaining official documents, government jobs, and other services" (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. F4). According to sources, due to Lebanon's economic situation, all citizens, not just Christians, face difficulties accessing government services (Professor of political science 29 July 2022; Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022; President 25 July 2022) or employment (President 25 July 2022).

Sources indicate that an individual with sectarian "affiliations" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 36) or connections to a political party (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022; Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022) will have more access to government services (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022; Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022; Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 36) or employment (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 36). The Graduate Program Director stated that a minority in a given area will have "less access" to services or jobs (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). A report on conflict in Lebanon [2] by the Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR), an "independent social enterprise" that conducts research and analysis for solutions on "effective aid policy" (COAR n.d.), states that the "confessional government system has effectively codified sectarian identity into political institutions," and political leaders prioritize the acquisition of resources "for their own [religious] community at the expense of others" (COAR 14 Jan. 2022, 2).

However, in correspondence with the Research Directorate, a professor of political science at the Université de Montréal, who specializes in Lebanon and has written about power-sharing, as well as social coexistence in Lebanon, stated that the [translation] "majority" of services are private, and this "means unequal access" between social classes rather than communities (Professor of political science 29 July 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

4. Treatment by Society

Sources indicate that religious groups "engag[e] in discriminatory behavior toward one another in practice" (Freedom House 28 Feb. 2022, Sec. F4) or "everyone discriminates against everyone" in Lebanon (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an independent consultant whose research focuses on Shia armed groups, noted that "there is much animosity within the Lebanese society of the 'other'" (Independent consultant 27 July 2022). The report on conflict in Lebanon states that since the causes of "historic conflicts have been left unaddressed, civil war grievances are resurfacing and tolerance towards 'the other' is decreasing" (COAR 14 Jan. 2022, 1).

Sources stated that Christians do not face ["generalized" (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022) or "structural" (Associate Professor 26 July 2022)] "discrimination" (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022; Associate Professor 26 July 2022; President 25 July 2022), "harassment" (President 25 July 2022; Associate Professor 26 July 2022), or "violence" (Associate Professor 26 July 2022). The Professor of Near Eastern studies stated that Christians are not physically threatened (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an assistant professor of sociology at the American University of Beirut, whose research focuses on sectarianism, conflict, and violence, noted that there is "no particular threat" to Christians, "at least not more than individuals from any other community" (Assistant Professor 10 Aug. 2022). The Graduate Program Director stated there is no "serious or sustained victimization" of Christians (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). However, the same source added that the declining situation of Lebanon created "a very unstable environment for people who feel vulnerable," including Christians (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

The Professor of Near Eastern studies noted that Christians who belong to a non "Indigenous" sect of Christianity, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, are at "greater risk" (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). However, the Graduate Program Director stated that, despite their lack of political representation, there is no "active discrimination" against Christian communities who are not Maronite or Orthodox (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

The Graduate Program Director stated that changing sects can be "controversial," including in legal terms, and the individual can be "ostracized" (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). The Professor of Near Eastern studies indicated that an individual converting from Islam to Christianity would face "very serious challenges" and "discrimination" from other Muslim denominations (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022).

According to the Professor of Near Eastern studies, Christians living in Muslim dominant areas will be "discriminated" against (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). The Graduate Program Director stated that Christians living in areas where they are a minority would have "less access to services or jobs," but added that this depends on the region (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). The Professor of Near Eastern studies indicated that Christians who have the necessary "resources" can relocate to a Christian majority area where they will be safe (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). However, the Graduate Program Director noted that factors such as dependency on family support or services and work location can hamper the ability to relocate (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

When asked whether Christians face negative treatment based on political affiliation or perceived political affiliation, the Graduate Program Director responded that since people rely on public services and charities operated by political parties and religious groups, the individual's affiliations with such groups are "significant" [in terms of access to services] (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). The same source added that there is "fairly regular violence" against political figures and a "politically involved family" would be in a "much more vulnerable position" (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). The Professor of Near Eastern studies noted that Christians are "harassed" if they exhibit support for the political opposition in an area (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022).

The Graduate Program Director indicated that Christians have "gradually lost power" in the power-sharing system and the "gradual exclusion and increasing irrelevance" of Christian politics and parties contributes to a "sense of vulnerability" among Christians (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

5. Treatment by Authorities

Information on the treatment of Christians by authorities was scarce among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

According to the Presidency of the Republic of Lebanon, President Michel Aoun addressed participants of the World Organization for Interfaith Dialogue and Civilizations, held in Lebanon, and stated that "'Lebanon, with the composition of its people and the plurality of its religions and sects, constitutes a model to be followed in coexistence'" (Lebanon 5 July 2022). The President added "'Lebanon is most capable of serving as an example of convergence and dialogue in the world'" (Lebanon 5 July 2022).

According to the Lebanese Army Command, the Army Commander in Chief called on graduates of military college to "'[s]tay away from the sectarian divisions that sow discord'" among Lebanese people; the Commander in Chief added that "'[s]ects are a blessing, but sectarianism is a curse'" (Lebanon 27 July 2022).

Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI) 2022, which "assesses the transformation toward democracy and a market economy as well as the quality of governance in 137 countries," states that "men and women of most Christian denominations face difficulties to get granted a divorce, even for a victim of domestic violence" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 2, 9). The Graduate Program Director indicated that members of unofficially recognized religions could face "problems" accessing family law services, since "marriage, divorce, custody of children, and inheritance" are dependent on family courts managed within recognized religious communities; however, the source noted that it is not a "huge problem" since these groups claim the "nearest" religion (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

6. Treatment by Hezbollah and Other Armed Groups

The Graduate Program Director indicated that Christians do not face "systematic discrimination" from Hezbollah (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). Similarly, the independent consultant stated that "there is little evidence" that Hezbollah members "persecute" Christians (Independent consultant 27 July 2022). The Professor of political science noted that while it may the case that some Christians have been victims of violence by armed groups, including Hezbollah, this does not imply [translation] "systematic violence" towards the religious community; the same source added that the "sporadic political violence" which has taken place in recent years has not "targeted specific religious communities" (Professor of political science 29 July 2022).

According to sources, Hezbollah is politically allied with the Christian Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) (Assistant Professor 10 Aug. 2022; Independent consultant 27 July 2022; PhD candidate 2 Aug. 2022). The Graduate Program Director stated that Hezbollah party members "[must] respect all Christians and any member will be punished if they breach that conduct" (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Sources indicated that Christians receive health care services in Hezbollah controlled areas (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022) or treatment in Hezbollah's subsidized hospitals (Independent consultant 27 July 2022). Similarly, the US International Religious Freedom Report for 2021 notes that "Hizballah provided several basic services, such as gas, diesel, health care, education, food aid, infrastructure repair, and internal security" in their areas of influence (US 2 June 2022, 10).

However, the Professor of Near Eastern studies stated that Christians are "discriminated" against by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement [3] (Professor of Near Eastern studies 29 July 2022). In correspondence with the Research Directorate, an associate professor of religion and Near Eastern and Middle Eastern civilizations at the University of Toronto, stated that "some" Christians and Sunnis "feel marginalized" by Hezbollah's "political dominance and armed militia" (Associate Professor 26 July 2022). In an interview with the Research Directorate, the President of the Middle East Institute (MEI), a non-partisan think tank "dedicated … to the study of the Middle East" (MEI n.d.), speaking on their own behalf, indicated that Hezbollah does not "tolerate any opposition in their towns or villages" and added that Hezbollah "would go after a Shia Muslim more so than a Christian" (President 25 July 2022). In an interview with the Research Directorate, a PhD candidate at University College London, who specializes in Lebanon and Middle Eastern studies, stated that in Bekaa [Beqaa] Valley it is "very difficult" for Christians to "express dissent or contestation against the ideology of Hezbollah" (PhD candidate 2 Aug. 2022). The same source added that "often" Christian mayors in Bekaa Valley "officially support" Hezbollah to "protect their own communities from reprisal" and noted that Mayors who "denounce Hezbollah" are "at physical risk" (PhD candidate 2 Aug. 2022). The Professor of Near Eastern studies noted that Christians wearing the emblem of the Lebanese Forces [4] in southern Beirut "might be harassed and beaten up," while Christians who wear a small cross or chain would "not be bothered" (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022).

The US International Religious Freedom Report for 2021 reports that Hezbollah "control[s] access to neighborhoods and localities under its influence, including in Beirut's southern suburbs and areas of the Bekaa Valley and South Lebanon" (US 2 June 2022, 10). The President of the MEI stated that there are "a few" zones in which Hezbollah does not allow access to anyone because "they might have missiles or other military installations" (President 25 July 2022). The Professor of political science noted that Hezbollah [translation] "strongholds" are accessible; however, someone "walking with a camera could be questioned" in certain areas "close to Hezbollah Headquarters and areas deemed 'strategic'" (Professor of political science 29 July 2022).

According to an Associated Press (AP) article, "much of the Christian community" views the detention of a Maronite archbishop, who transported over [US$]460,000 in cash into Lebanon, for "violating strict laws against normalization with Israel" as "an attack on the church" by Hezbollah (AP 3 Aug. 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

Without providing further details, the Professor of Near Eastern studies stated that there are "some" neighbourhoods "filled with Muslim militias or gangs" and that they are "dangerous" for Christians (Professor of Near Eastern studies 27 July 2022). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate within the time constraints of this Response.

For further information on Hezbollah, including political participation and representation, military activities, and recruitment practices, see Response to Information Request LBN201146 of September 2022.

7. State Protection

According to the Professor of political science, the country is [translation] "bankrupt" and does not offer services to anyone (Professor of political science 29 July 2022). Similarly, the independent consultant stated that there has been a "tremendous erosion of the legitimacy and capability" of the state "affect[ing]" the state's "ability to protect any citizen" (Independent consultant 27 July 2022). The Graduate Program Director indicated that there is "little protection" and "everyone in Lebanon" experiences an "absence of state protection" because the state functions "very minimally" (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). The same source added that security services and police are "so ineffective that people [especially] rely on parties in the areas the party controls" (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022).

The PhD candidate stated that the judiciary is "unable to be responsive and give protection to threatened individuals by nonstate groups such as Hezbollah" (PhD candidate 2 Aug. 2022). According to BTI 2022, there is "widespread [corruption] in the judiciary" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 9). In an interview with Al Jazeera, the founding member of Reform Lebanon, an "activist group," stated that the "'judicial and security system is collapsing'" (Al Jazeera 10 July 2022). The Graduate Program Director reported that there is "widespread corruption" in the Lebanese government (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). BTI 2022 reports that the government adopted a "National Anti-Corruption Strategy (2020 – 2025)" in May 2020; however, the same source added that there is little political will to "seriously address the issue" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 35).

The US International Religious Freedom Report for 2021 states that Hezbollah provides "internal security" for areas they control (US 2 June 2022, 10). The Graduate Program Director stated that Hezbollah or Amal "exten[d their] protection" to Christians living in their territory (Graduate Program Director 9 Aug. 2022). BTI 2022 indicates that "Hezbollah provides security but at times also threatens security of people" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 7). The PhD candidate stated that individuals who are "targeted" by Hezbollah for "mistreatment cannot hope to receive protection or intervention from any state institution on their behalf," "especially in territories under Hezbollah control" (PhD candidate 2 Aug. 2022).

According to BTI 2022, security forces are "deeply embedded in the sectarian system," noting that the "commander of the [Lebanese Armed Forces] traditionally is a Maronite Catholic Christian," the Internal Security Forces Directorate is headed by a Sunni, General Security is headed by a Shia and the Lebanese State Security is headed by a Melkite Greek Catholic (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 7).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

Notes

[1] According to the US Department of State International Religious Freedom Report for 2021, the agreement for power sharing among the major religious groups is the "unwritten" National Pact of 1943 (US 2 June 2022, 6).

[2] The conflict analysis report includes a mixed-method analysis of published materials and semi-structured field research interviews with "community leaders, [civil society organizations], and security experts based in several regions" (COAR 14 Jan. 2022, ii).

[3] The Amal Movement, led by Nabih Berri, is a Shia political party and was previously a "Shia militia" in the civil war (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 5).

[4] The Lebanese Forces, led by Samir Geagea, are a "pro-Western" Christian political party and are "full members of the Centrist Democrat International" (Bertelsmann Stiftung 23 Feb. 2022, 15, 35).

References

Al Jazeera. 10 July 2022. David Enders. "Ongoing Civil Strikes Further Cripple Everyday Life in Lebanon." [Accessed 9 Aug. 2022]

Assistant Professor, American University of Beirut. 10 August 2022. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

The Associated Press (AP). 3 August 2022. Kareem Chehayeb. "Clergy, Bags of Cash Set Off New Sectarian Brawl in Lebanon." [Accessed 8 Aug. 2022]

Associate Professor, University of Toronto. 26 July 2022. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Bertelsmann Stiftung. 23 February 2022. "Lebanon Country Report." Bertelsmann Stiftung's Transformation Index (BTI) 2022. [Accessed 7 July 2022]

Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). 14 January 2022. Conflict Analysis – Lebanon: National-Level. [Accessed 7 July 2022]

Center for Operational Analysis and Research (COAR). N.d. "About COAR Global." [Accessed 7 July 2022]

Freedom House. 28 February 2022. "Lebanon." Freedom in the World 2022. [Accessed 7 July 2022]

Graduate Program Director, Institute of Ismaili Studies (ISS), London. 9 August 2022. Interview with the Research Directorate.

Independent consultant, Massachusetts, United States. 27 July 2022. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Lebanon. 27 July 2022. Ministry of National Defense, Army Command. "The Lebanese Army Commander in in Chief General Joseph Aoun Meets the Third-Year Officer Cadets at the Military Academy." [Accessed 5 Aug. 2022]

Lebanon. 5 July 2022. Presidency of the Republic of Lebanon. "President Aoun Met a Delegation of Participants in the Conference of the World Organization for the Dialogue of Religions and Civilizations." [Accessed 5 Aug. 2022]

Lebanon. 1926 (amended 2004). Lebanon's Constitution of 1926 with Amendments Through 2004. Comparative Constitution Project. Translated by Fouad Fahmy Shafik. [Accessed 26 July 2022]

Middle East Institute (MEI). N.d. "About." [Accessed 16 Aug. 2022]

Minority Rights Group International (MRG). May 2020. "Lebanon: Current Issues." World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples. [Accessed 9 Aug. 2022]

PhD candidate, University College London. 2 August 2022. Interview with the Research Directorate.

President, Middle East Institute (MEI), Washington, DC. 25 July 2022. Interview with the Research Directorate.

Professor of Near Eastern studies, Princeton University, New Jersey. 27 July 2022. Telephone interview with the Research Directorate.

Professor of political science, Université de Montreal. 29 July 2022. Correspondence with the Research Directorate.

Statistics Lebanon Ltd. N.d. "About Us." [Accessed 4 Aug. 2022]

United States (US). 2 June 2022. Department of State. "Lebanon." International Religious Freedom Report for 2021. [Accessed 7 July 2022]

Additional Sources Consulted

Oral sources: Assistant professor at a university in the US who specializes in religion and politics in Lebanon; Centre d'études en sciences sociales du religieux; The Century Foundation; Eparchy Saint-Maron Canada; Lebanon – Central Administration of Statistics; The Legal Agenda; Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center; The Maronite Foundation in the World; Minority Rights Group International; professor at a university in Canada who specializes in Islamic Studies; professor at a university in Lebanon who specializes in Middle East policy and political science; Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth – Centre de documentation et de recherches arabes chrétiennes.

Internet sites, including: Aleteia; Amnesty International; An-Nahar; Asylum Research Centre; Australia – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade; Austrian Red Cross – ecoi.net; BBC; CBC; Christians United for Israel; Christian Today; Council on Foreign Relations; Crux; CSW; Danish Refugee Council; EU – EU Agency for Asylum, European External Action Service; Factiva; France 24; France – Office français de protection des réfugiés et apatrides; Holy Spirit University of Kaslik; Human Rights Watch; International Center for Not-For-Profit-Law; International Christian Concern; International Crisis Group; Lebanon – Central Administration of Statistics, Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Social Affairs; Libnanews; National Post; Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; Organisation suisse d'aide aux réfugiés; Reuters; UK – Home Office; UN – Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, International Labour Organization, Refworld, ReliefWeb, UNHCR, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Security Council; US – CIA, US Agency for International Development; United States Institute of Peace; The Washington Institute for Near East Policy; Wilson Center; World Bank; Ya Libnan.