Lebanon, Reform

Abolishing Confessionalism in Lebanon: A Poll By Information International

Click to enlarge

Information International, the polling and research firm that publishes The Monthly, one of my favorite publications  about Lebanese politics and economics, released the results of an interesting survey in January on the subject of abolishing confessionalism in Lebanon.

I was traveling at the time and never had a chance to blog about it, but I’ve put together a graph of some of the most relevant figures. Click the graphic to the right to enlarge it.

Update: This is the full text (PDF) of the article about the poll that was published in as-Safir. It contains additional information about the study, including figures for other sects.

Bookmark and Share

wordpress stats


35 thoughts on “Abolishing Confessionalism in Lebanon: A Poll By Information International

  1. I wonder how what the figure for Sunnis supportive of abolishing confessionalism.

    Posted by Nasser Victor | February 23, 2010, 3:19 pm
  2. I’m waiting on those figures. Will hopefully get them tomorrow.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 23, 2010, 3:24 pm
  3. can we have the full questionnaire, as well as methodology statement, if possible? i don’t care one one way or the other; just curious to see how others do it. thanks.

    Posted by J of Chalcedon | February 23, 2010, 3:31 pm
  4. As a person who has conducted many surveys I would want to know the methodo;ogy. Most of the Lebanese surveys that i am familiar with have serious methodological problems.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | February 23, 2010, 8:39 pm
  5. I’ve asked for that information; will supply it if/when I get it.

    Information International is a well-respected firm. Of the four major polling firms in Lebanon, they were the ones whose predictions of the elections were the closest. Also, they do Zogby’s polling in Lebanon.

    I’ll furnish the methodology if/when I receive any info about it.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 23, 2010, 8:50 pm
  6. Abolishing confessionalism , will help the young and educated reach their full potential in government ,

    Elias , why can’t Lebanon have what the US has , civil and religious marriage , people can chose , both are legal ,

    Posted by norman | February 23, 2010, 10:52 pm
  7. This is a request for information about an issue that is related to elections but is slightly off topic.
    I do not have a first hand experience with propotional voting and so I would appreciate an answer to an issue that I noticed in todays Al Balad. Since the winners in competing lists will be chosen by the order in which the names appear on the list doesn’t this give exceptional power to the head of each list? If that is the case then is that the reason why the traditional politicians agreed to have this system?

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 24, 2010, 1:46 am
  8. 69% of Maronites are in favor of civil marriage, but only 31% support abolishing confessionalism. Why? (Maybe the answer is obvious for Lebanon experts, but could someone answer for the rest of us?)

    With more detailed figures by sect, maybe it would be possible to see exactly which proposals would be most likely to gain a high level of support across all sects, then craft a political campaign to promote just those proposals.

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | February 24, 2010, 4:16 am
  9. Benjamin

    See above: I’ve updated the post to include the text of the full study.

    But to answer your question: most Maronites oppose abolishing confessionalism because of fears about political marginalization. They worry that if Lebanon’s government were composed primarily of Muslims, then this would deny the Christians a say in the affairs of their country.

    The fact that so many support civil marriage is an indication, I would submit, that most Christians probably would be happy with a secular style of government, provided that they could be assured of it remaining that way, and that their rights would be protected.

    I have just finished an article about this subject for The National. Should be out a week from this Friday. Stay tuned.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 10:25 am
  10. Thanks Qifa, but I noticed that only 4% of the respondents think abolishing confessionalism would mean the domination of Muslims over Christians. This doesn’t seem to be broken down by sect in the result, but since Christians represent much more than 4% of the Lebanese population, doesn’t that suggest that not many Christians are worried that abolishing sectarianism would lead to Muslim domination?

    Posted by Benjamin Geer | February 24, 2010, 11:49 am
  11. Benjamin and Qifa,

    In “House of Many Mansions” Kamal Salibi gives an interpretation which might still be valid nowadays:

    In the lead-up to the civil war and during it’s first phase, the Lebanese national movement (which included many muslim leaders) proposed the abolition of confessionalism, a move which was (and still is) rejected by many maronites. To stall the measure, the leaders of the lebanese front (headed by maronite leaders) realized that many muslim leaders would object (and still do, as does the maronite clergy) civil marriage. So they tried to pass both reforms as one package. Salibi criticizes both viewpoints as hypocritical…

    Posted by haytham | February 24, 2010, 11:49 am
  12. Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that Maronites, as well as other Lebanese Christians, are probably less opposed to civil marriage because legal questions of inheritance are already matters of civil law, while in Lebanon’s Mulsim communities, inheritance remains the province of Islamic courts (marriage is first and foremost the social regulation of wealth/property transfer across generations).

    Is that right? If I am correct, civil marriage constitutes much more of a threat to the social/economic/cultural power of Islamic clerics than Christian ones. That is not to say that the Maronite Church would ever look favorably upon civil marriage, but the political/economic/social stakes may be higher for non-Christians.

    I have not looked at this stuff in over a decade, so am I totally wrong, or just mostly?

    Could someone post some reference readings on such?

    Posted by david | February 24, 2010, 12:21 pm
  13. Ben

    You make a good point, but I think that it is possible for Christians to worry about the consequences of abolishing confessionalism on the same grounds I mentioned above, without necessarily believing that they would live in a society “dominated by Muslims”. Most Maronites probably wouldn’t use that phrase, but they’d still oppose it for similar reasons.

    Plus, the question asked people to define “abolishing confessionalism” instead of asking them what they thought it would lead to. So perhaps some people who privately worry about “Muslim domination” still chose the technical answer to the question.


    There may be something to the issue of inheritance. But your argument, as it is currently formulated, doesn’t quite fit the evidence. After all, they weren’t polling Christian and Muslim clerics, but rather ordinary people. So one could imagine that some people who are unhappy with the control of religious courts over personal status matters would be in favor of civil marriage.

    I know that the Church makes it extremely difficult for people to get divorced, and women’s rights under these laws are very limited. Someone also mentioned to me once that if a Muslim woman marries a non-Muslim man, she forfeits her right to inheritance, but I haven’t seen an authoritatve source on this issue.

    My point is that I don’t think one can explain different sect-based attitudes about civil marriage on the basis of how it will impact religious establishments.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 12:43 pm
  14. The result if reliable and accurate might indicate that the Maronites/Christians are less favorable to abolishing the confessional system.
    However, it is not religion itself that explains this trend, but the association between religion and populations figures.
    Simply, Sects that have a higher ration of “reserved seats” in this confessional system than their actual percentage in estimated populations figures tend to oppose abolishing the system that is in play.

    But it is more complex that that, and we can see that in the catholic trends (lower than the maronites), where most catholic parliament seats are present in voting districts where they are not the majority. And in this case dome might conclude that the confessional system failed in securing seats for that sects.

    Posted by fred | February 24, 2010, 12:57 pm
  15. This survey only samples 500 indivuals (so if you cut that down to each different sect you barely get a few individuals for each sect… not sure if we can come up with a conclusion based on that esp about Druze, alawites, catholics and Armenians…)

    Add to that there is no Confidence interval or ERROR reported, no 63 +/- 5)
    But the study also fails to deliver on the exact methodology, and if the survives were biased or blinded to the religion of the sampled individual.

    Posted by fred | February 24, 2010, 1:03 pm
  16. The 500-strong sample set is a problem; I thought of that when I read the full report.

    Presumably they wouldn’t have used the same number of callers for each sect, but it’s still too small.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 1:09 pm
  17. Yes, I am being sloppy and am totally out of my depth, but I will stick to my guns. IF inheritance law for non-Muslims essentially tracks to civil law, then it would not be very surprising that Christians would make the civil law on such matters the object of their reform efforts. In the same vein, Lebanese Muslims might possibly be less interested in that route of reform.

    Finally, I cannot more heartily disagree with this statement: “I don’t think one can explain different sect-based attitudes about civil marriage [insert any issue you wish] on the basis of how it will impact religious establishments.”

    Political socialization, and all that.

    Posted by david | February 24, 2010, 1:09 pm
  18. If it’s a matter of political socialization, then why are more than two thirds of Maronites in favor of weakening the Church’s control over personal status laws?

    They’re not robots. 🙂

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 1:23 pm
  19. Mon Maronite Errant,

    We are all robots; we just call our mechanical defects “free will.” It’s prettier that way … 🙂

    My point earlier was the Maronite clerics may perceive civil marriage as less of a threat to their institutions than Islamic clerics or articulate their perception of the nature of that threat in different ways. But that does not mean they don’t see it as a threat, but for different reasons and in different ways.

    And that might begin, in part, to explain the polling data.

    Posted by david | February 24, 2010, 2:02 pm
  20. But they didn’t poll the clerics. They polled the congregation. (Many of whom got married in Cyprus).

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 2:08 pm
  21. Q,
    The sample size is NOT a problem. It is even larger than it needs to be. If a survey is to have a 95% confidence level and a Confidence Interval of 5 for a 300000 population then the sample size should be 384.
    The problem if there is one with the methodology is whether the telephons numbers come from a representative population that is not biased and also whether the composition based on voter registration coincides with the telephone number distributions. I suspect that none of these presenta a major problem.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 24, 2010, 2:45 pm
  22. Boy am I glad that there are real social scientists out there to keep me honest.

    We don’t conduct surveys, in the field of medieval Islamic history. Our subjects are pushing up daisies or sitting on bookshelves. 😉

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 2:47 pm
  23. Elias,
    There is a discussion on syriacommnet about Islam and Democracy ,

    Can you please write your opinion .there

    Posted by norman | February 24, 2010, 4:03 pm
  24. Ammo norman,

    I already sent an email to Joshua this morning about Elie’s piece. 🙂 Wasn’t planning on commenting at SC, but maybe I will if I find some time.

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | February 24, 2010, 4:08 pm
  25. Hello QN and everyone else,

    This is my first comment here after a spending some time reading this valuable blog.

    After reading the results of the survey, I can say that I have some reservations about it. The questions asked to the people being surveyed can often be misleading and show contradictory results.

    It would be clearer had they asked, for example: “Are you with abolishing sectarianism in politics?” As opposed to: “Are you with abolishing political sectarianism?”, which, clearly, the respondents showed their misunderstanding of. The issue remains, how do we define what “political sectarianism/confessionalism” really is? Is it the manifestation of sectarianism in the political system, which is what the pollsters define it as in section I, but it does not necessarily carry the same meaning among the entire population, especially when asked within a sectarian framework (to each individual based on his/her sect)? Is it the use of sectarian slogans and alibis to rally a certain portion of the population behind a leader? Some people even think that it’s the interference of religious authorities in politics. Certainly, we can understand the confusion of those polled, since this issue is very complex and entails various processes associated with the nature of the political system and the practice of politics in Lebanon.

    Thus, the poll from its basis is flawed, due to the lack of a unified understanding of what the meaning of the concept called ‘political sectarianism’ is (ma hiya al-ta’ifiya al-siyassiya). But then again, maybe that’s how the pollsters wanted it.

    Looking forward to seeing your comments!

    Posted by Maroun | February 24, 2010, 6:50 pm
  26. Ghassan:
    1)The confidence interval was not reported.
    2)If a sample size of 384 is considered to be representative of a population of 300000, then at least the size of the Shiites, Maronites, and Sunnis should be around 300, and accordingly the total number of individuals sampled from all sects should exceed a 1000.
    3)Are the surveyors blinded to the religion of the individual sampled? Does the surveyor know the sect of the individual sampled. If he does know, then he would be biased, and that would ultimately affect how he asks the Q and what he written down.

    Posted by fred | February 24, 2010, 10:11 pm
  27. Fred,
    Such surveys are always constructed to have confidence intervals of 5 and 95% confidence level. I noticed as soon as I submitted the previous post that I said 300,000 when I meant 3,000,000. I did not bother to correct the post because I figured that most know that 3,ooo,ooo is allegedly the number of individuals on the Voter rolls. My bad.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 24, 2010, 11:57 pm
  28. Thank you

    Posted by norman | February 25, 2010, 11:20 am
  29. Thanks Ghassan;
    I might have to agree with part of what you said on this. However the Lebanese were not sampled in this survey but the Sects, and to draw a conclusion about each sect you need to look at the population figures of that sect and the number needed to sample for that sect. (here is were i wanted more on the survey methodology)
    Its a given, I agree the confidence interval is a range with a 95% chance at encompassing the true value. HOWEVER what is that range in each statistical figure, the study reports 58% are in favor of abolishing the curent system, is that a 58 +/- 20%? or a 58 +/- 2%?

    Posted by fred | February 25, 2010, 8:32 pm
  30. Fred,
    ISince I know nothing about your background I am going to assume that you are not very familiar with statistical methodologies so forgive me if I am wrong. As the population gets to be large then a relatively small sample is sufficient to draw very accurate conclusions. It makes no difference whether the population is 1,000,000 or whather it is 100,000,000 the same sample size of 384 will allow the statistician to draw conclusions that are accurate 95% of the times and these conclusions will have a confidence interval of 5 which means + or _ 5 %. If one desires better accuracy then one can design the study with99% confidence level and say a confidence interval of 4. In that case the sample size would have to be 1040.
    BTW, that is the normal sample size for all the polls during the presidential elections in the US with its over 300,000,000 population.
    As I indicated earlier no study is perfect. In Lebanon I would be skeptical when telephones are usedsince land lines were not as commonly spread among the population. In this regard the sample ,ight not have enough representation of the less well off economically.

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 25, 2010, 11:03 pm
  31. A 95% confidence interval does not mean +/- 5%.

    Posted by fred | February 26, 2010, 6:52 am
  32. Fred,
    If you know then why are you asking? Obviously you did not read anything that I have said closely enough. I had said , a number of times a 95% confidence level and a confidence interval of 5. I did not say a 95% confidence level means a + or – 5. A poll can have a 95% confidence level and a confidence interval of 10, 15, 18 …

    Posted by ghassan karam | February 26, 2010, 8:20 am
  33. It is interesting how most of the comments are about the methodology. Would this have been the case if the firm was European or American? One day I will tell you how the white man, who is of course trying to civilize the natives, does his polls in The Arab World, a term you don’t hear anymore. More than 15 years of continuous professional and rigorous work,150,000 interviewed in Lebanon only and we still have a long way to go! Soon we will present a dance on a talk show or ‘slang’ in Arabic on CNN and then WOW!We welcome your guests to visit our offices when in Lebanon. Qifa Nabki is one reason why we go on.

    Posted by Jawad Adra | April 6, 2010, 6:42 am


  1. Pingback: Lebanon To March for Secularism « Qifa Nabki | A Lebanese Political Blog - April 21, 2010

  2. Pingback: Confessionalism- Whos idea was that? – Blood, sweat and oil - April 21, 2016

Are you just gonna stand there and not respond?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Browse archives

wordpress stats plugin
%d bloggers like this: