Sunni Islam in Lebanon

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Lebanese Sunni Muslims
المسلمون السنة اللبنانيين
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Total population
Lebanese Arabic
Islam (Sunni Islam)
Related ethnic groups
Other Lebanese & Levantine Arabs • Phoenicians • other Mediterranean peoples
other Semitic people (Arameans  • Assyrians  • Arabs  • Jews)

Sunni Islam in Lebanon have followers who constitutes 27% of Lebanon's population of approximately 4.3 million, which means they amount to 1,160,000.[1] Sunnis are concentrated in west Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and in the countryside of the Akkar.[2] Under the terms of an agreement known as the National Pact between the various political and religious leaders of Lebanon, Sunni notables traditionally held power in the Lebanese state together, and they are still the only sect eligible for the post of Prime Minister.[3] Within the Lebanese context, especially political, the group is seen as an ethnoreligious group.[4][5]


An estimate of the distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups, 1991, based on a map by
Lebanon religious groups distribution
An estimate of the area distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups

Lebanon’s Sunni community is among the largest ethnopolitical groups and comprises around one-third of the total population. Sunnis are widely dispersed in Lebanon with the majority of Lebanese Sunnis residing in urban centers (more than two-thirds living in Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon), and rural Sunnis living in the Akkar region, the western Bekka Valley, and in the Shuf Mountains. They share other Lebanese groups’ ethnic Arab background and Arabic language.

With the Lebanese civil war ending in 1990, and parliamentary elections being held throughout the 1990s and into 2000, most of the previously warring factions were satisfied with the reforms to the electoral system and took part in the political process. Since resolved, Lebanon’s fragile peace is dependent on a sectarian governmental structure, where the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim. Lebanon’s re-emergent sectarian structure allows for little cultural, economic, or political discrimination against the Sunni population. Some Sunnis in particular have embraced the political system, due to not being as militarily powerful as they were in the past (e.g., the Sunni militia "Mourabitoun" suffered a number of humiliating defeats in Beirut during the 1980s, and the rise of Shi’a organizations such as Amal and Hizbollah decreased Sunni militancy). As mentioned above, the Prime Minister is to be of Sunni origin, and this post has seen increased influence as part of Maronite-Sunni negotiations. The Prime Minister is specifically in charge of domestic economic reform, and after decades of civil war Lebanon is finally beginning to rebuild its cities and get its economy back in order. If reforms continue to be successful, Sunni leaders will continue to receive support from the population in general.

However, despite decreased Sunni militancy, smaller pockets of Sunni youth continue violence against churches. In December 1999, Sunni extremists killed four LAF soldiers in an ambush in the northern region of Dinniyeh after the soldiers attempted to arrest two Sunni Muslims allegedly involved in a series of church bombings. On December 31, 1999, the LAF retaliated by launching a massive military operation against Sunni extremists in the north. Five civilians, 7 LAF soldiers, and 15 insurgents were killed in the operation. Amnesty International reported in 2003 that the Dinniyeh detainees have been subject to unfair trial and torture. Beyond the reports of torture and a few arrests of Sunni militants by the Lebanese Army, there have been no other reports of government repression since 2001. Perhaps for this reason there have been few public protests by Sunnis against the Lebanese government, an exception being a pro-Syria rally in 2001, which was more a reaction to anti-Syrian Christian protests than a protest directly against any overt Lebanese government action, since there were no substantial governmental efforts to end Syrian influence.[6]


With Saudi Arabia[edit]

The Sunnis of Lebanon have close ties with Saudi Arabia, which supports them financially.[7][8] Moreover, Tripoli, the stronghold of the Lebanese Sunnis, is also the birthplace of Lebanon's Salafi Movement, a puritanical Sunni movement from Saudi Arabia.[9]

With Lebanese Alawites and Syria[edit]

Sunni Muslims and Alawites have been in conflict with each other for centuries. The Alawites of the Levant were oppressed by the Sunni Ottoman Empire, but gained power and influence when the French recruited Alawites as soldiers during the French mandate of Syria.[10][11][12] After independence from France, their co-religionists the Assad family came to power in Syria in 1970.[13]

Over the years, there have been numerous clashes between the Sunni and Alawi communities in Tripoli, particularly over the past 14 months since Syria’s uprising began, as part of the Arab Spring that started in Tunisia. The deadliest exchange took place last June, when seven people were killed and more than 60 wounded, after Sunni Muslims staged a protest against the Assad regime.

At the best of times, the Alawites are regarded by Sunnis as heretics; at times of tension, when thousands of Sunnis in Syria are being killed, they are regarded as the enemy. And when a popular Salafist figure is strangely abducted and arrested by Lebanon’s General Security Service – an organization linked to the Shia Hezbollah militia that, in turn, is linked to the Assad regime – the Alawites become the whipping boys.[14]


Lebanese Sunni Muslims[1][15]
Year Percent

The last census in Lebanon in 1932 put the numbers of Sunnis at 22% of the population (178,100 of 791,700).[15] A study done by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in 1985 put the numbers of Sunnis at 27% of the population (595,000 of 2,228,000).[15]

Lebanese Sunni Muslims constitutes 27% of Lebanon's population of approximately 4.3 million, which means they amount to 1,160,00 as of 2012.[1]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "2012 Report on International Religious Freedom - Lebanon". United States Department of State. 20 May 2013. Retrieved 15 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Lebanon Overview World Directory of Minorities. June 2008. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  3. ^ International Religious Freedom Report 2008 US Department of State. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  4. ^ David Levinson (1 January 1998). Ethnic Groups Worldwide: A Ready Reference Handbook. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 249. ISBN 978-1-57356-019-1. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Michael Slackman. (9 November 2006) Christians Struggle to Preserve a Balance of Power The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  6. ^ Assessment for Sunnis in Lebanon Refworld. 31 December 2003. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  7. ^ Lucy Fielder (23–29 June 2011). "Trial by fire for Lebanon's government". Al Ahram Weekly (1053). Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  8. ^ "Tripoli". Hugh Macleod. Retrieved 4 July 2010. 
  9. ^ Garrett Nada (10 May 2013). "Lebanon’s Sheikhs Take on Assad and Hezbollah". Wilson Center. Retrieved 28 December 2013. 
  10. ^ Mordechai Nisan. Minorities in the Middle East: a history of struggle and self-expression. McFarland, 2002. ISBN 0-7864-1375-1, ISBN 978-0-7864-1375-1
  11. ^ Reva Bhalla (5 May 2011). Making Sense of the Syrian Crisis Stratfor. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  12. ^ Seale, Patrick. Asad Of Syria : The Struggle For The Middle East / Patrick Seale With The Assistance Of Maureen McConville. Seale, Patrick. Berkeley : University of California Press, 1989, c1988.
  13. ^ Robert Kaplan (February 1993). "Syria: Identity Crisis". The Atlantic. But the coup of 1970, which brought an Alawi air force officer, Hafez Assad, to power, was what finally ended the instability that had reigned in Syria since the advent of independence. 
  14. ^ Patrick Martin, (14 May 2012). Syria's war ignites sectarian strife in Lebanon The Global and Mail. Retrieved 28 December 2013.
  15. ^ a b c "Contemporary distribution of Lebanon's main religious groups". Central Intelligence Agency. Retrieved 15 December 2013.