Much of the terrain is mountainous; the Lebanon Mts., which run parallel to the coast, reach their highest point at Qurnet as-Sawda (10,131 ft/3,088 m); on the eastern border is the Anti-Lebanon range. Between the two mountain ranges lies the fertile valley of Al Biqa (avg. elev. 3,280 ft/1,000 m). The Orontes in the north and the Litani in the south are the main rivers. In addition to Beirut there are three ports, Tripoli in the north and Sidon (Saida) and Tyre (Sur) in the south.
About 95% of Lebanese are Arabs; Armenians are the principal minority. About 60% of the population is Muslim and about 40% is Christian, and each is divided into a number of subgroups, including Shiite and Sunni Muslims, Druze, and Maronites. Arabic is the official language; French, English, and Armenian are also spoken.
Until the economy was almost completely destroyed by the civil strife that rent the country from 1975 to 1990, Lebanon was long the distribution center for the Middle East, and commerce was its major industry. Beirut, a free port, was the region's financial and commercial hub. Throughout the 1980s the commercial and industrial life of Lebanon was in severe disarray, but by the 1990s the economy had at least partially revived, although the Israel invasion and air attacks of 2006 were a severe setback. Banking, insurance, food processing, and the manufacture of textiles, chemicals, jewelry, and wood and furniture products are now important. Oil refining and metal fabricating are also important industries. Other significant sources of income have been a revived tourism industry, remittances from Lebanese working abroad, and international aid. The illicit narcotics trade (opium, hashish, heroin) also has a considerable impact on the economy.
Farm products contribute only a small portion of the GDP. The main crops are citrus fruits, vegetables, olives, tobacco, and grapes. Sheep and goats are raised. Lebanon has few minerals. Not many of the famed cedars remain, although oak and pine are exploited.
The annual cost of Lebanon's imports is much greater than its earnings from exports. The country exports jewelry, chemicals, consumer goods, fruit, tobacco, construction materials, electric equipment, textile fibers, and paper, largely to other Arab countries. Imports include petroleum products, cars, medicine, clothing, meat and live animals, consumer goods, paper, textile fabrics, and tobacco. The main trading partners are Syria, the United Arab Emirates, Italy, and Saudi Arabia.
Lebanon's ethnic and religions diversity has had an enormous impact on its governmental system. Traditionally the president of the country is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shiite Muslim. The country is governed under the constitution of 1926 as amended. Under the constitution, the president, who is the head of state and wields real power, is elected by the legislature for a six-year term and cannot serve consecutive terms. The government is headed by the prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The unicameral legislature consists of the 128-seat National Assembly, whose members are elected by popular vote on the basis of sectarian proportional representation for four-year terms. There are independent secular courts based on the French system and religious courts for such issues as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. The Ta'if accord of 1989, which aimed at national reconciliation, gave Muslims a share in governmental power equal to that of Christians, and calls for all main religious groups to be represented in the cabinet. Administratively, Lebanon is divided into eight governorates.
In ancient times the area of Lebanon and Syria was occupied by the Canaanites, who founded the great Phoenician cities and later established a commercial maritime empire (see Phoenicia). Lebanon's cities as well as its forests and iron and copper mines (since exhausted) attracted the successive dominant powers in the Middle East. The Phoenician cities occupied a favored position in the Persian Empire and were conquered by Alexander the Great. The region came under Roman dominion starting in 64 B.C. (there are notable Roman ruins at Baalbek) and was Christianized before the Arab conquest in the 7th cent. By then the Maronites had established themselves—a cardinal fact in the history of Lebanon, which long remained predominantly Christian while Syria became Muslim. Later (11th cent.) the Druze settled in S Lebanon and in adjacent regions of Syria, and trouble between them and the Christians was to become a constant theme in regional history.
The Crusaders (see Crusades) were active in Lebanon (late 11th cent.) and were aided by the Lebanese Christians. After the Crusaders, Lebanon was loosely ruled by the Mamluks (c.1300). Invasions by Mongols and others contributed to the decline of trade until the reunification of the Middle East under the Ottoman Turks (early 16th cent.). Under Ottoman control, Lebanon had considerable autonomy, and powerful families ruled the country.
Many Western religious missions and businesses were established in the area in the 19th cent. Conflict among the religious communities, culminating in massacres of the Maronites by the Druze in 1860, led to intervention by France (1861), and the Ottoman sultan was forced to appoint a Christian governor for Lebanon. The French were given the mandate of Syria after World War I by the League of Nations; Lebanon was a part of that mandate.
The French, being Catholic, separated Lebanon (home of most of the Maronite Catholics) from Syria, thus creating a new state. There was much discontent and, among the Muslims, a desire for independence within a wider Arab state. In 1926 the mandate was given a republican constitution. A treaty with France in 1936 provided for independence after a three-year transition period, but it was not ratified by France. In World War II the French Vichy government controlled Lebanon until a British-Free French force conquered (June-July, 1941) the Lebanese coast. The Free French proclaimed Lebanon an independent republic. Elections were held in 1943, and, after considerable controversy, Lebanon became independent on Jan. 1, 1944.New Nation, New Leadership
In 1945, Lebanon became a member of the United Nations, and all British and French troops were evacuated by the end of 1946. As a member of the Arab League, Lebanon declared war on Israel in 1948 but took little part in the conflict. In 1952, after the election of Camille Chamoun as president, Lebanon formed closer ties with the West. In the spring of 1958, opposition to Chamoun's pro-Western policies and his acceptance of U.S. aid under the Eisenhower Doctrine erupted in rioting in Tripoli, Beirut, and elsewhere. The rioting grew into full-scale rebellion, and Chamoun called in U.S. forces (July, 1958). Gen. Fouad Chehab, a nonpolitical personality who had kept the army out of the civil strife, was elected to succeed Chamoun, and the rebellion ebbed. By autumn U.S. forces had left the country.
Lebanon subsequently steered a course closer to that of the other Arab nations. The secession of Syria (1961) from the United Arab Republic revived once again the rift between pro-Western and pan-Arab elements in Lebanon. In 1962 a military coup was attempted in Beirut but was crushed. Chehab was succeeded in 1964 by Charles Hélou; Suleiman Franjieh was elected president in 1970.Lebanon, Israel, and the Palestinians
During the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Lebanon gave verbal support to the Arab effort against Israel but did not become involved in any military action. After that, however, Lebanon's position became increasingly difficult because of the activities against Israel of Palestinian terrorists based in Lebanon. Israel repeatedly accused Lebanon of not doing enough to control the terrorists, and in 1968 Israeli forces began a series of reprisals against Palestinian strongholds in Lebanon. In 1969 fighting broke out between the Lebanese army and the Palestinian commandos after the government had threatened to limit the latter's activity.
After the bloody suppression in 1970-71 of the guerrillas in Jordan, large numbers of Palestinians fled into S Lebanon and Beirut. Again in 1972 heavy fighting took place between the Lebanese army and the Palestinians. Anti-Israeli terrorist attacks continued into the 1970s, and Israel continued its attacks on Palestinian guerrilla bases in S Lebanon. Lebanon did not enter the Oct., 1973, Arab-Israeli War, nor did the Lebanese army interfere with Palestinian guerrillas operating in S Lebanon.Civil War
Lebanon became embroiled in civil war among the Christians, Muslims, and Palestinians from early 1975 to late 1976. At the request of Lebanon's president, Syrian forces entered Lebanon (Apr., 1976), halting Muslim and Palestinian advances. An estimated 50,000 Lebanese were killed and twice that number wounded. The country became devastated, the economy crippled, and tourism plummeted to a standstill. A cease-fire in Oct., 1976, proved unstable, and hostilities resumed full scale in 1977. In response to guerrilla attacks by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Israel occupied S Lebanon in Mar., 1978, but withdrew in June. This came with the installation of a UN peacekeeping force of 6,000, which was unable to effectively maintain control of Lebanese militia activity.
In 1981 fighting continued between Christian and Syrian forces, and Beirut was subjected to Israeli air raids in reprisal for PLO attacks. In June, 1982, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon, primarily to eliminate Palestinian guerrilla bases. Nearly 7,000 Palestinians were forced to leave Lebanon, which was accomplished under the supervision of a Multinational Force (MNF) comprised of U.S. and European-allied troops, who left immediately afterward. On Aug. 23, Bashir Gemayel (see under Gemayel, family) was elected president of Lebanon, but he was killed three weeks later by a bomb. In the wake of his death, Christian Phalangist forces entered the Palestinian refugee camps in Israeli-controlled areas and massacred some 1,000 civilians, provoking an international outcry.
Bashir Gemayel's brother, Amin, was elected president a few days later on Sept. 20. Another multinational force, of U.S. Marines and British, French, and Italian soldiers, returned to Lebanon to monitor the Lebanese militias. A U.S.-aided peace treaty, concluded with Amin Gemayel and Israel in May, 1983, called for the removal of foreign troops. Syria rejected the peace agreement, refusing to evacuate its holdings. As Israeli troops slowly left the Beirut and southern area, Lebanese militias fought among themselves in the wake of the Israeli withdrawal. In Apr., 1983, a terrorist bombing partially destroyed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 50 people. On Oct. 23, 260 U.S. Marines and 60 French soldiers were killed by a truck bomb.
The multinational force left Lebanon in 1984. Israel completed its withdrawal in mid-1985 but left soldiers to work in conjunction with the Christian South Lebanese Army (SLA) to maintain a security ("buffer") zone. Palestinian action gradually resumed as PLO members and units returned to S Lebanon. Beirut remained a major battle area, and in Feb., 1987, Syrian troops moved into the city to suppress the warring factions. By this time, Iranian-supported Lebanese Shiite groups had become notorious for their holding of Western hostages. When Gemayel's term ended in 1988, it proved impossible to hold national elections and find a successor. A transitional military government was led by Gen. Michel Aoun, whose aim of ousting Syrian forces from Lebanon sparked new rounds of battles and bloodshed.
A tentative peace accord was reached between Christian and Muslim representatives, but Aoun complained that the peace accord failed to pressure the Syrians to withdraw. On Nov. 22, 1989, the newly elected Syrian-backed president, René Moawad, was assassinated; he was succeeded by Elias Hrawi. Revolts by Aoun in late 1989 and 1990 were put down with the help of Syrian forces, and Aoun was ousted from the country. In Nov., 1990, major rival Shiite Muslim groups signed an agreement to end their fighting.Post-Civil War Lebanon
In early 1991, Lebanese troops organized to regain control of the south from PLO guerrillas and Israelis who controlled a 6-mi (10-km) deep security zone. There were repeated and largely successful attempts to disband rival militias. A treaty (1991) of friendship and cooperation with Syria, which continued to have significant forces in Lebanon, essentially guaranteed Syrian domination of Lebanon's foreign relations. Meanwhile, beginning in the same year, Lebanon participated in peace talks with Israel, Syria, and a joint Palestinian-Jordanian delegation. International pressures on Lebanon eased with the release of the last U.S. and Western hostages in 1992.
By the mid-1990s, neither the Israeli nor the Syrian forces had quit the country, and clashes between Palestinian units and Israeli troops, as well as among the existing Lebanese militias, continued. Intense fighting erupted between Shiite Hezbollah (Party of God) guerrillas and Israel in S Lebanon in early 1996, as the guerrillas fired rockets into Israel and Israel retaliated with shelling and bombing. A tentative cease-fire was reached in late April; the episode generated a heavy flow of refugees from areas of S Lebanon. The many years of heavy fighting in Lebanon crippled the nation's infrastructure and economy, and devastated tourism, but a major rebuilding effort was undertaken in the 1990s.
In 1995, President Hrawi's term in office was extended by three years by a constitutional amendment. Gen. Emile Lahoud was elected president in 1998. Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah guerrillas erupted again in June, 1999, following an announcement by Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Barak, that he would withdraw Israeli troops stationed in S Lebanon within a year. In May, 2000, Israeli troops engaged in a gradual withdrawal from S Lebanon, turning over its position to its Lebanese Christian ally, the South Lebanon Army (SLA), but the SLA collapsed, leading Israel to accelerate its withdrawal, which was completed by late May.
The 2000 parliamentary elections brought the opposition back into power, and Rafik Hariri became prime minister; he had previously held the office from 1992 to 1998. President Lahoud's term was extended for three years by constitutional amendment in 2004 at the behest of Syria, which still had some 18,000 troops in Lebanon. The blatant meddling in Lebanese affairs caused a governmental crisis in Lebanon, eventually resulting in the resignation of Hariri's government and the appointment of Omar Karami as prime minister; Karami had served as prime minister from 1990 to 1992. The UN Security Council denounced foreign interference in Lebanese politics and demanded that all foreign forces leave Lebanon. Some Syrian forces were withdrawn or redeployed in the following months.
In Feb., 2005, Hariri was assassinated in a Beirut car bombing, provoking a rash of anti-Syrian demonstrations and leading to increased international pressure on Syria to withdraw, although Hezbollah rallied its supporters in defense of Syria. Syria subsequently agreed to withdraw all its troops, and did so by the end of April. The crisis also led Karami's government to resign (February), but the president subsequently asked Karami to form a new government, which he proved unable to do. In April, however, Najib Mikati, a pro-Syrian politician who was also responsive to some opposition demands, became prime minister and formed a new government.
Parliamentary elections in May-June resulted in a majority for the anti-Syrian coalition; Fouad Siniora, a former finance minister and an ally of Hariri, became prime minister. The new government moved, albeit cautiously, to reduce Syrian influence in the Lebanese security forces, and arrested several high-ranking security officials associated with the president as suspects in the assassination of Hariri. A UN investigation into the killing meanwhile implicated senior Lebanese and Syrian officials. By the end of 2005, however, a cabinet vote in favor of an international trial of the suspects in Hariri's murder provoked a split in the government, with Shiite ministers refusing to attend cabinet sessions; the boycott lasted until Feb., 2006.
The disarming of the Shiite Hezbollah militia, as demanded by the United Nations, slowed the resolution of the boycott, and the prime minister ultimately acknowledged the group as a "national resistance movement," but many in the government continued to support disarming Hezbollah. In July, 2006, Hezbollah forces captured two Israeli soldiers in fighting along the Israeli border, leading Israel to launch air attacks against targets in Beirut, Sidon, Tyre, and many other locales, place a blockade on Lebanon, and send troops into S Lebanon. Hezbollah respond largely by mounting rocket attacks against N Israel, including Haifa and Tiberias, but the its forces also offered resistance to Israeli troops, slowing their advance.
A UN-mediated cease-fire took effect in mid-August, and by the beginning of October Israel had essentially withdrawn from Lebanon and ended its blockade. As much as a fifth of the Lebanese population was displaced by the conflict, and Israeli attacks destroyed much of the country's infrastructure, a setback for the rebuilding that had occurred since the end of the civil war. Tourism and agriculture were among the sectors of the Lebanese economy most severely hurt by the fighting. Amnesty International accused both sides of war crimes in the fighting, mainly because of their attacks on civilians.
The Israeli pullout left Hezbollah in position to proclaim its resistance and survival a victory, and emboldened it to insist on a re-formation of the Lebanese government that would give it and its allies a much stronger political position. Hezbollah also continued to resist disarming, as called for by the UN Security Council, and neither were the captured Israeli soldiers released. At the same time, however, the Lebanese army was deployed, albeit not forcefully, throughout S Lebanon for the first time since the civil war; UN peacekeepers were also deployed there. Israel, for its part, continued its military overflights of Lebanon, also despite the UN Security Council.
The political stalemate over the role of Hezbollah and its allies in the government led it and Amal, the other Shiite party in the cabinet, to leave the government, giving the government an interim standing under the Ta'if accord (because Shiites were no longer represented in the cabinet). The move also stalled the government's approval of an international tribunal to prosecute Hariri's suspected killers. Hezbollah subsequently mounted demonstrations and strikes calling for the government's resignation, and their clashes between government and antigovernment partisans at times.
The situation continued unsettled and unresolved into 2007, despite talks in March. Assassinations of members of parliament, mainly those opposed to Syria, also continued, and in Dec., 2007, an army general was killed. In May-Sept., 2007, there was fierce fighting in a refugee camp near Tripoli between the Lebanese army and Palestinian guerrillas aligned with Syria; a bank robbery by the group provoked the clash. More than 200 people died in the fighting before the government took control of the camp. Also in May the United Nations approved an international tribunal to try suspects in the Hariri assassinations; the tribunal first convened in Mar., 2009.
The political stalemate delayed the election of a successor to President Lahoud, who left office in Nov., 2007. Although the parties agreed on army chief Michel Suleiman as a presidential candidate by early 2008, disputes over the makeup of the government postponed his election by parliament until May, 2008. The May agreement that led to a new president and cabinet was negotiated in Doha, Qatar, and was finalized only after the government's attempt to ban Hezbollah's private telephone network led Hezbollah to attack its Lebanese opponents in Beirut and elsewhere. After a week of bloody fighting, the government rescinded its ban.
A new government, with Siniora as prime minister, was finally established in July, 2008; Hezbollah and its allies received enough cabinet seats to give them veto power over government decisions. In September, an agreement was signed to end sectarian fighting in Tripoli, which had sporadically continued there between Sunnis and Alawites since May. The following month, Syria formally established diplomatic relations with Lebanon for the first time; Syria's previous failure to do so had been seen as a rejection of Lebanese independence. Parliamentarly elections held in June, 2009, resulted in a victory for the pro-Western Sunni, Druze, and Maronite coalition, led by Hariri's son, Saad. Attempts to form a coalition government proved difficult. In September Saad Hariri stepped down as prime minister designate, but he was renamed to the post, and a national unity government that included Hezbollah and its allies was formed in November.
See P. Hitti, Lebanon in History (3d ed. 1967); M. Suleiman, Political Parties in Lebanon (1967); S. H. Longrigg, Syria and Lebanon under French Mandate (1958, repr. 1972); E. P. Haley and L. W. Snider, ed., Lebanon in Crisis (1979); J. C. Randal, Going All the Way: Christian Warlords, Israeli Adventurers, & the War in Lebanon (1983); W. Goria, Sovereignty & Leadership in Lebanon (1985); Y. Evron, War and Intervention in Lebanon (1987); T. Petran, The Struggle Over Lebanon (1987); R. Fisk, Pity the Nation (1990).
Learn more about Lebanon with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان Lubnān), officially the Republic of Lebanon or Lebanese Republic (الجمهورية اللبنانية), is country in Western Asia, on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south. It is close to Cyprus through the Mediterranean Sea. Due to its sectarian diversity, Lebanon evolved in 1943 a unique political system, known as confessionalism, based on a community-based power-sharing mechanism. It was created when the ruling French mandatory powers expanded the borders of the former autonomous Ottoman Mount Lebanon district that was mostly populated by Maronite Christians and Druze.
Lebanon is the historic home of the Phoenicians, a maritime culture which flourished for more than 2,000 years (2700-450 B.C.). Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the five provinces that comprise present-day Lebanon were mandated to France. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946.
Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), the country enjoyed a period of relative calm and prosperity, driven by the tourism, agriculture, and banking sectors of the economy. It is considered the banking capital of the Levant and was widely known as the "Switzerland of the East" due to its financial power and diversity. Lebanon also attracted large numbers of tourists to the point that the capital Beirut became widely referred to as the "Paris of the East." Immediately following the end of the war, there were extensive efforts to revive the economy and rebuild national infrastructure. Before July 2006, a considerable degree of stability had been achieved throughout much of the country, Beirut's reconstruction was almost complete, and an increasing number of foreign tourists were pouring into Lebanon's resorts. This was until the one month long 2006 Lebanon War with Israel which caused significant civilian loss of life and serious damage to Lebanon's civil infrastructure. The conflict lasted from 12 July 2006 until a cessation of hostilities call, by the UN Security Council, went into effect on 14 August 2006.
The name Lebanon ("Lubnān" in standard Arabic; "Libnén" in the local dialect) comes from the Canaanite (and common West Semitic) root "LBN", meaning "white", which could be regarded as a reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon. Occurrences of the name have been found in three of the twelve tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh (2900 BC), the texts of the library of Ebla (2400 BC), and 71 times in the Old Testament. The name is recorded in Ancient Egyptian as Rmnn, where r stood for Canaanite l.
Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians, a seafaring people that spread across the Mediterranean before the rise of Cyrus the Great. After two centuries of Persian rule, Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great attacked and burned Tyre, the most prominent Phoenician city. Throughout the subsequent centuries leading up to recent times, the country became part of numerous succeeding empires, among them Persian, Armenian, Assyrian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, and Ottoman.
After the fighting ended in Lebanon, General Charles de Gaulle visited the area. Under various political pressures from both inside and outside Lebanon, de Gaulle decided to recognize the independence of Lebanon. On 26 November 1941 General Georges Catroux announced that Lebanon would become independent under the authority of the Free French government. Elections were held in 1943 and on 8 November 1943 the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the mandate. The French reacted by throwing the new government into prison. In the face of international pressure, the French released the government officials on 22 November 1943 and accepted the independence of Lebanon.
The allies kept the region under control until the end of World War II. The last French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon's unwritten National Pact of 1943 required that its president be Christian and its prime minister be Muslim.
Lebanon's history since independence has been marked by alternating periods of political stability and turmoil (including a civil conflict in 1958) interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade.
Five years after gaining independence, Lebanon joined the Arab League, although Lebanon is considered as Arab by culture and not by race according to findings by the Genographic Project of the National Geographic Society, to defend Palestine shortly after the declaration of independence of Israel. during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It took over logistical support of the Arab Liberation Army after it found itself cut off from its bases in Syria while going on an attack on the newly-proclaimed Jewish State. The Lebanese army gained nothing during the war, and the Israeli army managed to conquer territory west of the Naphtali Mountains. After the defeat of the Arab Liberation Army in Operation Hiram, Lebanon accepted an armistice with Israel on 23 March 1949 and the conquered territory was returned. During the war, about 100,000 Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon.
In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War lasted fifteen years, devastating the country's economy, and resulting in the massive loss of human life and property. It is estimated that 150,000 people were killed and another 200,000 maimed. The war ended in 1990 with the signing of the Taif Agreement and parts of Lebanon were left in ruins.
During the civil war, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) used Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel. Lebanon was twice invaded and occupied by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1978 and 1982, with the PLO expelled in the second invasion. Israel remained in control of Southern Lebanon until 2000, when there was a general decision, led by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to withdraw due to continuous guerrilla attacks executed by Hezbollah militants and a belief that Hezbollah activity would diminish and dissolve without the Israeli presence. The UN determined that the withdrawal of Israeli troops beyond the blue line was in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, although a border region called the Shebaa Farms is still disputed. Hezbollah declared that it would not stop its operations against Israel until this area was liberated.
This incident triggered a series of demonstrations, known as Cedar Revolution, that demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the establishment of an international commission to investigate the assassination. The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1595 on 7 April 2005, which called for an investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The findings of the investigation were officially published on 20 October 2005 in the Mehlis report. Eventually, and under pressure from the West, Syria began withdrawing its 15,000-strong army troops from Lebanon. By 26 April 2005, all uniformed Syrian soldiers had already crossed the border back to Syria. The Hariri assassination marked the beginning of a series of assassination attempts that led to the loss of many prominent Lebanese figures.
Economic progress was halted on 12 July 2006, when the conflict, known in Lebanon as the July War began. Hezbollah captured two Israeli soldiers (Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev) during a diversionary rocket attack. In response to the detentions of the two men the IDF attacked Lebanon with intense airstrikes and artillery fire alongside ground incursions by Israeli forces. The month long conflict caused significant civilian loss of life and serious damage to Lebanon's civil infrastructure (including Beirut's airport). The conflict lasted from 12 July 2006 until 14 August when the United Nations Security Council issued resolution 1701 ordering Israeli to cease hostilities. the country's economy is still struggling to recover.
In October 2007, Émile Lahoud finished his second term as president. The opposition conditioned its vote for a successor on a power-sharing deal, thus leaving the country without a president for over 6 months.
On 9 May 2008, Hezbollah and Amal militants, in an armed attack triggered by a government decision on Hezbollah's communications network, temporarily took over Western Beirut. The situation was described by the government as an attempted coup and led many to fear the country was on the brink of civil war.
On 21 May 2008, all major Lebanese parties signed an accord to elect Michel Suleiman as President, to form a national unity government with 11 out of 30 seats for the opposition, thus enabling it to veto decisions, and to adopt a new electoral law, based on the 1960 law with amendments for the three Beirut constituencies. The deal was brokered by an Arab League delegation, headed by the Emir and Foreign Minister of Qatar and the Secretary General of the Arab League, after five days of intense negotiations in Doha. Suleiman was officially elected president on 25 May 2008.
Lebanon is a parliamentary democratic republic, which implements a special system known as confessionalism. This system is intended to ensure that sectarian conflict is kept at bay and attempts to fairly represent the demographic distribution of the 18 recognized religious groups in the governing body. As such, high-ranking offices are reserved for members of specific religious groups. The President, for example, has to be a Maronite Catholic Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shi’a Muslim.
Lebanon's national legislature is the unicameral Parliament of Lebanon. Its 128 seats are divided equally between Muslims and Christians, proportionately between the different denominations and proportionately between regions. Prior to 1990, the ratio stood at 6:5 in favor of Christians; however, the Taif Accord, which put an end to the 1975-1990 civil war, adjusted the ratio to grant equal representation to followers of the two religions. The Parliament is elected for a four-year term by universal suffrage although the civil war precluded the exercise of this right.
The executive branch constitute of the President, the head of state, and the Prime Minister, the head of government. The parliament elects the president for a non-renewable six-year term by a two-third majority. The president appoints the Prime Minister. Following consultations with the parliament and the President, the Prime Minister forms the Cabinet, which must also adhere to the sectarian distribution set out by confessionalism.
Lebanon's judicial system is a mixture of Ottoman law, Napoleonic code, canon law and civil law. The Lebanese court system consists of three levels: courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the court of cassation. The Constitutional Council rules on constitutionality of laws and electoral frauds. There also is a system of religious courts having jurisdiction over personal status matters within their own communities, with rules on matters such as marriage and inheritance.
|'''Beirut Governorate The Beirut Governorate is not divided into districts and is limited to the city of Beirut.||Nabatiyeh Governorate (Jabal Amel) - 4 districts|
|Beqaa Governorate - 5 districts||North Governorate (al-Shamal) - 7 districts|
|Mount Lebanon Governorate (Jabal Lubnan) - 6 districts||South Governorate (al-Janoub) - 3 districts|
Lebanon is located in Western Asia. It is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west along a coastline, by Syria to the east and north, and by Israel to the south. The Lebanon-Syria border stretches for and the Lebanon-Israel border for . The border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Syria is disputed by Lebanon in a small area called Shebaa Farms, but the border has been demarcated by the United Nations.
Most of Lebanon's area is mountainous terrain, except for the narrow coastline and the Beqaa Valley, which plays an integral role in Lebanon's agriculture.
Lebanon has a moderate Mediterranean climate. In coastal areas, winters are generally cool and rainy whilst summers are hot and humid. In more elevated areas, temperatures usually drop below freezing during the winter with frequent, sometimes heavy snow; summers are warm and dry. Although most of Lebanon receives a relatively large amount of rainfall annually (compared to its arid surroundings), certain areas in north-eastern Lebanon receive little due to the high peaks of the western mountain front blocking much of the rain clouds that originate over the Mediterranean Sea.
In ancient times, Lebanon housed large forests of the Cedars of Lebanon, which now serve as the country's national emblem. However, centuries of trading cedar trees, used by mariners for boats, and the absence of any efforts to replant them have depleted the country's once-flourishing cedar forests.
Although Lebanon is ideally suited for agricultural activities in terms of water availability and soil fertility, as it possesses the highest proportion of cultivable land in the Arabic speaking world, it does not have a large agricultural sector. Attracting a mere 12% of the total workforce, agriculture is the least popular economic sector in Lebanon. It contributes approximately 11.7% of the country's GDP, also placing it in the lowest rank compared to other economic sectors. Major produce includes apples, peaches, oranges, and lemons.
Lebanon's lack of raw materials for industry and its complete dependency on Arab countries for oil have made it difficult for the Lebanese to engage in significant industrial activity. As such, industry in Lebanon is mainly limited to small businesses concerned with reassembling and packaging imported parts. In 2004, industry ranked second in workforce, with 26% of the Lebanese working population, and second in GDP contribution, with 21% of Lebanon's GDP.
A combination of beautiful climate, many historic landmarks and World Heritage Sites continues to attract large numbers of tourists to Lebanon annually, in spite of its political instability. In addition, Lebanon's strict financial secrecy and capitalist economy—unique in its area—have given it significant economic status among Arab countries. The thriving tourism and banking activities have naturally made the services sector the most important pillar of the Lebanese economy. The majority of the Lebanese workforce (nearly 65%) take employment in the services sector as a result of abundant job opportunities and large paychecks. The GDP contribution, accordingly, is very large and amounts to roughly 67.3% of the annual Lebanese GDP.
The economy's dependence on services has always been an issue of great criticism and concern, as it leaves the country subject to the instability of this sector and the vagaries of international trade.
The 1975-1990 civil war seriously damaged Lebanon's economic infrastructure, cut national output by half, and all but ended Lebanon's position as a West Asian entrepôt and banking hub. The subsequent period of relative peace enabled the central government to restore control in Beirut, begin collecting taxes, and regain access to key port and government facilities. Economic recovery has been helped by a financially sound banking system and resilient small- and medium-scale manufacturers, with family remittances, banking services, manufactured and farm exports, and international aid as the main sources of foreign exchange.
Until the 2006 Lebanon War, Lebanon's economy witnessed excellent growth, with bank assets reaching over 75 billion US dollars. By the end of the first half of 2006, the influx of tourists to Lebanon had already registered a 49.3% increase over 2005 figures. Market capitalization was also at an all time high, estimated at $10.9 billion at the end of the second quarter of 2006, just weeks before the fighting started.
The war severely damaged Lebanon's fragile economy, especially the tourism sector. According to a preliminary report published by the Lebanese Ministry of Finance on 30 August 2006, a major economic decline was expected as a result of the fighting.
Beirut's airport, Rafiq Hariri International Airport, re-opened in September 2006 and the efforts to revive the Lebanese economy have since been proceeding at a slow pace. Major contributors to the reconstruction of Lebanon include Saudi Arabia (with US$ 1.5 billion pledged), the European Union (with about $1 billion) and a few other Gulf countries with contributions of up to $800 million.
The government introduces a mild form of selectivity into the curriculum by giving 11th graders choice between two "concentrations": sciences, humanities, and 12th graders choose between four concentrations: life sciences, general sciences, sociology and economics, and humanities and literature. The choices in concentration do not include major changes in the number of subjects taken (if at all). However, subjects that fall out of the concentration are given less weight in grading and are less rigorous, while subjects that fall within the concentration are more challenging and contribute significantly to the final grade.
Students go through three academic phases:
These three phases are provided free to all students and the first eight years are, by law, compulsory. Nevertheless, this requirement currently falls short of being fully enforced.
Lebanon has forty-one nationally-accredited universities, several of which are internationally recognized. The American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Université Saint-Joseph (USJ) were the first Anglophone and the first Francophone universities to open in Lebanon, respectively. The universities, both public and private, largely operate in French or English.
At the English universities, students who have graduated from an American-style high school program enter at the freshman level to earn their baccalaureate equivalence from the Lebanese Ministry of Higher Education. This qualifies them to continue studying at the higher levels. Such students are required to have already taken the SAT I and the SAT II upon applying to college, in lieu of the official exams. On the other hand, students who have graduated from a school that follows the Lebanese educational system are directly admitted to the sophomore year. These students are still required to take the SAT I, but not the SAT II. The university academic degrees for the first stage are the Bachelor or the Licence, for the second stage are the Master or the DEA and the third stage is the doctorate.
The United Nations assigned Lebanon an education index of 0.84 in 2005.
No official census has been taken since 1932, reflecting the political sensitivity in Lebanon over confessional (i.e. religious) balance. The CIA World Fact Book gives the following distribution: Muslim - 59.7% (Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian - 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Coptic, Protestant), other 1.3% including the "Israelite sect" (official name), basically the members of the Lebanese Jewish community.
There are 17 religious sects recognized.. An 18th sect, the Copts was added recently to make the total official religious sects in Lebanon 18. Some followers of the Druze religion do not consider themselves to be Muslim; however, the state legally recognizes Druze followers as Muslim.
The number of those inhabiting Lebanon proper was estimated at 3,925,502 in July 2007. There are approximately 18 million people of Lebanese descent spread all over the world, with Brazil having the largest Lebanese community abroad (8 million). Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Ecuador, Chile, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, France, Spain, Germany, Great Britain, Mexico, Venezuela, USA, West Africa, South Africa, Congo, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic also have large and considerable Lebanese communities.
In 2007, Lebanon hosted a population of refugees and asylum seekers numbering approximately 325,800. 270,800 refugees and asylum seekers were from Palestine, 50,200 from Iraq, and 4,500 from Sudan. Lebanon forcibly returned more than 300 refugees and asylum seekers in 2007.
The colloquial language used in Lebanon, which is known as Lebanese, is one part of a grouping of dialects called Levantine Arabic. It differs from the literary Modern Standard Arabic, owing its historical blend to Phoenician, Aramaic, Syriac, Arabic, Turkish, and Persian. In recent years, it has become increasingly common for Lebanese people, especially the better educated, to converse in a combination of Lebanese, English and French, whereby the same sentence would include words or expressions from the different languages. In the 1960s Lebanese linguists proposed 37 letters for the Lebanese dialect based on the Latin alphabets. The Arab League rejected the idea, putting pressure on the Lebanese government to refuse such a project. Lebanese Arabic is a "language continuum"; teams of linguists have agreed that 45% of the Lebanese vocabulary is of Aramaic or Syriac origins.
In the Christian communities, until the Lebanese Civil War, it was seen as a mark of status not to speak Arabic. The reason for this is that Christians generally do not relate to Arabs or their language, and many of them consider it as an imposed language, which overran their own Syriac language (Western Aramaic).
The area including modern Lebanon has been home to various civilizations and cultures for thousands of years. Originally home to the Phoenicians, and then subsequently conquered and occupied by the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Crusaders, the Ottoman Turks and most recently the French, Lebanese culture has over the millennia evolved by borrowing from all of these groups. Lebanon's diverse population, composed of different ethnic and religious groups, has further contributed to the country's festivals, musical styles and literature as well as cuisine, and numerous violent clashes amongst different religious and ethnic groups. When compared to the rest of the Western Asia, Lebanese society as a whole is well educated, and as of 2003 87.4% of the population was literate. Lebanese society is very modern and similar to certain cultures of Mediterranean Europe. It is often considered to serve as Europe's gateway to Western Asia as well as the Asian gateway to the Western World.
One of the most well-known Lebanese singers is Fairuz; her songs are broadcast every morning on most radio stations and many TV channels, both in Lebanon and the Arab world in general. Other prominent artists include Julia Boutros, composer and oud player Marcel Khalife, Majida El Roumi, Sabah, Wadih El Safi, and the important nun and singer Sister Marie Keyrouz, founder of The Ensemble of the Peace.
Some Lebanese artists, such as Najwa Karam and Assi Hellani, remain loyal to a traditional type of music known as 'jabali' ("from the mountains"), while other artists incorporate Western styles into their songs. Lebanese performers are among the most popular in the Arab world alongside Egyptian artists, and the star scene includes prominent figures like Najwa Karam, Nancy Ajram, Elissa (singer), Ragheb Alame, Myriam Fares, Wael Kfoury, Nawal al Zoghbi, Carole Samaha, Julia Boutros, Marwan Khouri, Waleed Tawfeek, Amal Hijazi and Majida El Roumi.
Lebanon has six ski resorts, with opportunities also available for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. In the summer, skilifts can be used to access hiking trails, with views stretching as far as Cyprus to the west and Syria to the east on clear days. Canoeing, cycling, rafting, climbing, swimming, sailing and spelunking are among the other common leisure sports in Lebanon. Adventure and extreme sports are also possible throughout the country. The Beirut Marathon is held every fall, drawing top runners from Lebanon and abroad. Race day is promoted as a fun, family event, and it has become a tradition for many to participate in costumes or outlandish clothing.
By the turn of the 20th century, Beirut was vying with Cairo as the major centre for modern Arab thought, with many newspapers, magazines, and literary societies.
In literature, Gibran Khalil Gibran, who was born in Bsharri, is particularly known for his book The Prophet, which has been translated into more than twenty different languages. Several contemporary Lebanese writers have also achieved international success; including Elias Khoury, Amin Maalouf and Hanan al-Shaykh.
In art, Moustafa Farroukh was one of Lebanon's most prominent painters of the 20th century. Formally trained in Rome and Paris, he exhibited in venues from Paris to New York to Beirut over his career. His work was applauded for its representation of real life in Lebanon in pictures of the country, its people and its customs. Farroukh became highly regarded as a Lebanese nationalist painter at a time when Lebanon was asserting its political independence. His art captured the spirit and character of the Lebanese people and he became recognized as the outstanding Lebanese painter of his generation. He also wrote five books and taught art at the American University of Beirut.
Several international music festivals are held in Lebanon, featuring world-renowned artists and drawing crowds from Lebanon and abroad. Among the most famous are Baalbeck International Festival, Beiteddine Festival, Byblos International Festival, and the Al-Bustan Festival. Beirut (Beirut Nights) in particular has a vibrant arts scene, with numerous performances, exhibits, fashion shows, and concerts held throughout the year in its galleries, museums, theatres, and public spaces.
Articles about recent events: