A Precarious Calm

A year after the July 2006 war, Lebanon's Christians face a murky future.

A little-noticed but sad news item appeared in London's Daily Telegraph this past March. The report, based on secret Lebanese government information, said nearly half of the country's Maronite Christian community (22 percent of Lebanon's 3.8 million people) want to leave the country. Of these, 100,000 have already requested immigrant visas.

Since Israel's war last July with Hezbollah (a Shi'a Islamic militant organization), the trickle of Lebanese Christians fleeing the country has become a steady stream. Lebanon, once considered the Switzerland of the Middle East and the only Arabic-speaking country that ever had a Christian majority, is slowly bleeding to death.

To be sure, there is still strong Christian representation in Lebanon's political institutions. Lebanon's president must always be a Christian, her prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and her parliamentary speaker a Shi'a Muslim.

Lebanon is the world's most significant experiment in political power-sharing between Christians and Muslims. Half of Lebanon's legislators are Christian, and many key cabinet and senior military posts are held by Christians. But Lebanon's demographics have changed drastically. Christians in Lebanon have gone from being the majority to a declining minority. In 1932, the year of the last census, Christians made up 55 percent of the population. Since then, higher birth rates among Shi'a Muslims have swelled their numbers to about the same majority that Christians once held—55 percent.

Lebanon's Maronites, closely associated with Roman Catholics, have found themselves beleaguered by waves of Islamic growth. They have suffered devastating depredations, even though many live sheltered in the country's mountainous region. As often as not, Westerners ...

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Global Prognosis
David Aikman is professor of history and writer-in-residence at Patrick Henry College and wrote for Time magazine from 1971 to 1994. Among his books are Jesus in Beijing and A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush. His column, "Global Prognosis," ran from 2006 to 2007.
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A Precarious Calm
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