BEIRUT: Two-thirds of Lebanon’s Christians believe their existence in the country is under threat, according to a recent Ipsos poll seen by The Daily Star.
The poll was conducted between Oct. 16 and Dec. 3 via face-to-face interviews with 2,000 Christians in 13 majority-Christian electoral districts in an effort to better understand the opinions of Lebanese Christian voters.
When asked, “As a Lebanese Christian, do you feel your existence in Lebanon is being threatened?” some 66 percent of respondents said yes. Emigration, a decrease in the Christian population, and power struggles among Christian political leaders were all cited as reasons.
Of the one-third not worried about their existence in Lebanon being in danger, 45 percent said this confidence came from the fact that “Christianity came from this region and no one can remove us,” while 37 percent said it stems from a belief that Christians are the core founders of the country.
The poll showed that 61 percent of respondents think that Lebanese Christians have lost their power in the country, and only 39 percent believed Lebanese Christians to be better off today than in 2004. The majority, 52 percent, of respondents said Christians have a bright future in Lebanon.
In September, Pope Benedict XVI visited Lebanon, a move that was seen by many as an attempt to allay the fears of Christians in both the country and the wider region over their presence. The significant political power held by Christians in Lebanon makes them unique in the Middle East.
When asked about their current main concerns, 83 percent of those polled said they were worried about the country’s security situation, weapons owned by individuals and the weakness of the Lebanese Army. Some 79 percent cited the economic situation, including unemployment and a high cost of living, as a major worry. Just under half, 47 percent, were anxious about personal safety and that of their family.
There was a wide range of opinions on the greatest danger that Lebanon faces today: 16 percent cited war – including civil war, ShiiteSunni strife, regional conflict, and war with Israel – as the biggest threat. The same proportion believed the declining economy to be the country’s greatest problem, while 13 percent mentioned Hezbollah’s weapons and 11 percent referred to a lack of state control over the security situation.
Nearly all respondents, 94 percent, believe land sales present a danger to Christians, reflecting frequent statements by Christian political and religious leaders that cross-sectarian real-estate deals should be avoided.
The poll, which an Ipsos representative described as private and funded by sources she could not reveal, also delved into internal political issues. Thirty years after his death, assassinated Kataeb leader and president-elect Bashir Gemayel is considered by 38 percent of Lebanese Christians to be the political leader who played the most positive role in Lebanon’s history. Just 19 percent mentioned former President Camille Chamoun.
Nearly a quarter of Christians, 28 percent, chose Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea as the most prominent political figure who is playing the most positive role in Lebanon when compared with others. However, 28 percent named no leader at all, and 16 percent chose Free Patriotic Movement’s Michel Aoun.
As for Hezbollah, 64 percent of respondents believed it to be an “Iranian party that works according to the Iranian agenda,” and the majority of those polled believe that its weapons are a danger to Lebanon and that it should be disarmed.
Nevertheless, over a third of Christians believe Hezbollah’s arms are necessary now but should be removed in the long term and that their weapons are an important counterweight to Salafists.