The 1997 estimated population was 3,111,828, but this figure, provided
by the Lebanese government, does not include Palestinian refugees
and foreign workers, mainly Syrian. An independent 1998 estimate
placed the population at 3,505,794, yielding a population density
of 335 persons per sq km (869 per sq mi).
Densities are highest along the coast and on the lower western
slopes of the Lebanon Mountains. Some 88 percent of the population
is urban. Emigration from Lebanon to other countries, especially
among Christians, has been steady since the mid-19th century, and
it increased sharply during the civil war.
About 93% of the population are Arab, 5% are Armenian, and the remaining
2% of the population belong to Kurdish, Assyrian, or other ethnicities.
Among Arabs, about 12% are Palestinians, the overwhelming majority
of whom live in refugee camps. Palestinian refugees are considered
stateless, and their future is uncertain. Before the civil war,
thousands of Westerners lived and worked in Lebanon, but most of
these foreigners have left the country. Arabic is the official language,
but French is commonly used, especially in government and among
the upper class. English is also widely used, particularly as the
language of business and education. Most Armenians speak Armenian.
The government policy of confessionalism, or the grouping of people
by religion, plays a critical role in Lebanon's political and social
life and has given rise to Lebanon's most persistent and bitter
conflicts. At the time of Lebanon's independence in the 1940s, there
were more Christians than Muslims. In the following years, many
Muslims immigrated to Lebanon and had a higher birthrate than the
Christians; as a result, Muslims became the majority group in Lebanon.
Today, an estimated 70 percent of Lebanese are Muslim, while most
of the remaining 30 percent are Christian. Every person's religion
is encoded on a required, government-issued identification card.
The government recognizes 17 distinct religious sects: 5 Muslim
( Shiite, Sunnite, Druze, Ismailite, and Alawite), 11 Christian
(4 Orthodox, 6 Catholic, and 1 Protestant), and Judaism.