Lebanon/ 8.2 Cultural consumption and participation  

8.2.1 Trends and figures

Lebanese culture used to find diverse audiences according to the diversity of its fields. Since the beginning of culture practice in Lebanon, there has been audience participation. In the 1940s, for example, when theatre came back from Cairo to Lebanon, the audience contributed through attending theatre plays, which were performed despite the lack of illumination and in spite of the curfew during World War II. Audience participation continued in all activities: in the 1960s, the audience, which was mainly of politicians and intellectuals, played a role in activating the cultural, theatrical, artistic, literary and intellectual movement. On the other hand, there was the audience of commercial theatre, for instance. After the emergence of art institutes, the participation of gradates of cinema, dramatic, fine arts and dance became bigger and specialized. However, the audience of dance and singing events and prosperous restaurants is increasingly growing up.

There are many statistics carried out to identify the number of book fairs visitors in Lebanon, whether Arab or Francophone; each of which is visited by its readers. However, the cost of the book remains relatively high amid challenging socio-economical conditions, and this explains the decreased percentage of readers in countries that do not suffer from illiteracy. This problem is further aggravated when arguing about foreign books. 


The Lebanese cultural sector suffers, like all other sectors, from the disease of guesses, perceptions and arbitrary judgments with the absence of clear scientific studies. In other words, the country which was considered, for a long time, the Arab printing house, and is described recently as the country of singers and classified as the first Arab country in international festivals, and one of the richest countries in the region in antiquities and the most attractive one for tourists, still misses approximate assessment of its cultural revenues and their volume in the Lebanese economy.

A book published by the Lebanese Center for Studies, titled, Cultural Industries in Lebanon, states that, "in the absence of many data, figures and studies in this area, as in the other social and economic fields in Lebanon, some estimations conclude that the weight of cultural industries (in the broad sense) matches the weight of financial and banking sector, i.e. 6-7 % of the GDP". 

Though Lebanon has an asset that qualifies it to use its position culturally, the Ministry of Culture budget does not exceed 0.5% of the 2002 draft budget. The other limited contributions of public sector reflect a clear lack of awareness of the Lebanese political and economic elites of the importance and feasibility of investment in the cultural sector: cinema, TV, libraries, museums, the audiovisual production industries, book fairs, printing, handicrafts, cultural festivals and advertising production.

The book illustrates that the majority of Lebanese cultural activities self-funded; private capitals do not have the courage to break into this field domestically , but they tend to finance cultural production projects in other Arab countries, such as the Arab Gulf, Egypt, Arab countries in North Africa and even some western countries, particularly the contributions to satellite TV organizations, to cultural promotion companies, or to film production which reaches to Hollywood.

It is noteworthy that the part allocated for music is estimated to generate about 50 million USD annually, but the capital invested in this area is mostly from the Gulf countries. 80% of artistic production is funded by Arab money. Recording 6 songs costs 16,000 - 54,000 USD. The cost of some albums may reach up to 200 thousand USD, and a budget of 100,000 USD is allocated for the distribution of one album. Lebanon's problem with this kind of production, which is classified as cultural according to modern definitions, is that it is a quantitative production rather than qualitative one, and its revenues are not necessarily Lebanese.

On the contrary of the flourishing music, we find that film industry is at its worst position. Millions of dollars are invested in songs industry, while film production is almost completely absent. The UNISCO estimates the film production in Lebanon to be at a rate of 5 movies a year, while Lebanon used to produce 50 movies annually in the 1960s and 1970s. The main reasons behind this film drought are the absence of an appropriate legal framework to support this sector and its workers and the absence of national institutions, such as Cinema Support Funds. Therefore, the contribution of cinema and music industries in the Lebanese economy is still modest.

Amongst the reasons behind the deterioration of serious artistic works is the fact that all laws governing this area date back to 1908; a law defining the artist as "any body who performs a scenery show before people while they are eating and drinking". The book does not study theatre case, but theatre actors, like cinema and TV actors suffer too much from the prejudice of this law.

Lebanon has historically depended on its role as a printing house, but its reality confirms, according to researcher Fares Abi Saab, that "getting out of the current dilemma requires, first of all, bringing the Myth of Lebanon and its historical role to an end and stopping the nostalgia which aims recovering the past; "Lebanon role was in many aspects the product of the surrounding reality rather than the product of its unique properties".

Now that the surrounding has been developed, and printings are in all Arab countries, book industry needs comprehensive review and restructuring based on an interactive vision with its Arab surroundings.

Though the number of publishers licensed by the Publishers Association is 700,000, in addition to many others licensed by Ministry of Information, the actual working publishers are about 200 only, of which no more than 50 are strong and active.

The biggest secret behind the survival of those strong and active publishers under the consequent crises is the familial nature of the organizations which are inherited from parents to children.

Interestingly enough, the number of books published annually in Lebanon is one of the things that cannot be known, because there is no mechanism to record the new publications by the competent authorities. Also, publishers are not obliged to register the deposit number of each new publication and are not obliged to inform the Association or the Ministry of Information about their publications.

In this atmosphere, any study on publishing sector in Lebanon will be approximate and foggy, whether regarding the number of acting publishers or the number of books published or even their themes and levels.

Printing houses are, also, of familial nature. This profession is practiced as a kind of inheritance and not on a basis of specialization. There is extreme shortage of qualified technicians to replace the retired ones or those who left the market. This chaotic situation is reflected, also, by the fact that Lebanon, despite the many universities and colleges which are opened sometimes for prestige and sometimes for trade, still lacks a specialized printing faculty.

Despite the clamor of the Lebanese cultural movement, it generates modest income of the national product. It is believed that this income does not exceed 675 million USD annually, where writing and publishing come first with 200 million USD followed by all branches of audiovisual industry with an income of no more than USD 80 million, and music and singing with USD 50 million only though the number of workers in this artistic field reaches to 17,000.

Thus, the brightness of singing, music and video clips, as well as advertisements, theatres, festivals and TV series are still far from reaching the revenues of books, despite the deterioration in printing and publishing field. What is scaring is that no one is fully aware that book industry, which is amongst the first Lebanese cultural industries that generate profits, suffers from serious dilemmas which may destroy it if not protected. Publishers are left to their intelligence; some of them succeed and some fail, and there is little hope to understand the necessity to save what is left. 

As for currents, it is noticeable that between 1915 and 1965, artistic movements, currents and schools appeared in that period and considered essential phases of the Lebanese art history, both in fine arts an theatre; we find an attempt to move from impressionism and realism to modernism currents represented by large number of artists, but the war wiped out most of these arts product, particularly fine arts; many paintings were stolen or destroyed, and there are attempts to restore them. Ministry of Culture keeps many paintings. As for other arts and literature, we find worrying figures that make the situation a real civilizational and humanitarian crisis. For example, when only 3000 copies are sold of Nobel Prize Winner, Naguib Mahfouz's, it is a serious issue. 

Chapter published: 04-05-2016