Adonis Diaries

Social Group Dynamics: In Lebanon?

Posted on: June 17, 2011

Social Group Dynamics in Lebanon

Joanna Choukeir published, in May 22, 2009, this thesis with the relevant literature review that defines the social structure in Lebanon, outlines barriers to social integration, and proposes solutions for overcoming these barriers; all in relation to youth members of social groups.

In describing social groups in Lebanon, this research makes frequent referencing to Safia Antoun Saadeh’s book ‘The Social Structure of Lebanon’ (Saadeh, 1992) . Dar Annahar, a prominent publishing house in Beirut, reviewed the book as a rare piece of work (adonis49 did also review this book extensively).  Although numerous books have been written about Lebanon in the past decades, very few were those that ‘dealt specifically and comprehensively with the social composition of Lebanon from a structural point of view.’ (Dar Annahar, 2008).

A Nominal Social Structure

Peter Blau distinguished two types of parameters in a social structure, the nominal and the graduated. The former divides the population into impermeable groups with no possibility of overlaps such as gender, religion or race, while the latter divides society into groups that may alter over time such as age, income or power. The correlation of both the nominal and graduated parameter leads to the ordinal parameter that forms the hierarchies of a social structure. (Saadeh, 1992 pp.19).

In Lebanon, the division of social groups is based on the nominal parameter of religious affiliation (Saadeh, 1992 pp.20).  The social groups incorporate three religions: Islam (including Druze), Christianity and Judaism, divided into 18 sects and dispersed in mixed and uniform towns and cities across Lebanon. Saadeh refers to these social groups as castes, because of their characteristic similarities.

The nominal social structure is reflected in the division of power in the government according to a consociational democratic system. Article 24 of the Lebanese Constitution states that The Chamber of Deputies should be elected on a confessional basis along three criteria: Equal representation between religions, proportional representation between sects and proportional representation between different geographic regions. 

The Doha agreement  for the 2009 elections equally represented two religious groups, Christians and Muslims, proportionally divided into 11 sects (each forming at least one political party) and distributed along 25 districts. The total is 128 deputees who are considered official representatives of their respective social groups.


Barriers to Social Integration

Throughout history, the conflict between social groups in Lebanon witnessed everchanging solidarities and oppositions, many of which resulted in civil wars, the last ending in 1990. Today, although the conflict is mainly non-violent, Lebanese social groups are still noticeably isolated (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 74).

Kamal Salibi writes that actual contact between different social groups is almost entirely restricted to political co-operation (Salibi, 1977 pp. xiv).  Mohammed El Machnouk reiterates this by comparing the social structure to the Baalbeck pillars with only the top part – the government – holding the pillars – the social groups – together (Machnouk, 2001 min. 9:45).  Saadeh examines the links between social groups further, by expanding on five features of the post-civil war social structure that have erected or accentuated barriers to social integration (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 76) . The features are expanded on below, and discussed in relation to their effect on youth integration:

1– Socio-political rigidity: The most influential social group altered throughout historical episodes: Druzes during the Ottoman rule (1516-1918), Maronite Christians during and after the French Mandate (1926-1975) and Sunni Muslims following the 15-year Civil War (1995-present) (Salibi, 1977 & Traboulsi, 2007). Since the Independence in 1943, Article 95 of the Lebanese constitution gave social groups hierarchical supremacy in the government depending on the size of their communities. Thus, people became entrenched in their social groups and are continuously attempting to increase their numbers. This has created an ongoing competition among different social groups to advance in power at the expense of the others, thus breeding discrimination in youth on the basis of religious affiliation (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 76-79).

2– Segregation: The Civil War restructured an unofficial physical geographical segregation in such a way that every major social group now dominates at least one area: The Druze in the Shouf, the Shiites in the Bekaa and South Lebanon, the Sunnis in Tripoli and Sidon and parts of North Lebanon, and the Maronites in Metn, Keserwan and parts of North Lebanon. The population in the capital city Beirut is divided into Christians in East Beirut, Sunnis in most of West Beirut, and Shiites in South and some of West Beirut. Three decades of geographical segregation led to the growth of young individuals isolated from their counterparts in other social groups. They were brought up to, at best ignore, and at worse denigrate, the ‘other side’. This has led to fear, apprehension and distrust between young people of different social groups, thus deepening the lines of segregation (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 79-81).

3– Emphasis on differences rather than similarities: To set themselves apart as an identifiable community, each social group adopted a peculiar lifestyle through fashion, values, language and dialect. Elements of the Lebanese cultural identify were very homogeneous, so social groups looked outside Lebanon for cultural identities of nations they paralleled their religious beliefs to. Thus Sunnis associated with Saudi Arabia, Shiites with Iran, and Christians with the West. As a result, youth groups acquired in their upbringing, skills that allowed them to identify and judge members of other social groups by their physical appearance, their dialects or their interests (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 81-84).

4– Social institutions: A number of these furthered the continuation of disparate social groups.

First Institution is the Judiciary System.  It is divided into state laws (such as voting and business laws) that are set and controlled by the government, and exclusive personal status laws (such as marriage and inheritance) for each sect. Every social group must adhere to the personal status laws placed by the religious agency that represents it.

Therefore, Bkirki, supported by the Maronite Council, is the reference point for Maronite laws, Majlis al-Millah for Greek Orthodox, Dar al-Ifta for Sunni, Al Majlis al-Shii al-Aala for Shia, and Shaykh al-Aql for Druze. The absence of a common civil law for all has increased inequality and division among social groups. A simple example is family members of different religions being unable to inherit from one another because different personal status laws would apply for each religion (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 85-88).

The second institution is marriage. It is closely regulated because it can jeapordise the very existence of social groups if inter-community marriages and births are not supervised. On religious grounds, a Muslim woman is prohibited from marrying into another religious group, but a Christian woman is not. Furthermore, children follow the religious sect of their fathers. These two factors resulted in an increase in Muslims and decrease in Christians, giving the latter group an incentive to promote social controls and pressures that deter youth groups from marrying into other social groups, and encourage endogamy (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 88-89). From 1952 to the present, the Lawyer’s syndicate has requested numerously that civil marriage be initiated, but religious agencies have refused continuously. (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 86).

The third institution is educational system that limits social integration, which is separated into the private and public sectors. Before the civil war, the government that ran the public sector encouraged the mingling of students and staff of different social groups within the same institution, but from as ealry as 1976, public institutions started quickly dividing into branches representing the religious affiliation of the local area. In addition, the public sector is notorious for its lack of organization and low standards, and this has driven many parents who can afford it, to resort to the private sector for the education if their children.

Religious institutions mainly run this sector, and open their doors to students within the same affiliation with minor exceptions. In these private institutions, the content and cultural aspects of the teachings are driven along religious ideologies (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 90-91). As a consequence, both the public and private educational sectors today offer very limited opportunities in schools and universities for youth of different social groups to study in a diverse environment.

5– Social mobility: In general terms, this refers to the movement of individuals from one social group to another. If this movement occurs at the same level, it contributes largely to social integration. However, in Lebanon, it is only possible on an upward or downward level according to two strict conditions: The first is the upper or lower movement of the social group as a whole, and the second is the upper or lower movement of the individual within his/her own social group. Attempts that met the first condition in the past led to two civil wars, in 1958 and 1975, both guided by the Sunnis as they tried to move upwards towards the Maronite group. Attempts that met the second condition led to further segregation between members of the same social groups as they tried to unseat the feudal families and overtake supremacy of the social group. The most violent of these attempts was the devastating war in 1989 between Michel Aoun’s army and the Lebanese Forces. The consequence was a division that is still existent today in the Maronite social group. Safia Saadeh states that ambitious youths who seek to further their status beyond the social mobility restrictions in Lebanon find immigration as the only outlet (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 91-94).


A Solution to Social Segregation

In her concluding chapter, Saadeh contemplates different solutions for integrating divided social groups. She discusses a number of different alternatives in the political system; from maintaining consociational democracy to shifting towards complete democracy, fundamentalism or secularism. She dissects every system and controverts it offering reasons as to why it wouldn’t solve the problem (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 117-124). These arguments will not be covered here because the subject of this research is not aiming to alter the political system.  However, what this research is concerned with is the eventual solution that Saadeh proposes on the social rather than political level. She refers to this as social association through five steps (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 124-126):

1– Opening up geographical areas and mixing populations.

2– Promoting the proliferation of social groups into many parties rather than the strict division of Christian and Muslim. This provides a greater leeway for intergroup association.

3– Profiting from the open economy to encourage business interactions between members of different social groups.

4– Dividing labour opportunities geographically to encourage the mobility of workers into different areas.

5– Encouraging intergroup friendships and relationships.

In the recent past, a number of organisations such as Youth for Tolerance, the Forum for Development Culture and Dialogue and UNESCO, have placed at least one of these steps high on their agendas.

It is important to note that integration is not the amalgamation of a society into one social group (Saadeh, 1992 pp. 124). On the contrary, it is the tolerance, interaction and cooperation of diversified social groups for pluralistic existence; to replace segregation, discrimination and hostility that may culminate in their extinction.


Article 24, The Lebanese Constitution. (1926, ammended 1995).

Dar Annahar (2008) Description: The Social Structure of Lebanon [Internet] Available from <;[Accessed 18 May 2009]

Doha agreement (2008).

Mashnouk, M. (2001) Interview in: The War of Lebanon, The Roots of Conflict. Episode 2. Directed by Omar Al-Issawi. Doha: Al Jazeera, 44min [Video: DVD]

Saadeh, S. A. (1992) The Social Structure of Lebanon: Democracy or Servitude? Beirut: Dar Annahar.

Salibi, K. (1977) The Modern History of Lebanon. New York: Caravan Books.

Traboulsi, F. (2007) A History of Modern Lebanon. London: Pluto Press.

2 Responses to "Social Group Dynamics: In Lebanon?"

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