National name: Al-Joumhouriya al-Lubnaniya
President: Émile Lahoud (1998)
Prime Minister: Fouad Siniora (2005)
Land area: 3,950 sq mi (10,230 sq km); total area: 4,015 sq mi (10,400 sq km)
Population (2006 est.): 3,874,050 (growth rate: 1.2%); birth rate: 18.5/1000; infant mortality rate: 23.7/1000; life expectancy: 72.9; density per sq mi: 981
Capital and largest city (2003 est.): Beirut, 1,916,100 (metro. area), 1,171,000 (city proper)
Other large cities: Tripoli, 212,900; Sidon, 149,000
Monetary unit: Lebanese pound
Languages: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
Ethnicity/race: Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1%
Religions: Islam 60% (Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite/Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite, Melkite, Syrian, Armenian, and Roman Catholic; Greek, Armenian, and Syrian Orthodox; Chaldean; Assyrian; Copt; Protestant), other 1%
Literacy rate: 87% (2003 est.)
Economic summary: GDP/PPP (2005 est.): $20.42 billion; per capita $5,300. Real growth rate: 0.5%. Inflation: 2.4%. Unemployment: 18% (1997 est.). Arable land: 17%. Agriculture: citrus, grapes, tomatoes, apples, vegetables, potatoes, olives, tobacco; sheep, goats. Labor force: 2.6 million; note: in addition, there are as many as 1 million foreign workers (2001 est.); services n.a., industry n.a., agriculture n.a. Industries: banking, tourism, food processing, jewelry, cement, textiles, mineral and chemical products, wood and furniture products, oil refining, metal fabricating. Natural resources: limestone, iron ore, salt, water-surplus state in a water-deficit region, arable land. Exports: $1.782 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): authentic jewelry, inorganic chemicals, miscellaneous consumer goods, fruit, tobacco, construction minerals, electric power machinery and switchgear, textile fibers, paper. Imports: $8.855 billion f.o.b. (2005 est.): petroleum products, cars, medicinal products, clothing, meat and live animals, consumer goods, paper, textile fabrics, tobacco. Major trading partners: Syria, UAE, Turkey, Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Italy, France, Germany, China, U.S., UK (2004).
Communications: Telephones: main lines in use: 700,000 (1999); mobile cellular: 580,000 (1999). Radio broadcast stations: AM 20, FM 22, shortwave 4 (1998). Radios: 2.85 million (1997). Television broadcast stations: 15 (plus 5 repeaters) (1995). Televisions: 1.18 million (1997). Internet Service Providers (ISPs): 22 (2000). Internet users: 300,000 (2001).
Transportation: Railways: total: 401 km (unusable because of damage in civil war) (2002). Highways: total: 7,300 km; paved: 6,198 km; unpaved: 1,102 km (1999 est.). Ports and harbors: Antilyas, Batroun, Beirut, Chekka, El Mina, Ez Zahrani, Jbail, Jounie, Naqoura, Sidon, Tripoli, Tyre. Airports: 8 (2002).
Lebanon lies at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel and west of Syria. It is four-fifths the size of Connecticut. The Lebanon Mountains, which parallel the coast on the west, cover most of the country, while on the eastern border is the Anti-Lebanon range. Between the two lies the Bekaa Valley, the principal agricultural area.
After World War I, France was given a League of Nations mandate over Lebanon and its neighbor Syria, which together had previously been a single political unit in the Ottoman Empire. France divided them in 1920 into separate colonial administrations, drawing a border that separated mostly Muslim Syria from the kaleidoscope of religious communities in Lebanon, where Maronite Christians were then dominant. After 20 years of the French mandate regime, Lebanon's independence was proclaimed on Nov. 26, 1941, but full independence came in stages. Under an agreement between representatives of Lebanon and the French National Committee of Liberation, most of the powers exercised by France were transferred to the Lebanese government on Jan. 1, 1944. The evacuation of French troops was completed in 1946.
According to the unwritten National Pact, different religious communities were represented in the government by having a Maronite Christian president, a Sunni Muslim prime minister, and a Shiite national assembly speaker. The arrangement worked for two decades.
Civil war broke out in 1958, with Muslim factions led by Kamal Jumblat and Saeb Salam rising in insurrection against the Lebanese government headed by President Camille Chamoun, a Maronite Christian favoring close ties to the West. At Chamoun's request, President Eisenhower, on July 15, sent U.S. troops to reestablish the government's authority.
Clan warfare between various religious factions in Lebanon goes back centuries. The hodgepodge includes Maronite Christians, who, since independence, have dominated the government; Sunni Muslims, who have prospered in business and shared political power; the Druze, who hold a faith incorporating aspects of Islam and Gnosticism; and Shiite Muslims.
A new—and bloodier—Lebanese civil war that broke out in 1975 resulted in the addition of still another ingredient in the brew—the Syrians. In the fighting between Lebanese factions, 40,000 Lebanese were estimated to have been killed and 100,000 wounded between March 1975 and Nov. 1976. At that point, Syrian troops intervened at the request of the Lebanese and brought large-scale fighting to a halt. In 1977 the civil war again flared up and continued until 1990, decimating the country.
Palestinian guerrillas staging raids on Israel from Lebanese territory drew punitive Israeli raids on Lebanon and two large-scale Israeli invasions, in 1978 and again in 1982. In the first invasion, the Israelis entered the country in March 1978 and withdrew that June, after the UN Security Council created a 6,000-man peacekeeping force for the area called UNIFIL. As the UN departed, the Israelis turned their strongholds over to a Christian militia that they had organized, instead of to the UN force.
The second Israeli invasion came on June 6, 1982, after an assassination attempt by Palestinian terrorists on the Israeli ambassador in London. As a base of the PLO, Lebanon became the Israelis' target. Nearly 7,000 Palestinians were dispersed to other Arab nations. The violence seemed to have come to an end when, on Sept. 14, Bashir Gemayel, the 34-year-old president-elect, was killed by a bomb that destroyed the headquarters of his Christian Phalangist Party. Following his assassination, Christian militiamen massacred about 1,000 Palestinians in the Israeli-controlled Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, but Israel denied responsibility.
The massacre in the refugee camps prompted the return of a multinational peacekeeping force. Its mandate was to support the central Lebanese government, but it soon found itself drawn into the struggle for power between different Lebanese factions. The country was engulfed in chaos and instability. During their stay in Lebanon, 241 U.S. Marines and about 60 French soldiers were killed, most of them in suicide bombings of the U.S. Marine and French army compounds on Oct. 23, 1983. The multinational force withdrew in the spring of 1984. In 1985, the majority of Israeli troops withdrew from the country, but Israel left some troops along a buffer zone on the southern Lebanese border, where they engaged in ongoing skirmishes with Palestinian groups. The Palestinian terrorist group Hezbollah, or “Party of God,” was formed in the 1980s during Israel's second invasion of Lebanon. With financial backing from Iran, it has launched attacks against Israel for more than 20 years.
In July 1986, Syrian observers took up a position in Beirut to monitor a peacekeeping agreement. The agreement broke down and fighting between Shiite and Druze militia in West Beirut became so intense that Syrian troops mobilized in Feb. 1987, suppressing militia resistance. In 1991 a treaty of friendship was signed with Syria, which in effect gave Syria control over Lebanon's foreign relations. In early 1991, the Lebanese government, backed by Syria, regained control over the south and disbanded various militias, thereby ending the 16-year civil war, which had destroyed much of the infrastructure and industry of Lebanon.
In June 1999, just before Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu left office, Israel bombed southern Lebanon, its most severe attack on the country since 1996. In May 2000, Israel's new prime minister, Ehud Barak, withdrew Israeli troops after 18 consecutive years of occupation.
In the summer of 2001, Syria withdrew nearly all of its 25,000 troops from Beirut and surrounding areas. About 14,000 troops, however, remained in the countryside. With the continuation of Israeli-Palestinian violence in 2002, Hezbollah again began building up forces along the Lebanese-Israeli border.
In Aug. 2004, in a stark reminder of its continuing iron grip on Lebanon, Syria insisted that Lebanon's pro-Syrian president, Émile Lahoud, remain in office beyond the constitutional limit of one six-year term. Despite outrage in the country, the Lebanese parliament did Syria's bidding, permitting Lahoud to serve for three more years.
A UN Security Council resolution in Sept. 2004 demanded that Syria remove the troops it had stationed in Lebanon for the past 28 years. Syria responded by moving about 3,000 troops from the vicinity of Beirut to eastern Lebanon, a gesture that was viewed by many as merely cosmetic. As a result of the crisis, Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (1992–1998, 2000–2004), largely responsible for Lebanon's economic rebirth in the past decade, resigned. On Feb. 14, 2005, he was killed by a car bomb. Many suspected Syria of involvement and large protests ensued, calling for Syria's withdrawal from the country.
After two weeks of protests by Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Druze parties, pro-Syrian prime minister Omar Karami resigned on Feb. 28. Several days later, Syria made a vague pledge to withdraw its troops but failed to announce a timetable. On March 8, the militant group Hezbollah sponsored a massive pro-Syrian rally, primarily made up of Shiites, that greatly outnumbered previous anti-Syrian protests. Hundreds of thousands gathered to thank Syria for its involvement in Lebanon. The pro-Syrian demonstrations led to President Lahoud's reappointment of Karami as prime minister on March 9. But thereafter an anti-Syrian protest—twice the size of the Hezbollah protest—followed. In mid-March, Syria withdrew 4,000 troops and redeployed the remaining 10,000 to Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, which borders Syria.
In April, Omar Karami resigned a second time after failing to form a government. Lebanon's new prime minister, Najib Mikati—a compromise candidate between the pro-Syrian and anti-Syrian groups—announced that new elections would be held in May. On April 26, after 29 years of occupation, Syria withdrew all of its troops.
In May and June 2005, Syria held four rounds of parliamentary elections. An anti-Syrian alliance led by Saad al-Hariri, the 35-year-old son of assassinated former prime minister leader Rafik Hariri, won 72 out of 128 seats. Former finance minister Fouad Siniora, who was closely associated with Hariri, became prime minister.
On Sept. 1, four were charged in the murder of Rafik Hariri. The commander of Lebanon's Republican Guard, the former head of general security, the former chief of Lebanon's police, and the former military intelligence officer were indicted for the February assassination. On Oct. 20, the UN released a report concluding that the assassination was carefully organized by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence officials, including Syria's military intelligence chief, Asef Shawkat, who is the brother-in-law of Syrian president Bashar Assad.
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah fighters entered Israel and captured two Israeli soldiers. In response, Israel launched a major military attack, bombing the Lebanese airport and other major infrastructures, as well as parts of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah, led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, retaliated by launching hundreds of rockets and missiles into Israel (Iran supplies Hezbollah with weapons, which are transported through Syria).
After a week of fighting, Israel made it clear that its offensive in Lebanon would continue until Hezbollah was routed. Although much of the international community demanded a cease-fire, the United States supported Israel's plan to continue the fighting until Hezbollah was drained of its military power (Hezbollah is thought to have at least 12,000 rockets and missiles and had proved a much more formidable foe than anticipated). On Aug. 14, a UN-negotiated cease-fire went into effect. The UN planned to send a 15,000-member peacekeeping force. About 1,150 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died in the 34 days of fighting. More than 400,000 Lebanese were forced from their homes by the fighting. Almost immediately, Hezbollah began organizing reconstruction efforts, and handed out financial aid to families who had lost their homes, shoring up loyalty from Shiite civilians.
In November, Pierre Gemayel, minister of industry and member of a well-known Maronite Christian political dynasty, was assassinated, the fifth anti-Syrian leader to be killed since the death of Rafik Hariri in Feb. 2005. Pro-government protestors blamed Syria and its Lebanese allies, and staged large demonstrations following the assassination. These protests were then followed by even larger and more sustained demonstrations by Hezbollah supporters. Beginning Dec. 1, tens of thousands of demonstrators, led by the Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, occupied the center of Beirut and called for the resignation of the pro-Western coalition government.
43 km south of Beirut, lies the third great Phoenician city-state which experienced its golden age during the Persian era between end of the 6th century BC and mid of 4th century BC.
Sidon; ancient Sidouna, one of the famous names in ancient history, was an open city with many cultural influences, including the Egyptian Pharaohs and the Greeks. During the Persian period, Aegean sculptors contributed to the nearby temple of Eshmoun; the city's god, which was associated with the Aesculapius, the Greek god of healing.
The Crusader period (1110-1291 AD) brought Sidon new prestige, as second of four baronies of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Today you can enjoy visiting the ruins of the fortress church known as the Castle of the Sea which was erected by the Crusading Knights of St. John, and the Shell of the Castle of St. Louis (the Land Castle) which sits atop the Phoenician Acropolis near Murex hill, so named after the Murex shell from which the famous Phoenician purple dye extracted.
In the old town, more recent Mamluk and Ottoman buildings worth a visit such as Soap Caravansary (Khan Assabun), Franks Caravansary (Khan El-Franj) built by Emir Fakhreddin II, and the Great Mosque above Egyptian Pharaohs harbor which still retains the 13th century BC walls of the Castle of the Sea.
Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, with its million-plus inhabitants, conveys a sense of life and energy that is immediately apparent. This dynamism is echoed by the Capital's geographical position: a great promontory jutting into the blue sea with dramatic mountains rising behind it. A city with a venerable past, 5000 years ago Beirut was a prosperous town on the Canaanite and Phoenician coast.
Named Beroth, the city of wells, by the Phoenicians, it is one of the oldest settlements of man as evidenced by relics from prehistoric communities.
Beirut entered the most glorious period of its ancient history when was occupied by Romans under the command of Emperor Pompey in 64 BC.
In 15 BC it was named Colonia, Julia, Augusta, Felix, then Berythus and acquired the rights of a Roman city-state. What most contributed to its fame, however, was its School of Law which, under Septimus Severus (192-212 AD), excelled the schools of Constantinople and Athens and rivaled that of Rome. The school whose professors helped draft the famous Justinian Code.
A devastating earthquake in 551 AD destroyed Beirut. A century later it was conquered by the Muslim Arabs and in 1109 it fell to the Crusaders. The city remained in Crusader hands until 1291, when the Mamluks took it.
Beirut nowadays, remains the cultural and commercial center of Lebanon. Today the war-ruined city center is being reconstructed under a 25-year project envisages a new modern city that will also retain its familiar Oriental flavor.