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OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Lebanon.

LAND. Area: 10,452 sq km (4,036 sq mi); land: 10,230 sq km and water: 170 sq km. Capital and largest city: Beirut (1989 est pop., 200,000). Elevations: highest--Qurnat al-Sawda, 3,088 m (18,131 ft); lowest--sea level, along the Mediterranean coast.

PEOPLE. Population (1998 est.): 3,505,794. Distribution (1987): 80% urban, 20% rural. Annual growth (1990): 1.3%. Official language: Arabic. Major religions: Islam, Christian, Druze. Population growth rate: 1.62%. Birth rate: 22.6births/population. Death rate: 6.51 deaths/1,00 population.

EDUCATION AND HEALTH. Literacy (1985): 77% of adult population. Universities (1987): 5. Hospital beds (1982): 11,400. Physicians (1986): 3,509. Life expectancy (1990): women--70; men--66. Infant mortality (1990): 49 per 1,000 live births.

ECONOMY. GDP (1989 est.): $2.3 billion; $700 per capita. Labor distribution (1986): agriculture--19%; manufacturing--18%; construction--6%; utilities, transportation, and communications--8%; finance--3%; trade--17%; public administration and services--29%. Foreign trade (1987): imports--$1.5 billion; exports--$1.0 billion; principal trade partners--Italy, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, France. Currency: 1 Lebanese pound = 100 piastres.

GOVERNMENT. Type: Republic. Legislature: National Assembly. Political subdivisions: 5 governorates.

COMMUNICATIONS. Railroads (1988): 412 km (256 mi) total. Roads (1988): 7,100 km (4,412 mi) total. Major ports: 4. Major airfields: 1.


The Republic of Lebanon, a country 55 km (35 mi) wide and 215 km (135 mil) long, is located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered on the north and east by Syria and on the south by Israel. From earliest times, Lebanon has been at the center of the tumultuous history of the Middle East. It was a French mandate from the end of World War I until 1943, when it gained full independence, and gradually became the commercial and cultural hub of the Arab Middle East. Lebanon long has been known for its religious and cultural diversity. This diversity was rarely peaceful, and sectarian conflict has been a strong feature of Lebanese culture since at least the 18th Century. In 1975 long-simmering ethnic tensions, rapid economic, social, demographic, regional and international tensions contributed to the outbreak of a devastating civil war fought by militias loyal to their respective religious communities. Peace was only restored in 1990, when the country became a virtual military protectorate of the Arab Republic of Syria. Since the expulsion of Syrian forces in 2005, communal strife has one again become the dominant facet of Lebanese life.


Lebanon is made up of four contrasting physiographic regions running north to south parallel to the Mediterranean. The narrow, fertile coastal plain is dominated by the foothills and peaks of the rugged Lebanon Mountains, which rise to 3,088 m (10,131 ft) at Qurnat al-Sawda, the highest point in the country. Behind the Lebanon Mountains lie successively the narrow, fertile al-Biqa (Bekaa) Valley (the northern extension of the Great Rift Valley, some 915 m/3,000 ft above sea level) and the Anti-Lebanon Range. The latter forms Lebanon's eastern frontier with Syria and is often considered to include Mount Hermon. Numerous swift small rivers flow down from the Lebanon Mountains to the sea. Lebanon's two major rivers, the Litani and the Orontes, rise in the al-Biqa Valley. The Litani flows south, then west, and has been dammed at several points for the purposes of irrigation and electrical power generation. The Orontes flows north into Syria, then west to the Mediterranean.

Because of the varied terrain and climate, a large number of crops are grown. Areas not cultivated, mostly above 1,200 m (4,000 ft), generally are bare of vegetation due to over-cutting and overgrazing by goats, and the great forests of cedar celebrated in the Bible have largely disappeared. The lower-lying hills, where not cultivated, are covered with thornbushes and seasonal wildflowers. Indiscriminate hunting has greatly reduced a once rich and varied bird and animal population, and pollution in the Mediterranean threatens coastal fishing, especially resulting from oil spills as a result of Israel's summer 2006 attacks on the Lebanese infrastructure.



As one of the region's most rugged and mountainous areas, Lebanon has long attracted small, persecuted religious groups to its mountain valleys. Likewise, its excellent harbors and commanding position on the eastern Mediterranean have attracted people to its coastal cities for over four thousand years. This has created an incredibly diverse country in ethnic and religious terms, and led to Lebanon's unique political organization: Lebanese people are identified by their religious affiliation, as opposed to western concepts of ethnicity (some of these religious groups are also ethnicities, like the Druze, but in official speach these groups are considered religious communities, not races). There are eighteen officially recognized religious communities, including:

Sunnis, Twelver Shiites, Isma'ili Shiites, Druze, Nusayris, Jews, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Syrian Baptist, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Maronites, Coptic Christians, Chaldean Catholics, Roman Catholics, Assyrian Church of the East

The four most important of these groups, the Maronite Christians, Sunnis, Druze, and Shiites make up the majority of the population, which speaks Lebanese Arabic as well as French and usually some degree of English. The people of Lebanon tend to identify themselves as Arabs, with the exception of some Christian groups, most notably the Maronites.


The largest Christian denomination in Lebanon, Maronites are a unique Asian church located almost entirely within the bounds of modern Lebanon, as they have historically lived within the secure confines of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges, where they are organized into a number of powerful familial clans that have tended to provide the majority of Lebanon’s political elite. They arose from a doctrinal dispute between the Byzantine imperial church and several Asian denominations during the 4th century concerning the relationship between Jesus’ human and divine natures. The Maronites were on the losing end of this battle, and to escape imperial persecution they fled to the high valleys of the Lebanon mountains. They suffered persecution under centuries of Islamic rule, but thanks to the intervention of European powers they were largely unmolested from the 19th century onward. Their presence in Mount Lebanon was the genesis of the modern Lebanese state: the French wanted to protect their Christian subjects from possible persecution, so they transformed the Maronite area of Syria into an independent protectorate called “Lebanon,” today the country of the same name. The French created a political system divided along confessional (religious) lines to ensure that the Maronites would continue to hold political power in the country. This system made some sense when the Maronites accounted for 50% of the population, but due to a higher Shiite birthrate and the influx of Sunni Palestinian refugees they now account for less than 25% of the country overall (about 800,000 members), making a Maronite-dominated political system look less like proportional representation and more like apartheid to some viewers. As a result of centuries of preferential treatment by European powers, the Maronites do not play up their “Arabness,” though most speak Arabic as their first language. Instead, many Maronites insist that they are the literal descendants of the area’s original inhabitants, the fabled Phoenicians. Affectations like this have given the Maronites a reputation for arrogance among Lebanon’s other religious communities, but their close ties with Europe and proven nationalist record nonetheless make them a vital component of Lebanon’s cultural patchwork.


The Druze (or Druse) are a closely knit religious community estimated at 300,000-450,000; most live in Syria and Lebanon, while smaller groups exist in Israel and Jordan. The Druze religion, an offshoot of the Ismaili Shiites of Cairo, began in the reign of the Caliph al-Hakim. In 1017, al-Hakim publicly was declared to be the final incarnation of God; this declaration historically founded the religion whose name derives from al-Hakim's first missionary, al-Darazi. The religion Darazi founded was destroyed in most of the Middle East and branded as a Shiite heresy. It continues to survive only in remote areas like Lebanon, rural Syria and northern Israel. For the Druzes, belief in Hakim as the final manifestation, the ultimate maqam (Arabic, "location") or incarnation of God, invalidates all other religions. Truthfulness to each other and mutual support are among the seven basic duties sacred to the Druze. Their strong sense of identity allows no conversion or intermarriage. For such an isolated community, they have played a surprisingly important role in the political history of Syria and Lebanon; in addition to their religious mystique they are also renowned for their fighting abilities. During the civil war Druze chieftains fielded some of the deadliest militias, and Israel maintains an elite unit of Druze shock troopers. In Lebanon, where they constitute about six percent of the population, the Druzes are represented politically by the Progressive Socialist party under the leadership of Walid Jumblatt. In 1983 and 1984 they fought a successful war against the Maronite Christians and, allied with the Shiite Muslims, forced a reorganization of the government. Though they continue to shrink as a demographic component of Lebanon, generations of strong leadership by the Jumblatt clan have made them a strong factor in Lebanese politics: when the Druze act, they move efficiently, quickly, and in unison. Strong feelings of solidarity and military prowess are probably all that stand between this tiny sect and a Muslim sea which views them as heretics.


The Shiites (from the Arabic Shiat-Ali or "the party of Ali") constitute one of the two major branches of Islam, the other, larger branch being the Sunnis. Following the death of Muhammad, disagreement arose as to the necessary qualifications and exact function of his successors as leaders of the Muslim community. The Shiites are those who insisted that only members of the Prophet's clan, specifically, the descendants of Muhammad's daughter Fatima and her husband Ali, could qualify. Shiism emphasizes the spiritual function of the Prophet's successor, the Imam, in whom the Prophetic Light is ever present in this world. He is believed to be divinely protected against sin and error and to have an infallible understanding of the Koran, a supernatural knowledge of future events, and intercessory powers. Although Ali became (655) the fourth caliph, he was murdered in 661, and the majority recognized the governor of Damascus, Mu'awiya of Syria, as caliph. The Shiites, however, supported the claims of Ali's sons: Hassan, who died mysteriously c.669, and Husayn, who was killed by Syrian troops at Kerbala in 680 (Kerbala, in Iraq, became the major pilgrimage center for the Shiites). From the murder of Husayn onward, Shiism began functioning as the religion of outsiders and the dispossessed. To escape persecution, the Shiites, like the Druze and Maronites, fled to the mountains of Lebanon, where they became the poor servant-class of Lebanese society, acting as workers on the estates of the Maronites, Sunni and Druze. From the 1970s onwards, however, charismatic preachers like Musa al-Sadr began encouraging the Shiites to push for greater rights and privileges from the Lebanese elite. Located mainly in southern Lebanon, these now-mobilized Shiites were militarized by the carnage that ensued from the Lebanese civil war and the subsequent Israeli invasion. Shiite militias from 1983 onward were the first Muslim sect to employ suicide bombers, and under the tutelage of Iran, an Islamic Republic governed by Shiite clerics, Lebanon's Shiites received money and weaponry that culminated in the creation of Hezbollah, Lebanon's last surviving sectarian militia, and arguably the world's most powerful irregular army. Under the aegis of Hezbollah and support from Iran and Syria the Shiites of southern Lebanon have come to expect social services directly from Shiite militant organizations, and hold little allegiance to the central government of Beirut. The government is afraid to conduct a new national census precisely because they fear that Shiites, formerly the lowest caste of Lebanese society, have become a demographic majority. Even sober estimates place the Shiite population at 40-50% of the total (almost 2 million people), a fact which fills Druze, Sunni and Maronite politicians with absolute dread.


The term Sunnis refers to the great majority of the world's Muslims, distinguishing them as the ahl al-sunna wal-jamaa ("the people of the sunna and the community") from the Shiites. Sunnis are, by this definition, Muslims who claim to follow the Sunna (practices) of the prophet Muhammad and preserve the unity and integrity of the community. Anyone who stands within the mainstream of the Islamic tradition and acts in accordance with generally accepted practices of the community is, therefore, a Sunni. Most Muslims see the Sunna as complementary to the Koran insofar as it explains certain points and elaborates some Koranic principles by offering details necessary for the practice of Islamic law. While Sunnis are used to enjoying majority status in the Arab world, in Lebanon they comprise an estimated 25% of the population, and are rapidly being outbred by their Shiite coreligionists, who are also better funded and better armed thanks to the support of Syria and Iran. Nonetheless, as member's of Islam's majority sect Sunnis probably have the easiest time interacting with the rest of the Middle East, and the current parliament of Lebanon is dominated by Sunni businessmen who made their fortunes dealing with Syria and Saudi Arabia.


No official census has been taken since 1932, when Christians slightly outnumbered Muslims. The two dominant sects, the Maronites and the Sunnis, used the 1932 census as the basis for the formula allocating political power along religious lines at independence; this unwritten agreement guaranteed the Maronites control of Lebanon. Since that time the Muslims, particularly the poorer Shiites, have had a substantially higher birthrate than the Christians. The arrival of as many as 400,000 predominantly Muslim Palestinian refugees after 1948 further threatened Lebanon's delicate balance. Between 1975 and 1990, when it was estimated that 35 percent of the population had become refugees, civil strife drove thousands of Lebanese from their homes. Many foreign investors and wealthy Lebanese also left the country during that period. About one-half of the population lives in the greater Beirut area, and widespread urbanization has added to everyday tensions and increased demands for services that the government lacks the resources to provide. The conflicts of 2006 created an entire new generation of refugees, and as of January 2007 more than 1,000,000 Lebanese are still either homeless, refugees, or living in temporary housing situations.

Education and Health

Lebanon long had one of the best systems of private education in the Middle East, with private elementary and secondary schools serving about half the student population. Public education, expanded during the 1960s, remains insufficient to meet demand or provide consistent quality. Lebanon has five institutions of higher education. The most notable is the American University of Beirut (1866), in which about half of the student body was once non-Lebanese. The Lebanese population's familiarity with foreign languages, high literacy rate, and relatively advanced educational level support a flourishing publishing industry and contribute to a still-vibrant cultural life. Before 1975, Lebanon's health-care system was one of the best in the region, although it concentrated services in urban areas, particularly Beirut. Image:Jounieh.jpg ECONOMIC ACTIVITY

Lebanon has a mixed economy based on several different fields: factoring in decades of military strife and general destruction of Lebanon's infrastructure in 2006, this economy has still been quite productive by Middle Eastern standards. Numerous small farms produce a variety of high-value crops for export within the Arab world, like bananas and fine olives. The most valuable crop, however, is Hashish, a resin derived from Marijuana which is popular throughout the Mediterranean. This crop is unregulated by the government, and is controlled by a number of Lebanese and Syrian political figures who control its production and export around the world. While this drug is technically illegal, it is an accepted part of the Lebanese informal economy, and no serious attempts have been made to eradicate its production in the eastern valleys of Lebanon.

Tourism and banking provide the majority of Lebanon's GNP. Lebanon possesses a number of fine Roman ruins which attract visitors from around the world, as well as excellent skiing and watersports within the immediate environs of Beirut. For Arab tourists Lebanon is especially attractive, because Lebanon's diversity makes it a much more religiously lax country than most of its neighboring states. Tourists from conservative countries like Saudi Arabia and Egypt often spend a few weeks of each summer in Beirut, where they can enjoy the good life without leaving the Arab world.

As the Arab world's most cosmopolitan country, the Lebanese have also traditionally been very good bankers and investors. The banking infrastructure is still being rebuilt after decades of conflict and has yet to reach its old vitality, but given Lebanon's proven history of providing secure and anonymous accounts for wealthy Gulf Arabs, it might soon regain its old nickname, "The Switzerland of the Middle East."


The Lebanese republic, independent since 1943, was established under French mandate by the Constitution of 1926 (since amended). The constitution provided for an executive branch (President, Prime Minister, and Cabinet of Ministers), balanced by an independent judiciary and a unicameral legislative parliament elected by universal adult suffrage. An important component of this system is the so-called National Pact of 1943, which ensures that the Presidency belongs to Maronites, the Prime Ministership goes to a Sunni, and the Speak of Parliament is always a Shiite (additionally, the Commander-in-Chief of the Lebanese army is usually a Druze). Legislative seats are apportioned among the various sects in according to a 50-50 divide between Muslim and Christian sects. The current parliament has 128 seats, with 64 going to various Christian groups, 34 of which are Maronite, making them the leader of the bloc. Among Muslims 27 seats go to Sunnis, 27 seats go to Shiites, and the remainder go to Druze (8) and Nusayris (2). This system is based on the findings of the 1932 census, and although it has been amended as recently as 1990 to better represent demographic reality, Sunnis, Christians and Druze all resist efforts to conduct a new census, since its findings would almost certainly justify Shiite demands for increased governmental representation.

The President is theoretically the most powerful person in Lebanon, with vast powers to enact laws by decree, dissolve parliament and ratify new legislation. The President is elected to a single six year term by a direct vote of parliament. Emile Lahoud began his term as president in 1998 and stepped down in December 2007 (his term having been extended by the occupying Syrians in 2005). As of this writing, there is no agreement on who will succeed him as President, and the office is vacant as of January 2008.

The Prime Minister is appointed from the ruling party of parliament, though he or she is not necessarily the head of that party. The Prime Minister is supposed to be responsible for the day to day conduct of the Lebanese government, with the assistance of a cabinet of ministers drawn from members of the ruling coalition and appointed by a complex system of proportional representation to other groups. The current PM is Fouad Siniora, of the Future Wave Party.

Parliament: is responsible for drafting and passing legislation, voting in the President, and fielding the members of the cabinet. The last election was in May 2005, and brought a strong Sunni-Druze coalition into power.


Lebanon has been a place of refuge for milennia. Maronites hid here from Byzantine authorities in the 7th century. Shiites found a haven there during the 9th century, Druzes in the 11th century. The coastal plain and Lebanon Mountains fell temporarily to the Crusaders early in the 12th century. Many Lebanese Christians fought alongside the Crusaders, and thousands of them were slaughtered by Muslims once the Crusaders had been driven out in the late 13th century by the Mamelukes of Egypt. Generally, however, the mosaic of religions that Lebanon had become offered semi-autonomy or independence for its various groups, each of which concentrated in specific areas until modern times. The Maronites lived in Mount Lebanon (the heart of present-day Lebanon, excluding the coastal cities), the Druzes in the mountains of southern Mount Lebanon, the Shiites to the south and east, and the Sunnis and various Christian minorities along the coast. From 1516 to 1918, when Lebanon was formally part of the Ottoman Empire, local leaders were granted relative autonomy as long as they paid taxes to their Ottoman rulers. Under Ottoman rule, Lebanon developed commercial, educational, and religious ties with Europe. Open to the West, it became a center for political rivalries between various foreign powers, including France, Britain, and Russia. These powers assumed the protection of certain ethnic-religious groups, with France as the chief protector of the Maronite community. Following a protracted civil war that culminated in a bloody 1860 Druze massacre of Maronites, France and Britain intervened and pressured the Turks into establishing (1864) a semi-autonomous Christian-dominated province in Mount Lebanon. After World War I, Lebanon became a French mandate, as promised by the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. In 1920 the French created Lebanon's current boundaries by adding the al-Biqa Valley, the coastal cities, and areas to the north and south. The annexation added a large Sunnite and Shiite population to predominantly Christian Mount Lebanon.


The Republic of Lebanon, established by the Constitution of 1926, remained under French mandate until 1943, when it gained independence. For a time, independent Lebanon was a model ecumenical society. Two grave weaknesses, however, eventually undid the Lebanese system. The first was the rigidity of the 1943 National Pact, which did not take into account changes in the demography and political consciousness of the various communities. The second was Lebanon's gradual involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. Lebanon did not participate militarily in the Arab-Israeli Wars, but the influx of large numbers of predominantly Muslim Palestinian refugees after the 1948 war helped to change the country's internal balance of power. In addition, Lebanese Muslims who identified with the Pan-Arab nationalism of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser were alienated when President Camille Chamoun was the only Arab head of state who refused to break diplomatic relations with France and Britain in solidarity with Egypt during the 1956 Suez Crisis. Civil war broke out in 1958, ending only when U.S. Marines landed in Beirut. Continuing economic and social inequalities, growing Muslim demands for more political power, and the strains imposed by the activities of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) commandos (who operated virtually a state within a state and launched guerrilla raids against Israel from Lebanese soil) continued, however. These laid the groundwork for the 1975-76 civil war.

Image:Bashir Gemayel.gifCivil War

The civil war pitted the Nationalist Movement (a mostly Muslim mixture of socialists, Communists, and Nasserite groups) against the Lebanese Front (a group dominated by the Maronite Phalange party but including right-wing Muslims). The PLO joined the fighting on the side of the Nationalist Movement. In June 1976, with the Nationalist Movement on the verge of victory, Syria (which at various times has supported different groups in the Lebanese conflict) intervened on behalf of the Lebanese Front. The Syrian military action was ratified in October by the Arab League, which helped to arrange a cease-fire.

Despite the Syrian presence, sporadic communal strife and the cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence on Lebanese soil continued. Israeli forces briefly invaded southern Lebanon in 1978, in response to Palestinian threats, but withdrew after a United Nations peacekeeping force (UNIFIL) was sent into the area. In 1982, Israeli forces again invaded, occupying Beirut and forcing the PLO to evacuate its headquarters there. Phalangist (Maronite) leader Amin Gemayel took office as president in September; at his request, a multinational peace force came in to try to restore order. In May 1983, Gemayel concluded a security agreement with Israel allowing a continuing Israeli role in southern Lebanon. Syria, which had refused to withdraw its troops when its Arab League mandate expired, rejected the accord. Meanwhile, the Lebanese army was unable to halt fighting between Lebanon's armed militias (including rival Palestinian groups), and terrorist bombings on the multinational force, including U.S. Marines headquartered at Beirut airport, resulted in hundreds of casualties. The multinational force was withdrawn in 1984. Gemayel then repudiated the unpopular Lebanese-Israeli security agreement and installed a new, pro-Syrian cabinet of national unity. The cabinet seldom met after Gemayel rejected a Syrian-brokered peace accord in January 1986, contributing to political and economic deterioration exacerbated by the activities of terrorist groups such as the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and by the 1987 assassination of Prime Minister Rashid Karami. Although most Israeli troops were withdrawn from Lebanon by June 1985, conflicting Israeli and Syrian interest continued to compound Lebanon's formidable internal problems. In 1988 a crisis over presidential succession led to the formation of rival Christian and Muslim governments. In November 1989 the Lebanese parliament accepted an Arab-brokered peace accord and elected Maronite Rene Moawad president. Maowad was assassinated after 17 days in office, and members of the parliament elected Elias Hrawi president. Christian prime minister General Michel Aoun launched a war against the Syrian forces in Lebanon in 1989. His surrender in October 1990, coupled with the granting of political parity to Muslims, the later disarming of the Lebanon militias, and the release of the Western hostages held by radical Shiite groups in Lebanon, raised new hopes for peace.

Image:Shiites.jpg Occupation

From 1990 until 2005 Lebanon was occupied by the Syrian military, which succeeded in restoring peace but also effectively dominated all aspects of Lebanese life. Foes of Syria were assassinated, Syrian allies prospered, and Syrian secret police kept close tabs on the entire population. While this repression was a very real part of the Syrian occupation, this imposed peace was perhaps a necessary evil for the Lebanese: Syria disarmed all of the militias except one (see below) and provided a climate of peace where businessmen could begin to rebuild the shattered local infrastructure, though it must be said that this rebuilding effort involved an incredible amount of graft, exploitation and general corruption on the part of both the Syrians and Lebanese.

In the south, Lebanese territory was occupied by the Israeli army in cooperation with a local militia they had developed, the South Lebanese Army. Both countries tried to play various Lebanese factions off one another to the other's detriment. This high-stakes game resulted in the polarization of Lebanon's myriad factions into pro-Syrian and pro-Israeli groups, the most conspicuous of which became the Shiite Hezbollah. Supported by Iran via the Syrian army, Hezbollah grew from a Shiite workers' party and social services network (called Amal) in southern Beirut into a paramilitary force with some of the world's best equipment. From the slums of southern Beirut they came to command the total allegiance of the Shiites of southern Lebanon. With the support of this community they waged a guerilla war with the Israelis and SLA over control of southern Lebanon throughout the 1990s. Employing their superior knowledge of the terrain, support from the local community, and overall tenacity in the face of a superior opponent, Hezbollah forced Israel to withdraw its troops in 2000, after which SLA forces quickly deserted their posts or were destroyed. After this victory, which owed as much to Israeli domestic politics as Hezbollah's prowess, Hezbollah continued firing rockets into northern Israel sporadically, which in turn tended to prompt Israeli artillery reprisals. Though Israeli forces had withdrawn and Hezbollah effectively ruled Lebanon as its personal fiefdom, southern Lebanon from 2000 onwards thus remained a militarized area, beyond the control of the central government and subject to the influences of Hezbollah's backers in Syria and Iran. Image:lebanon1.jpg The Cedar Revolution

In 2004 cracks began to show in the edifice of the Syrian occupation. Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Druze and longtime ally of Syria began publicly calling for a timetable to discuss the withdrawal of Syrian troops. As other former allies joined his call, the anxious Syrians attempted to extend the term of their most loyal client, President Emile Lahoud. A parliamentary uproar ensued, with Jumblatt's bloc abstaining from the extension process and Rafik Hariri, billionaire industrialist, Prime Minister and champion of the Sunnis actually resigning his post. Lahoud's term was extended, but a corner had been turned in Lebanon's attitude toward the occupiers. In 2005 these tensions exploded.

Rafik Hariri was assassinated on February 14, 2005 by a powerful car bomb. The culprits of this act have not been brought to justice, but Walid Jumblatt was quick to lay blame on the Syrians. Many were persuaded by his words, and soon Druze, Sunnis and Maronites marched in the streets by the hundreds of thousands demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops, a series of events which have come to be called the Cedar Revolution. These protests were opposed by Hezbollah, which had prospered immensely under the Syrian occupation. Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah brought millions of Shiites into the streets to challenge Hariri's sympathizers, but once these protests crystalized into an outright call for independence, Nasrallah withdrew his supporters to avoid damaging his own nationalist credentials.

Moved by the plight of the Lebanese (and willing to tweak the nose of Syria and Iran) the United States took up the plight of the Lebanese at the UN, and aided by France, the UK and Russia it eventually passed a series of resolutions demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops and the unmasking of Hariri's killer. Hariri's killer remains at large, but by the end of 2005 Syrian troops had withdrawn from the entirety of Lebanon, and a new Sunni-Druze coalition, headed by Rafik Hariri's son Saad Hariri and dedicated to national independence, had taken control of the now-independent Lebanese parliament.

Image:Rubble.jpg The July War

On July 12, 2006 Hezbollah guerillas infiltrated Israel, killed several soldiers, and took 2 more hostage. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert declared this an act of war, and proceeded to unleash the full might of the Israeli military upon Lebanon. His declared objective was the destruction of Hezbollah as a military organization, as well as the punishment of the Lebanese government for not having previously disbanned the organization. 34 days of fighting followed, in which more than 1000 Lebanese civilians died, as well as 159 Israelis and an estimated 300 Hezbollah fighters. Most of the civilians were killed by Israeli airforce strikes, which also destroyed the newly rebuilt Lebanese infrastructure. Throughout the conflict, Lebanese PM Fouad Siniora declared that his government did not have control of Hezbollah and was thus being unjustly punished by the Israelis. These cries fell on deaf ears for 34 days of conflict, during which the US stymied attempts to end the conflict at the UN and encouraged the Israelis to totally uproot Hezbollah.

The war finally ended on August 14 with inconclusive results: Hezbollah was weakened militarily, but not destroyed. Indeed, as a result of the scale of Israel's attacks, many of Hezbollah's critics began praising the organization for its valiant defense of Lebanon. Hassan Nasrallah declared the conflict a massive victory, largely because Hezbollah had actually survived a conflict with the military of Israel. Internationally, Hezbollah was now lionized in the Arab press as the champions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and international observers began to appreciate the true power of its military wing. This militia has since been entirely resupplied by Iran, and Hezbollah's backers have also donated a massive amount of money to the rebuilding efforts, further strengthening Hezbollah's grip on social services to the Shiite community. For the Israelis, the war is seen as a humiliating affair. Many Israeli citizens decried the scale of military action against Lebanese civilians, made even worse because they did not actually succeed in either destroying Hezbollah or retrieving the kidnapped soldiers. Israeli Commander-In-Chief Dan Halutz was sacked from his job in early 2007, and polls show that 70% or Israelis feel Olmert should be censured, or resign outright, for his handling of the war.

Parliamentary Crisis

After emerging from the July War, as Lebanese call it, Hassan Nasrallah and Hezbollah used their new international prestige to begin pushing for greater Shiite involvement in the government. During the war he had accused the elected government of rooting for the Israelis and hoping for the destruction of Hezbollah. As the autumn of 2006 proceeded, his accusations became louder, and aided by his new ally, the Maronite general Michel Aoun, he was able to form a united Maronite-Shiite opposition bloc to challenge the legitimacy of the Siniora government. Aoun in particular called for an ethics commission to investigate charges of corruption resulting from the May 2005 parliamentary elections. Siniora and his allies accused Aoun and Nasrallah of making a cheap power-grab, but given the fact that many members of the Siniora government did business with the Syrian occupiers, Lebanese citizens of all denominations have rallied to the opposition.

In December 2006 this culminated in the resignations of every Shiite member of Siniora's cabinet, after which Nasrallah and Aoun began leading massive street demonstrations to call for the government's abdication. President Emile Lahoud has joined the opposition, most likely to get back at his enemies in the current government, particularly Saad Hariri. He has declared the current government illegitimate on constitutional grounds; as part of the National Pact, every cabinet must include members of each major sect, and the Siniora cabinet currently has no Shiite representatives.

The Siniora government still enjoys 70% approval ratings amongst Lebanese, but the fact remains that Nasrallah has been able to bring estimates of almost 2 million Shiites into the streets to support his calls for the formation of a new government. Aoun has likewise been able to bring several hundred thousand supporters into Beirut, and threatens to march on the parliament itself if Siniora does not accept a new power-sharing arrangement with the opposition. As of January 2007 Arab League mediation efforts have failed, and the sects once again appear to be lining up against each other to battle over Lebanon's shattered remains.


The tragedy of Lebanon is the fact that it is a small, internally unstable country surrounded by aggressive neighbors. As a frontline country in the Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon has been manipulated by all imaginable parties to create strategic advantages in the conflict, a fact which has never helped the people of Lebanon. At the present, Lebanon has no unified foreign policy to speak of, since two factions now vie for overall control of the government, but it is possible to briefly enumerate the different foreign states with designs on Lebanon.

Israel: Since the 1970s Israel has attempted to sign a peace treaty with Lebanon, on the assumption that a neutralized Lebanon would dramatically weakne Syria, and ultimately provide Israel with the diplomatic capital to force Damascus into a peace treaty without having to make an significant concessions on either the Golan Heights or the rights of the Palestinians. This policy has consistently been stymied by Lebanese internal politics, and has not been a truly tenable policy since the 1990s, when it became clear that the Maronites, Israel's preferred Lebanese allies, were losing political ground to the Sunnis and Shiites. The latter in particular have forced Israel to rethink its objectives vis-a-vis Lebanon, since Hezbollah continues to be funded by Israel's archenemy, Iran. The fact remains that Hezbollah's ability to fire rockets into northern Israeli settlements with impunity, as well as sporadically abduct its soldiers, has proven damaging to the Israeli military, which bases much of its power on having an image of invincibility. The July War was an attempt to address this challenge, but from the perspective of the Israeli Street it failed miserably, and major politicians have been called to account for their mishandling of the war. Israel has taken a step back from the Lebanese issue as a result, and is now focusing its attentions more directly on the potential nuclear threat of Iran.

Syria: Since the humiliating expulsion of his army in 2005, Bashar al-Asad has doubtless been dreaming of ways to reassert Syrian control over the Lebanese state. While this might not be difficult from a military point of view, the fact remains that the UN Security Council, in particular the US, remain committed to the freedom of Lebanon, though perhaps less to help the Lebanese than to thwart the designs of Syria and Iran. As a result, al-Asad is forced to assert Syrian authority in circuitous ways. For the moment, Syria's best strategy is simply to continue funding Hezbollah, which currently stands in a position to perhaps take power legally, if the Siniora government resigns, and even if things devolve into a new civil war, it must be admitted that the last civil war worked out to Syria's advanatage, and at the moment no other Lebanese faction could hope to win a war against Hezbollah.

Iran: As the financial and spiritual backer of Hezbollah, Iran is currently the single most influential foreign government in Lebanon. While Hezbollah was originally designed to be the elite cadre of the international Islamic Revolution, the Ayatollahs' revolutionary zeal has dulled substantially since the death of Khomeini in 1989. In the modern Middle East, Iran envisions Hezbollah as a counterweight to the threat of US or Israeli strikes against Iran itself. Simply put, if the US gets into a shooting war with Iran, which as of early 2007 seems like a distinct possibility, Iran will retaliate by encouraging Hezbollah to start massive rocket bombardments of northern Israel. Iran proved that it had the capability to make good on this kind of threat when Hezbollah unveiled new rockets capable of disabling Israeli vessels and hitting as far away as Haifa. It remains to be seen whether or not this would truly be a deterrent to American military action, but as of now the Iranian plan for Lebanon is simple: continue arming Hezbollah, encourage them to seize as much power as they can hold, and under no circumstances let them forget the ongoing conflict with Israel.

Online Sources












American University, Lebanon: A Country Study, 3d ed. (1989) Cobban, H., The Making of Modern Lebanon (1985) Fawaz, L., Merchants and Migrants in 19th Century Beirut (1983) Fisk, R., Pity the Nation (1990) Friedman, T. L., From Beirut to Jerusalem (1989) Gordon, D. C., The Republic of Lebanon (1983) Hitti, P. K., Lebanon in History, 3d ed. (1967) Khaladi, W., Conflict and Violence in Lebanon (1979) Khalaf, S., Persistence and Change in 19th Century Lebanon (1979), and Lebanon's Predicament (1987) Khuri, F., From Village to Suburb (1975) Mackey, Sandra, Lebanon: The Death of a Nation (1989; repr. 1991) Makdisi, J. S., Beirut Fragments (1990) Norton, A. R., Amal and the Shia (1987) Rabinovich, I., The War for Lebanon, rev. ed. (1985) Salibi, K. S., Crossroads to Civil War: Lebanon, 1958-1976 (1976) and The Modern History of Lebanon (1965; repr. 1976).

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