The 1932 census and the making of today’s Lebanon

Tue, 01/15/2013

The 1932 census has undoubtedly played a fundamental role in the state-building process of the modern Lebanon. It constituted the basis for the "official" registration of the population residing in Lebanon and for Lebanese emigrants. The 1932 census is also considered to be one of the milestones of the citizenship legislation in Lebanon and remains thus far the only census to have been carried out to date.


Very few studies have looked at the 1932 census in its original form and little is known about the way in which it was organized and administered. Maktabi, the author of "The Lebanese Census of 1932 revisited: Who are the Lebanese?" { British Journal of Middle Easter studies (1999), 26 (2), 219-241} takes a closer look at the figures of the census and notes that the findings were heavily politicized. In fact, a number of persons who had resided in Lebanon for generations were not counted as Lebanese while other more debatable cases were granted citizenship. Residents considered to be "undesirable" were either excluded from enlisting in personal registries or categorized as "foreigners". The results of the census paved the way towards of a political representation ration of 6 Christians to 5 Muslims. This formula lasted until the outbreak of the civil war in 1975 which ended with the Taif agreement of 1990 that curtailed Christian dominance and adopted the parity.


Some of the administrative shortcomings of the census were probably mere bureaucratic blunders. However, the consistent exclusion of stateless persons and resident non-citizens as members of the Lebanese state became politically motivated over time. After the census, the inclusion and naturalization of Christian applicants was favored over Muslim applicants for the Lebanese citizenship. Many such Christian applicants were either emigrants or immigrants who had recently arrived to Lebanon such as the Armenians, the Syriacs and the Chaldeans. On the other hand, some applicants of Muslim background who resided in the frontier areas and other Muslim refugee groups such as the Kurds were not counted. The predominantly Muslim groups that were not included became known as "the concealed" (al-maktumin), "the deprived" (al-mahrumin) or as persons whose identity is "under study" (qayd ad-dars).


The politicization of demographic data was a way of securing Christian hegemony and filling the demographic imbalance created by the inclusion of predominantly Muslim areas when Greater Lebanon was formed. Stateless, unregistered and long-term immigrants of Muslim background continued to be excluded from the citizenry by the implementation of severe citizenship policies. With the creation of Greater Lebanon and the inclusion of a large Muslim population to the sanjak of Mount Lebanon, Maronites went from being a majority to being a minority. The inclusion of emigrants aimed at increasing the numbers of Christians in the census to preserve Christian hegemony over the state, in line with the French plan for the region.


In the light of these historical facts, it seems that the carrying out of an updated population census in Lebanon is improbable as long as the identity of the "Lebanese citizenry" remains unclear. The main issues that should be addressed are the disagreement over whether or not to include emigrants and the absence of a consistent law to manage the naturalization process of the non-Lebanese. The existing political reality of Lebanon should also be given consideration as it transforms the demographic strength of a community into a political determinant.


This article is a good reading and reference to understand the intricacies of the composite political confessional system of Lebanon, the inadequacy and discriminatory nature of the current nationality laws and the reproduction of injustice in modern day Lebanon.


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