Lebanon

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Lebanese Republic
LocationLebanon.PNG
Flag of Lebanon.PNG
National anthem Koullouna Lilouataan Lil Oula Lil Alam
Capital (and largest city) Beirut
Official language Arabic
Government type Semi-Presidential Republic
President Michel Suliaman
Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri
Area 10,452 km²
4,035 mi²
Population 4,196,453 (125th)
(2008 estimate)
Population density 358/km² (26th)
948 mi²
HDI 0.772 (medium) (88th) (2007)
Currency Lebanese pound (LBP)
Time zone EET (UTC+2)
Summer:EEST (UTC+3)
Country codes Internet TLD : .lb
Calling code : +961

Lebanon (Arabic Lubnan) is a country in the Middle East. It borders Syria to the north and east, Israel to the south, and the Mediterranean Sea to the west. Its official language is Arabic, although French is widely spoken. The capital and largest city of Lebanon is Beirut.

Lebanon was created in its present form after World War I and was administered by the French as a mandated territory until World War II. The country is religiously diverse, containing Sunni Muslims, Shi'a Muslims, Maronite Christians, Druze, and various smaller religions. Lebanon went through a long civil war from the 1970's until the 1990's that was caused by differences among its religious groups and tensions between Syria and Israel. It was further damaged by a war in 2006 between Israel and Hezbollah, an armed Islamist organization. The war ended with both sides claiming victory, and many issues in Lebanon's politics are still unresolved.

Geography

Map of Lebanon (Public Domain).

The center of Lebanon is dominated by Mount Lebanon, which, despite its name, is actually an entire mountain range. Extensions of the Mount Lebanon range span almost the entire country north to south. Mount Lebanon is particularly famous for its groves of cedars, which are one of Lebanon's national symbols-the flag of Lebanon contains a prominent cedar tree. On the eastern border of the country are the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, which are partially in Syria. The large Bekaa valley, which contains Lebanon's most fertile agricultural land, lies between these two mountain ranges. The Litani river dominates the south of Lebanon. It rises in the Bekaa valley along with the Orontes river, which flows through north Lebanon before passing into Syria. Lebanon contains many smaller rivers, most of which originate in Mount Lebanon. The coast of Lebanon has many harbors, including the ports of Beriut, Tripoli, Sidon, and Tyre. These harbors have been used for trade since ancient times. [1][2]

History to 1918

Ancient History

In antiquity, Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians. They probably first came into Lebanon from south of the area sometime around 3500 BC. The Phoenicians were known for their sailing skills and built four major trading cities in Lebanon-Tyre, Sidon, Berytus (modern Beirut), and Byblos. Eventually, they established a network of trading centers that spanned the entire Mediterranean, some of which (Carthage, for instance) eventually became great powers in their own right. In about 1800 BC, Phoenicia was conquered by the Egyptians. Over the ensuing centuries, the region would be fought over by empires such as the Babylonians and Assyrians. Eventually it was conquered by the Persians. In 332 BC, Lebanon, along with the rest of Persia, fell to Alexander the Great. Alexander's empire broke up after his death. In 64 BC, the Romans took control of Lebanon. It would remain a province of the Romans, and later the Byzantines, for many centuries. Christianity was established in Lebanon by 395.[3]

Islamic and Medieval History

A view from Barouk, in the Shouf district of Mount Lebanon, showing the Mountain's famous cedars.

In 640, Lebanon fell to the newly Muslim Arabs, whose language and culture became dominant. Lebanon was a province in the Sunni Umayyad and Abbasid empires, and later the Shia Fatimid Empire. In 975 it was briefly recaptured by the Byzantines, but soon fell back into Fatimid hands. By the 11th century, they were replaced by the Seljuq Turks as the effective power in the region.

This era established three major religious communities. The Maronite Christians lived mostly in Mount Lebanon, where they existed largely independently from the Muslim Empires swirling around them, although they gradually adopted the Arabic language. The coastal cities, such as Beirut, Tripoli, and Tyre, were inhabited by Orthodox Christians and Sunnis. A mostly Shia population inhabited the south. Starting in 1021, these groups were joined by communities of Druze refugees fleeing persecution in their native land of Egypt. The Druze settled in the south of Mount Lebanon (replacing Shia as the local majority) and elsewhere in present day Syria and Israel.

In 1093, the Crusaders occupied Mount Lebanon and the adjacent coast on their way to Jerusalem. During the Crusader era, the Maronite Church recognized the superiority of Rome and became a Eastern Rite church within Catholicism, which it remains to this day.

Starting in the 1260's, the crusader kingdoms were gradually occupied by the Egyptian Mamluks. The Mamluks were in turn conquered by the Ottomans in 1516. However, during this time Mount Lebanon was in reality controlled by local Christian and Druze lords who ruled over it and some of the surrounding area in the name of the dominant power (Mamluks, Ottomans, etc). The Druze leader Fakhr al-Din, who, before his execution by the Ottomans in 1633, controlled Mount Lebanon and some of the surrounding areas, was the most notable. Druze power wained after his death.[4][5]

The Mutasarrifiya

In the 1860's, longstanding tensions between Maronite and Druze in Mount Lebanon erupted into a sectarian war. Christian disorganization allowed the Druze to gain the upper hand, and as many as 11,000 Christians were killed. The French and British intervened to save the Christians, and in the aftermath supported the creation of a Maronite-dominated semi-autonomous province known as the Mutasarrifiya (from mutasarraf, Arabic for "administrator", which was its governor's title). It included Mount Lebanon and the adjacent coast (except Beirut). The Mutasarrifiya had no ports of any significance, little agricultural land, and few resources in general. Maronite nationalists therefore began to lobby European powers for the creation of a "Greater Lebanon" including Beirut, the Beqaa valley, and expanded territory to the north and south of the Mutasarrifiya's current boundaries. The Ottoman Empire was hostile to the existence of the Mutasarifiya and sought to abolish it and place the area under the control of the Ottoman central government. During World War I, the French (the main patrons of the Mutasarifiya and the Maronite community) fought the Ottomans, allowing them to finally end the Mutasarifiya in 1915.[6][7]

History Since 1918

The French Mandate

In 1918, World War I ended and the defeated Ottoman Empire collapsed. Its Arab provinces were carved up into territories called mandates, which were divided between the victorious allies. Lebanon, along with Syria, was assigned to the French. The French agreed to support the "Greater Lebanon" the Maronites had worked for, expanding the Mutasarrifiya to included the port cities of Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, and Tripoli and giving it extensive territories to its north, south, and east. The Muslim inhabitants of these areas largely opposed the new, Maronite-dominated Lebanon and agitated for the its incorporation into Syria.

In 1926, the French issued a new constitution for Lebanon, based on the French model, although they reserved ultimate veto power for themselves. The French manipulated elections to produce governments favorable to them, angering the majority of Lebanese and helping to unite the Maronite and Sunni communities against them.

In 1941, British and Free French forces invaded Lebanon to prevent it from falling under the control of the Vichy Regime, a pro-Nazi French government formed by the Germans after their takeover of France. To achieve Lebanese support, the British talked the French into promising Lebanon independence. Elections in 1943 produced an anti-French government under president Bishara al-Khuri that declared independence. Al-Kuri and Riyadh al-Sulh, a Sunni politician, negotiated an agreement known as the National Pact, which divided Lebanon's government among its sects. Specifically, Lebanon's president would be a Maronite, its prime minister a Sunni, and its speaker of parliament a Shia. In addition, parliament would have six Christians for every five Muslims (roughly consistent with the overall population of Christians and Muslims at the time).

The French arrested the members of the new government after the declaration of independence, but were pressured into releasing them by the British. In late 1943, the French recognized Lebanon as an independent nation. The last French troops left Lebanon in 1946.

Indpendant Lebanon

Lebanon prospered during its first years of independence. Under President al-Khuri, the country followed pro-business, laissez-faire economic policies. Lebanon's economy boomed, and the real-estate and banking did especially well. Beirut became the commercial, banking, and tourist hub of the Arab world, and was often called the "Paris of the Midddle East".

All was not as it seemed, however. The boom mostly benefited Lebanon's predominantly Maronite upper class, which passed the benefit to members of the Maronite community. Members of other sects, as well as many lower class Christians, did not see any benefit. These disadvantaged members of society filled slums along the outer edges of Beirut, especially the "belt of misery"-the impovershed, mostly Shia southern suburbs of Beirut. Many joined Arab nationalist or Islamic organizations hostile to al-Khuri's government and the Maronite-dominated Lebanon. Disadvantaged Maronites were drawn into organizations such as the Kata'ib, also called the Phalange, founded by Pierre Jumayyil in 1936, which preached right-wing Maronite nationalism.

In 1948, another ingredient was added to this already toxic mix. Palestinian refugees, fleeing the wars that led to Israel's creation, settled in camps along the outside of Lebanon's major cities. Mostly Sunni Muslim, they soon became embroiled in Lebanon's sectarian politics.

In 1952, an alliance of opposition politicians bought down al-Khuri, replacing him with Camille Chamoun. Chamoun lacked a real power base, and soon managed to alienate both Christians and Muslims. Muslims in particular came to see him as too pro-Western and pro-Maronite, and opposed him with increasing bitterness. In 1958, they rebelled against his government, igniting Lebanon's first civil war. An intervention of US troops under President Eisenhower quelled it later that year. Chamoun agreed to step down, and General Fuad Shihab assumed the presidency.

A military man, Shihab used the army and intelligence to keep order, and kept down sectarian infighting for a while. However, his government did not address the root causes of Lebanon's sectarian resentments, and they continued to fester below the surface. Shihab's successors followed his policies, but sectarian problems gradually reemerged and contributed to more and more instability.

The Road to War

After Israel's defeat of the Arabs in the 1967 Six-Day War, The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and other militant Palestinian organizations gained increasing power in Lebanon, using the country as a base for anti-Israeli attacks, provoking Israel to retaliate. This pattern escalated until, in 1968, an Israeli commando operation against the Beirut international airport destroyed thirteen planes belonging to Middle East Airlines (Lebanon's national airline), in revenge for a Palestinian hijacking of an El Al (the Israeli national airline) airliner earlier that year.

These events increased the sectarian divided in Lebanon. Many Lebanese Muslims sympathized with the Palestinians, while most Christians saw them as a threat. The tension escalated, leading to clashes between the Lebanese army and Palestinian groups in 1969. The army failed to curb the Palestinians and Muslims in Tripoli rioted. In 1969, the army gave in and signed the Cairo agreement, in which it pledged not to enter Palestinian refugee camps. Lebanon's factions began to coalesce into a pro-Christian side and a pro-Muslim/Palestinian side. The Muslim parties were further along in this, formally uniting in 1969 as the National Front. Kamal Junblatt, the leader of the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, headed the new alliance.

In 1970, Sulayman Faranjiyya was elected president of Lebanon as a compromise candidate between the country's increasingly hostile factions. Shortly before this, Jordan had suppressed the Palestinian groups based in it. Faranjiyya allowed the displaced militants to take refuge in Lebanon, adding fuel to the already dire Palestinian problem. That year, Hafiz al-Assad became president of Syria and began inciting the Palestinians against the Lebanese government.

President Faranjiyya did nothing to improve the situation. He alienated the Sunni Muslim prime minister, Sa'ib Salam, as well Kamal Junblatt. In 1973, Faranjiyya attempted to dismiss Prime Minister Salam, angering the Sunnis. Faranjiyya did nothing as the economic boom of the post-independence years, that had helped to dampen sectarianism, faded. Instead, Faranjiyya's cabinet became notorious for its corruption, and the gap between Lebanon's sects grew wider and wider.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians had taken advantage of the chaos to arm themselves, and again clashed with the Lebanese army. Christian leaders, such as Pierre Jumayyil, head of the Phalange party, realized that war was near and began to build militias of their own. The National Front did the same. Lebanon was coming apart at the seams, and civil war was inevitable.[8]

The Civil War

On April 13th, 1975, four people, two of whom were members of the Phalange, were killed by Palestinians at Ayn al-Rumana church. In revenge, Phalange militants in the same suburb stopped a bus and killed the thirty Palestinian passengers. The long-feared civil war had finally begun. The two sides began a long chain of revenge massacres (including the killing of about 1,000 Muslims by the Phalange in Karantina and the massacre of about 300 Christians in Damour by Palestinian militias) continued through 1976 and forced Muslims in the eastern part of Beirut to flee to the Muslim-majority west and vice versa. The division of the capitol into Muslim West Beirut and Christian East Beirut would continue throughout the war.

Fighting soon erupted throughout the country. The Phalange, allied with the government and the army, struggled to hold off the National Front, supported by Muslim defectors from the army and the Palestinians. The National Front soon came out on top, and by the end of 1976 it appeared they would win. President Faranjiyya asked the Syrians to intervene, and, hoping to gain a foothold in Lebanon, they invaded the country in June 1976 in support of the Phalange and the government, and easily defeated most of the National Front militias. Meanwhile, in August, Tel al-Zaatar, a Palestinian refugee camp in a strategic location near Beirut, fell after a siege of several months to the Phalange and other Christian militias, who massacred about 3,000 Palestinian inhabitants, mostly civilians. In October 1976, the combatants agreed to a cease-fire under the Riyadh Accords. Lebanon was roughly split into thirds-the northern and eastern parts of the country were controlled by the Syrians, Mount Lebanon and the adjacent coast were controlled by the Maronites, and the south of the country, as well as the northern city of Tripoli, were controlled by the Palestinians along with the remains of the National Front.

Lebanon now settled into a rather uneasy peace. In 1977, the major Christian militias united into an umbrella group, the Lebanese Forces (LF), which was dominated by the Phalange. In March of that year, National Front leader Kamal Jumblatt was killed, probably by the Syrians, and his Progressive Socialist Party was taken over by his son Walid. The National Front, however, disintegrated.

Meanwhile, the Palestinians used their territory as a base to launch a series of attacks on Israel, culminating in the 1978 hijacking of two buses on the Haifa-Tel Aviv road by Fatah, a component militia of the PLO. Israel invaded Lebanon, advancing up to the Litani river. In response, the UN created the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to separate the two sides. Israel withdrew from Lebanon, but created a small militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), under former Lebanese army major Saad Haddad to guard a 12-mile wide "security zone".

Although the Syrians had saved the Phalange and other Christian militias from certain defeat in 1975, the relationship between them gradually worsened. The Phalange, a Christian, pro-Western organization, and the Muslim, pro-Arab Syrians had serious political differences that made an alliance between them difficult. In addition, the Syrians wanted, ultimately, to establish a complaint regime, under their control, in Beirut. The Phalange, a large military organization with independent leadership and a strong power base, wouldn't fill such a roll. The Syrians thus began to turn towards some former National Front groups, particularly the Shia Amal militia and the mainly Druze Progressive Socialist Party, which became their main allies in Lebanon. Syrian-Phalange hostility came to a head in 1981, Phalange leader Bashir Jumayyil attempted to take Zahle, a Christian city in central Lebanon surrounded by Syrian territory, but was stopped by the Syrians, who installed surface-to-air missiles around the city. With their alliance with the Syrians dead, the Phalange and other Lebanese Forces militias began to look to Israel for support.

After the Israeli withdrawal, the PLO again used Lebanon as a base to attack Israel. In response, Israeli attacks on Palestinian interests in Lebanon escalated. On July 17th, Israel bombed an apartment building in Beirut which housed the offices of miltias associated with the PLO, in the process killing an estimated 300 civilians and wounding another 800. On June 6, 1982, in response to continued PLO attacks, Israel invaded Lebanon, with the twin goals of destroying the PLO and establishing Bashir Jumayyil as president of an Israeli-allied regime. Ariel Sharon, defense minister of Israel, had pushed for the invasion, and it was commanded by him and Chief of Staff Rafael Eitan. Israeli forces, in spite of repeated UN condimnation, drove through Lebanon, and by June 15th had reached the outskirts of Beirut, laying siege to Palestinian positions in the city. On August 12th, Israel and the PLO agreed to a ceasefire, which provided for the withdrawal of the PLO, overseen by a multinational peacekeeping force made up largely of American and French troops.

On August 23rd, Bashir Jumayyil was elected president with Israeli support. His closeness to the Israelis made him deeply unpopular, and the Muslim factions of the Lebanese Parliament boycotted his election. Less than a month later, on September 14th, he was killed by a car bomb. The Syrians were widely suspected.

On September 16th, Israeli forces, supported by Phalange militia, attacked West Beirut. Israel allowed the Phalange to enter the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps, were they killed between 700 and 3000 (estimates vary) Palestinian civilians. Israel established the Kahan commission to investigate the incident, and it held Sharon and Eitan responsible for failing to prevent the massacre. Sharon resigned at the recommendation of the commission.The massacre caused renewed commitment from multinational forces. Shortly afterward, Bashir Jumayyil's brother Amin was elected to succeed him.

On May 17th, 1983, President Jumayyil and Israel concluded the May 17th agreement, ending the state of war between Israel and Lebanon and stating that Israel would withdraw from Lebanon if the Syrians also withdrew. The agreement had, reportedly, been made under US and Israeli pressure, and was interpreted as a surrender by much of the Arab world, including the Syrians, who refused to withdraw.

On the 4th of September, Israel withdrew from the Shouf district, a mainly-Druze area south of Beirut. Walid Junblatt's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) easily defeated the Lebanese Forces and took control of the area. Violence gradually escalated. Earlier, on April 18th, a suicide attack on the American embassy killed 63 people. On October 23rd, 299 people were killed by suicide bombings of the American (241 dead) and French (58 dead) barracks in Beirut, which held soldiers of a UN-sponsored Multinational Force with a peacekeeping mission . One of the lessons learned was that peace operations forces need much better local intelligence; there were also serious questions about putting such forces in unstable situations, but with restrictive rules of engagement for self-defense.

Early in 1984, a coalition of the PSP, the Shia militia Amal and the newly formed Hezbollah, also Shia, along with Muslim and Druze defectors from the army, gained control of West Beirut, and the multinational force was withdrawn. Further suicide attacks in 1984 caused the US government to ban Americans from traveling to Lebanon (the ban was not lifted until 1997). Following these events, in 1984, Israel withdrew from all of south Lebanon, except the security zone.

Notable in this period was the emergence of Hezbollah, a religious Shia militia inspired by the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which quickly grew into a strong military force, threatening to replace Amal as the major Shia militia. Also important was the decline of Phalange leadership of the Lebanese Forces following the death of Bashir Jummayyil-by 1985, after several power struggles, the Lebanese Forces militia became independent of the Phalange, which, without an armed force, gradually lost influence.

Starting in 1985, a coalition of pro-Syrian militias, led by Amal, launched a campaign against PLO controlled refugee camps. The War of the Camps would last until 1988, and leave thousands of Palestinians (many of them civilians) dead, and several refugee camps almost totally destroyed. The war failed in its goal of eliminating the PLO as an armed force, but it did further weaken the organization's military strength (already severely damaged by the 1982 Israeli invasion). Al-Murbaratin, the Sunni militia that was the PLO's main Lebanese ally, was completely destroyed, and its leaders were sent into exile.

In September 1988, President Jumayyil's term expired. He appointed Michel Aoun, the Maronite commander of the Lebanese military, as Prime minister, violating the National Pact (which required the Prime Minister to be a Sunni Muslim). Muslim and Palestinian factions instead supported Salim al-Hoss as legitimate Prime Minister. Lebanon now had two competing governments.

In 1989, Lebanese politicians, representing all of the factions except Aoun and his allies, met in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia. The Ta`if agreement, ratified on November 4th, reapportioned seats in the Lebanese parliament, increased the powers of the Sunni prime minister relative to the Maronite president, and provided for a large Syrian presence in Lebanon. Aoun denounced it as a treasonous surrender to Syria.

On March 14th, 1989, General Aoun declared a "War of Liberation" against the Syrians and Lebanese militias allied with them, and launched attacks against Muslim positions around East Beirut. Neither he nor his enemies were able to make significant gains, and the war quickly turned into a stalemate. Tension between Aoun and his allies in the Lebanese Forces grew, erupting into fighting on Janurary 31, 1990. The Army-Militia war, as it was called, led to large-scale destruction of East Beirut, but lapsed into stalemate, with neither side able to gain much progress. In late 1990, the Lebanese Forces accepted the Ta'if agreement and handed its territory to the Syrian army and its allied militias. Aoun's forces, fatally weakened by this turn of events, were quickly overrun. The Presidential Palace, the last Aoun stronghold, fell on October 13th. After 15 years, the civil war in Lebanon was finally over.[9]

The Syrian Era

With the end of the civil war, Lebanon was now under the control of pro-Syrian politicians, who essentially allowed the country to function as a Syrian colony. The first elections after the war were boycotted by more than 70% of the electorate, and produced a Parliament that was generally subserviant to Damascus. Much of the country remained occupied by Syrian troops.

After the war ended, most militias were disbanded by the Syrians and Lebanese army. The one exception, Hezbollah, was allowed to keep its weapons, supposedly to defend against Israel. Despite its defection that had helped to end the war in Syria's favor, the Lebanese Forces militia was disarmed, and its leader, Samir Geagea, was sentenced to life imprisonment (he was released after the withdrawal of Syrian forces in 2005).

After 1992, the new Prime Minister, Rafiq Hairi, began a program to reconstruct Lebanon. Hairi's reconstruction program achieved some success, but much of the new development was unregulated and uneven, and the effort, along with the rest of the government during this period, was marred by corruption. [10]

Israel occupied parts of southern Lebanon until May 2000, when it withdrew, apparently expecting the South Lebanon Army to be able to hold the area. The SLA, however, collapsed within days and its territory was taken over by Hezbollah. Israel continued to occupy Sheeba Farms, an area of the Golan Heights claimed by Lebanon.

Lebanon since 2005

On February 14, 2005, Rafiq Hariri, who had earlier resigned as Prime Minister after being opposed by the Syrians, was killed by a car bomb. Syria was widely blamed, and a series of protests, known in the West as the "Cedar Revolution", resulted in the withdrawal of Syrian troops. New elections produced an anti-Syrian parliament, and Fouad Siniora became Prime Minister

On July 12th, 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in a raid across the border. In an attempt to destroy Hezbollah, Israel invaded Lebanon with ground troops and bombed the country. South Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut, regarded as a Hezbollah stronghold, were particularly hard hit. The war ended after 33 days with both Hezbollah and Israel claiming victory. The UNIFIL force in south Lebanon was expanded to 15,000 soldiers and given a broader mandate to keep the peace.

Violence, however, continued to afflict Lebanon. In May 2007, Fatah al-Islam, a newly formed militant group, took over the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp and conducted several terrorist attacks throughout the country. The Lebanese army laid siege to the camp, finally taking it in August. The leadership of Fatah al-Islam escaped, though its head, Shaker al-Abssi, was allegedly killed in September.

On November 23, 2007, pro-Syrian president Emile Lahood's term expired. The Lebanese parliament, narrowly split between a pro-Syrian block headed by Hezbollah and Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement, and an anti-Syrian block headed by a coalition of parties loyal to Prime Minister Siniora, failed to reach the 2/3 majority needed to elect a successor. The two sides eventually agreed on Michel Sulaiman, head of the military, as a compromise candidate, but disagreements over the makeup of the cabinet prevented him from being elected.

Widespread clashes between Hezbollah and its allies and pro-government factions started in Beirut on May 8th, 2008, after the government attempted to shut down Hezbollah's private communications network and removed Beirut airport's security chief, who was accused of helping Hezbollah plant a remote camera on the runway. Hezbollah was able to take over large areas of western Beirut inhabited by pro-government Sunnis, though it later agreed to turn the area over to the Lebanese military, which is seen as neutral in Lebanese politics. Several more days of clashes, especially in Tripoli, the Shouf, and Beirut, followed. The army annulled the shut-down of the communications network and reinstated the airport security chief, and the fighting died down. The government and the Hezbollah-led opposition attended talks in Qatar, which produced an agreement calling for the formation of a national unity government in which the opposition will have veto power. In return, Hezbollah agreed not to use its weapons against other Lebanese parties. On May 24th, 2008, the parliament elected Michel Suliaman president according to the terms of the agreement.

On June 7th, 2009, Lebanon held its second parliamentary election since the events of the Cedar Revolution, and the first since the passage of a new electoral law. The governing Rafik Harir Martyr List, an alliance of pro-western parties, won the majority of seats and put forward Sa'ad Hariri, son of assassinated prime minister Rafik Hariri, as its prime minister designate. Most of the other seats went to the Free Patriotic Movement and a Hezbollah-led political bloc. An extended period of coalition talks resulted in the formation of a "government of national unity", composed of all the major parliamentary parties (including Hezbollah). On November 9th, 2009, the government officially inauguarated Sa'ad Hariri as Prime Minister.

Politics

Lebanon is a semi-presidential republic. It has a unicameral parliament with 128 members. The President is elected by parliament for a six year term and chooses a Prime Minister, who is confirmed by parliament and must maintain the support of a parliamentary majority.

Political power in Lebanon is shared among the country's many religious groups in a system known as confessionalism, which was established by the National Pact in 1943. Specifically, the President is always a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister is always a Sunni, and the Speaker of Parlament is always a Shia. Additionally, all of the religions are guaranteed a fixed number of seats in the Lebanese parliament. The religious quotas were heavily modified by the Ta'if agreement.

Lebanese politics were dominated by Syria until recently, and are historically very unstable. Most recently, the country suffered a series of armed clashes between political factions in May of this year, which left around 60 dead and almost led to another full-scale civil war.

Culture

Lebanon's culture is a mixture of Arab and Western influences, and is heavily influenced by the multiplicity of religious groups. Lebanese Christians (especially Maronites) tend to feel separated from the Islamic culture around them, and look more toward Europe. The Maronites and the French in particular have historically had a special relationship, due to their shared Catholicism. France has supported Maronite interests against other communities, and Maronites have shown an attachment to French culture-it is not uncommon for Maronite parents to give their children French names rather than Arabic ones and send their children to French speaking schools and universities.

By contrast to Christians, most Muslims identify much more with the wider Arab and Islamic world, and their culture is much more similar to the culture of other Arab countries. It is very rare for a Muslim Lebanese to, for example, give his or her child a French name.

Demography

Lebanon's population is made of many different religious groups, and, due to power sharing between these groups, is a highly politicized issue. The last census, taken in 1932, showed a population of 782,415 people, made up of 29% Maronites, 22% other Christians, 21% Sunnis, 17% Shias, and 7% Druze. No census has been taken since then because of the political implications. Studies of Lebanon's modern population show a rise in the proportion of Muslims, to about 60% of the population, with Shias being the biggest single sect at about 35% of the total. Lebanon's total population is probably close to 4 million.

Except for small Armenian and Kurdish minorities, Lebanon's population is almost entirely Arabic speaking.[11]

Economy

Lebanon's economy is mostly based around services. Finance (especially banking) and tourism are its two biggest contributers. Agriculture, especially in the Bekaa valley, is somewhat important. Unlike many other Middle Eastern states, Lebanon has no oil or other major natural resources and mostly light industry.

Lebanon's economy has been hugely damaged by the Civil War, the Israel-Hezbollah war, and the general political instability.

Footnotes

  1. Harris p 11
  2. Al-Imand 265
  3. Al-Imand 265
  4. Al-Imand 265
  5. Harris 19-33
  6. Harris 32-39
  7. Harris 103-109
  8. Harris 151-160
  9. Harris 160-278.
  10. Harris 279-300
  11. Harris pp 59-80

References

  • Harris, W. (1997). Faces of Lebanon. Princeton, NJ: Markus Wiener Publications.
  • Al-Imand, L & Barbir, K. (1992). Lebanon. In K. A. Ranson (ED.) American Academic Encyclodpedia (Vol. 12 pp. 265-267). Danbury, CT: Grolier Inc.