Last Updated 14 October 2020

The Lebanese Republic has a population of 6.8 million people,1https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=LB. Lebanon is host to a large refugee population including 1.5 million Syrians, and 200,000 Palestinians.2https://reliefweb.int/report/lebanon/unhcr-lebanon-factsheet-january-2020#:~:text=More%20than%20eight%20years%20into,are%20present%20in%20the%20country. The country’s history has been marked by sectarian tensions between its numerous and diverse ethnic and religious groups which came to a head in the Lebanese civil war (1975 to 1990). Estimates of the religious breakdown of the Lebanese population, excluding the refugee population, includes a 57.7% Muslim majority (28.7% Sunni and 28.4% Shia), 36.2% Christians, 5.2% Druzes and small numbers of Baha’is, Jews, Ismailis, Alawites and others.3https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1277696/download The country is vulnerable to extremist attacks and spill-over from the Syrian conflict, as well as suffering from a recent economic crisis,4https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/the-lights-go-out-on-lebanons-economy-as-financial-collapse-accelerates/2020/07/19/3acfc33e-bb97-11ea-97c1-6cf116ffe26c_story.html and an explosion in Beirut that prompted the government’s resignation in August 2020.5https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/10/world/middleeast/lebanon-government-resigns-beirut.html

Lebanon is a member of the League of Arab States (LAS), as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination
Mostly Satisfactory

Constitution and government

The Constitution6https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/lb/lb018en.pdf and other laws and policies guarantee freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of expression. However, these laws are not always respected in practice. Furthermore, the entire system of government is based on sectarian quotas, which in practice encourages religious discrimination and discourages leaving one’s familial assigned religion. Most non-religious people in practice must conform to a religious identity.

The Constitution requires the state to respect all religious groups and denominations, and declares equality of rights and duties for all citizens without discrimination. The Constitution stipulates that there be a balance of power among the major religious groups and provides that Christians and Muslims be represented equally in parliament, the cabinet, and high-level civil service positions. It also provides that these posts be distributed proportionally among  all the recognized religious groups, in an attempt to prevent a single group from gaining a dominant position. The 1943 “National Pact” stipulates that the president, prime minister, and speaker of parliament be Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shia Muslim, respectively.7https://www.britannica.com/event/Lebanese-National-Pact-1943 The 1989 Taif Agreement,8https://www.un.int/lebanon/sites/www.un.int/files/Lebanon/the_taif_agreement_english_version_.pdf which ended the country’s 15-year civil war, reaffirms this arrangement while mandating equal Muslim and Christian representation in parliament and reducing the power of the Maronite Christian presidency. In addition, most senior government officials are appointed according to religious affiliation. There are no reserved seats for non-believers, thus if citizens decide to remove their religion from their official documents, they consequently limit their ability to hold government positions. Although not required by law, religion is generally encoded on national identity cards and noted on “ikhraaj qaid” (official registry) documents. Citizens have the right to remove their religion or change the religion on their identity cards and official registry documents. The government does not require religious affiliation on passports. However, religious group identity remains very important on the societal and cultural level.9https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

There are 18 officially recognized religious groups, including Ismailis, Alawites, Druzes and Jews. The government does not officially recognize some religious groups such as Baha’is, Buddhists, Hindus, and unregistered Protestant groups. Members of these groups cannot hold certain government positions, but they are permitted to perform their religious rites freely. Official recognition of a religious group provides government recognition to rites performed, such as marriages; such recognition conveys additional benefits, such as tax-exempt status and the right to apply the religious group’s codes to matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.10https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

An individual is allowed to change religion if the change is approved by the head of the religious group the person wishes to join. The government permits the publication of religious materials of every religious group in different languages and there are no legal prohibitions to proselytizing.

By law, the authorities endorse the appointment of Sunni and Shia muftis and the Druze Sheikh al-Aql and pay their salaries, however, the government does not pay the salaries of Christian officials.11https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

In March 2014, former President Michael Suleiman appeared to evaluate atheism on a par with war and fundamentalism, in a speech during the election campaign. He said: “Peace will defeat war. Faith will defeat fundamentalism and atheism.”12ginosblog.com/2014/04/01/lebanese-president-equates-atheists-to-terrorists/

Lebanon remains under threat of terrorist attacks and sectarian violence. Extremist groups, including ISIL and al-Nusra Front claimed responsibility for several car bombings and suicide bomb attacks mainly in the Shia suburbs of Beirut. The balance of religious denominations has been changed a lot by the increasing number of (mainly Sunni Muslim) Syrian and Palestinian refugees. In October 2014 a conflict between Alawites and Sunni broke out. Shiite Hizballah’s participation in Syria has further inflamed sectarian tensions. In Ramadan 2014, Islamists attacked with grenades the few restaurants and cafes in Tripoli that remained open during the fasting hours. November 2015 saw a double suicide bombing in Beirut, killing 43 and wounding 239, the attack was claimed by ISIL and intended to kill Shia Muslims.13https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/12/beirut-bombings-kill-at-least-20-lebanon While terrorist attacks have decreased in frequency, sectarian tensions have increased. In the case of Tripoli, Sunni and Alawite communities have experienced high tensions and violence.14https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1277696/download Anti-Semitic rhetoric remains present in the Lebanese media. However, religious and political leaders continue to support peaceful coexistence and oppose violent extremism.

Following the previous government’s resignation in August 2020 and widespread public protests, President Michel Aoun has called for secularisation of the Lebanese State as “Lebanon’s youth are calling for change”.15https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200901-lebanon-should-be-a-secular-state-says-president/

Education and children’s rights

The government permits, but does not require religious education in public schools. However, in practice, many schools offer compulsory religious education, with no secular or humanist alternative. According to the Constitution, recognized religious communities may operate their own private schools, provided they follow the general rules issued for public schools, which stipulate that schools must not incite sectarian discord or threaten national security. In public schools, religious authorities from the local community go to the schools to organise and teach religious education.16https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Likewise, there are similar reports of children being banned from and forced to wear religious symbols.17english.al-akhbar.com/content/lebanons-education-system-training-children-civil-strife

Family, community and society

Until 2013 there were no procedures for civil marriage. However in early 2013 the ratification of a civil marriage between Kholoud Sukkarieh and Nidal Darwish represented a step toward secularizing family law.18https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134309242619227.html The government recognizes civil marriage ceremonies performed abroad irrespective of the religious affiliation of each partner in the marriage.19https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

In most cases the government permits recognized religious groups to administer their own family and personal status laws, such as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance. Unrecognized groups may own property and assemble for worship without government interference; however, they may not perform legally recognized marriage or divorce proceedings, and they have no standing to determine inheritance issues.

Shia, Sunni, recognized Christian and Druze groups have sate-appointed, government-subsidized clerical courts to administer family and personal status law. While the religious courts and religious laws are legally bound to comply with the Constitution, the Court of Cassation has very limited oversight of religious court proceedings and decisions.20https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Discrimination against women

Lebanese women are notably denied nationality rights, unable to pass on their nationality to their children (with the possibility of leaving their children stateless), while Lebanese men are given those rights. Anti-government protests against this discrimination continue in 2020.21https://thearabweekly.com/lebanese-women-press-equal-personal-status-rights-international-womens-day

A review of personal status laws by the Human Rights Watch found “ a clear pattern of women from all sects being treated worse than men”, especially in cases of custody and divorce. Women were found to face significantly more obstacles in law and but also court procedures in various forms.22https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/01/19/unequal-and-unprotected/womens-rights-under-lebanese-personal-status-laws

Though in 2014 the Parliament passed new laws to protect women from domestic violence, many remain vulnerable as marital rape has yet to be decriminalized and sect-specific courts continue to have jurisdiction.

LGBTQ+ rights

Historically, those suspected of homosexual activity would be convicted of “sexual intercourse contrary to the order of nature” according to article 534 of the penal code and would be sentenced to up to one year in prison. Over the past decade Lebanese judges have ruled that homosexuality is not against the “order of nature”, and is natural. In 2014, Judge Rabih Maalouf cited Article 183, stating that “An act undertaken in exercise of a right without abuse shall not be regarded as an offence,”23https://www.equaldex.com/region/lebanon in contradiction with article 534. Yet, no law has actually passed to protect members of the LGBTQ+ or decriminalise homosexuality.24https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/01/29/lebanon-is-getting-closer-to-decriminalising-homosexuality/

Same sex marriage in Lebanon is still not legal (though foreign same sex marriages are recognised) and conversion therapy has yet to be banned. Legal gender change, single parent adoption, serving in the military and blood donations are however legal for LGBTQ+ individuals.25https://www.equaldex.com/region/lebanon

Progress is also very inconsistent. A gender and sexuality conference annually held since 2013, after a failed attempt to shut it down in 2018, was forced to take place outside of Lebanon in 2019 in name of protecting “public morality”.26https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/08/pride-month-shame-you-exposing-anti-lgbt-government-strategies-mena

While Beirut is relatively tolerant, other cities in Lebanon are less so. With the chemical blast devastating Beirut in 2020, many of Lebanese LGBTQ+ community who built lives there reported having lost much of their popular ‘safe spaces’.27https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/beirut-s-gay-community-chemical-blast-shattered-safe-space-n1239076

Freedom of Expression, advocacy of humanist values

The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and Lebanon has a long tradition of press freedom. However, there are significant limitations to freedom of expression as it intersects with freedom of religion or belief: by law, the government is permitted to censor religious publications if it deems such material incites sectarian discord or threatens national security, additionally, criticism of religious leaders, the president or the army can carry a prison sentence.

Films and other art pieces are regularly censored if they contain any contentious material – for instance, a film making a passing reference to Lebanon’s assassinated president, or a piece of graffiti caricaturing the King of Saudi Arabia.28

In 2020, following a reported escalation in the repression of protest and free expression, 14 Lebanese and international organizations formed a “Coalition to Defend Freedom of Expression in Lebanon”.28https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/13/lebanon-new-coalition-defend-free-speech Among the laws used to repress dissent is criminal defamation.

Due to these cultural and institutional limitations, the non-religious have found freedom of expression with like-minded individuals on social media platforms, such as closed Facebook groups.29https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-middle-east-48729203


Articles 473-474 of the Penal Code30https://perma.cc/UP8Z-ZMH4 (in Arabic) criminalize blasphemy and contempt of religion, offences punishable with up to one and three years in prison respectively.31https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Lebanon

Highlighted cases

In July 2019, Lebanese Byblos music festival was forced to cancel a planned performance of the band Mashrou’ Leila’s “in order to prevent bloodshed and to maintain security and stability” backlash from Christian fundamentalist groups. Reports vary regarding the precise cause of discontent. Some reports state that objections related to two songs in particular, which they alleged were blasphemous, while others  indicate that the they related to a four-year-old post on Facebook of a controversial image that transposed the face of pop diva Madonna onto an image of the Virgin Mary, which they alleged insulted Christian beliefs.32https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2019/7/30/lebanon-cancels-mashrou-leila-concert-to-prevent-bloodshed; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

In April 2019, the authorities banned  a Brazilian metal band, Sepultura, from entering the country after its members were accused of being “devil worshippers,” according to concert organizers. 33https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

The year 2017, saw a spate of censorship of films that touched on religious themes or were deemed critical of religion.34https://freemuse.org/news/lebanon-film-censored-religious-criticism/; https://freemuse.org/news/lebanon-two-movies-banned-film-festival/; https://freemuse.org/news/lebanon-religious-believer-blacked-film/

In November 2017, a Lebanese poet, Mustafa Sbeity, was arrested for “insulting” the Virgin Mary in a Facebook post and detained for 16 days.35https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/lebanon-pattern-prosecutions-free-speech


“I am an agnostic atheist and I did come out proudly as one in Lebanon. As expected, I was cyber bullied for it but it didn’t stop me from voicing my opinion on religion and its impact on society and especially on gender issues. I mostly hang out with fellow atheists now but before that, I lost friends because of my views. I tend to keep my religious views to myself at work because it could affect my relationship with colleagues and it is not worth it.”

— Xena


1 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.TOTL?locations=LB
2 https://reliefweb.int/report/lebanon/unhcr-lebanon-factsheet-january-2020#:~:text=More%20than%20eight%20years%20into,are%20present%20in%20the%20country.
3, 14 https://www.justice.gov/eoir/page/file/1277696/download
4 https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/the-lights-go-out-on-lebanons-economy-as-financial-collapse-accelerates/2020/07/19/3acfc33e-bb97-11ea-97c1-6cf116ffe26c_story.html
5 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/10/world/middleeast/lebanon-government-resigns-beirut.html
6 https://www.wipo.int/edocs/lexdocs/laws/en/lb/lb018en.pdf
7 https://www.britannica.com/event/Lebanese-National-Pact-1943
8 https://www.un.int/lebanon/sites/www.un.int/files/Lebanon/the_taif_agreement_english_version_.pdf
9, 10, 11, 16, 19, 20, 33 https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
12 ginosblog.com/2014/04/01/lebanese-president-equates-atheists-to-terrorists/
13 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/12/beirut-bombings-kill-at-least-20-lebanon
15 https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200901-lebanon-should-be-a-secular-state-says-president/
17 english.al-akhbar.com/content/lebanons-education-system-training-children-civil-strife
18 https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/04/20134309242619227.html
21 https://thearabweekly.com/lebanese-women-press-equal-personal-status-rights-international-womens-day
22 https://www.hrw.org/report/2015/01/19/unequal-and-unprotected/womens-rights-under-lebanese-personal-status-laws
23, 25 https://www.equaldex.com/region/lebanon
24 https://www.pinknews.co.uk/2017/01/29/lebanon-is-getting-closer-to-decriminalising-homosexuality/
26 https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/06/08/pride-month-shame-you-exposing-anti-lgbt-government-strategies-mena
27 https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/beirut-s-gay-community-chemical-blast-shattered-safe-space-n1239076
28 https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/07/13/lebanon-new-coalition-defend-free-speech
29 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-middle-east-48729203
30 https://perma.cc/UP8Z-ZMH4 (in Arabic)
31 https://www.loc.gov/law/help/blasphemy/index.php#Lebanon
32 https://english.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2019/7/30/lebanon-cancels-mashrou-leila-concert-to-prevent-bloodshed; https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/LEBANON-2019-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
34 https://freemuse.org/news/lebanon-film-censored-religious-criticism/; https://freemuse.org/news/lebanon-two-movies-banned-film-festival/; https://freemuse.org/news/lebanon-religious-believer-blacked-film/
35 https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/01/31/lebanon-pattern-prosecutions-free-speech

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