The Lebanese Republic or Lebanon is a country in the Middle East, along the Mediterranean Sea, bordered by Syria and Israel.
The country was named after Mount Lebanon; the word "Lebanon" (also "Loubnan" or "Lebnan") comes from the Aramaic word laban which means "white" and refers to the mountain's snow-capped appearance. An Arabic cognate of the word laban also means "yoghurt".
Lebanon is one of the fifteen present-day countries that comprise what is considered to be the Cradle of Humanity. It is the historic home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years. The region was a territory of the Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages was involved in the Crusades. It was then taken by the Ottoman Empire.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations mandated the five provinces that make up present-day Lebanon to France.
Modern Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political power among the major religious groups.
The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon's history from independence has been marked by alternating periods of political stability and turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade.
Civil War, (1975-1990)
Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, noted for its wide boulevards, French-style architecture, and modernity, was called the Paris of the Middle East before the outbreak of the Lebanese Civil War.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon became home to more than 110,000 Palestinian refugees who had fled from Israel. More Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Black September, and by 1975, they numbered more than 300,000, led by Yassir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In the early 1970s, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian refugees, and full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975, leaving the nation with no effective central government.
On one side were a number of mostly Maronite militias, the most important of which was the one linked to the Phalangist Party; its commander was Bachir Gemayel. The other side comprised a coalition of Palestinians, Sunni, and Druze forces. By early 1976, the war was going poorly for the Maronites, and Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun; that Baathist Syrians were fighting against Palestinian forces was and remains ironic. By 1978, many of the Maronites had become convinced that the Syrians were really occupying Lebanon for reasons of their own, and by September of that year, they were openly feuding. The Syrian forces remained in Lebanon, effectively dominating its government, into the first years of the twenty-first century.
Cross-border attacks from Lebanon against Israeli territory led to an Israeli invasion in March 1978; Israel withdrew later that year in response to UN pressures.
The PLO's armed forces continued to use Lebanon as a base to attack Israel with rockets and artillery, and in 1982 Israel again invaded Lebanon with the objective of evicting the PLO. Israeli forces occupied areas from the southern Lebanese border with Israel northward into areas of Beirut. It was during this invasion that the first Sabra and Shatila massacre was committed by the Phalangist militia (under the command of Elie Hobeika). Israeli plans for Lebanon suffered a severe setback on 14 September 1982, with the assassination of the Phalangist leader and President-elect Bachir Gemayel, who was regarded as secretly sympathetic to Israel.
A multinational force landed in Beirut on August 20, 1982 to oversee the PLO withdrawal from Lebanon and U.S. mediation resulted in the evacuation of Syrian troops and PLO fighters from Beirut.
This period saw the rise of radicalism among the country's different factions, and a number of landmark terrorist attacks against American forces, including the destruction of the United States Embassy by a truck bomb and an even deadlier attack on the U.S. Marines barracks. Concurrently, in 1982 Hezbollah was created by some of the old members of Amal with other religious clerics.
1988 and 1989 were years of unprecedented chaos. The National Assembly failed to elect a successor to President Amine Gemayel (who had replaced his slain brother Bachir in 1982), whose term expired on 23 September. Fifteen minutes before the expiry of his term, Gemayel appointed an interim administration headed by the army commander, General Michel Aoun. His predecessor, Selim al-Hoss, refused to accept his dismissal in Aoun's favour. Lebanon was thus left with no President, and two rival governments that feuded for power, along with more than forty private militias.
The Arab League-sponsored Taif Agreement of 1989 marked the beginning of the end of the war. In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 were killed, and another 100,000 handicapped by injuries, during Lebanon's 15 year war. On May 22 2000, Israel unilaterally completed its withdrawal from the south of Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 from 1978. On September 2 2004, the United Nations Security Council, recalling previous resolutions, especially 525 (1978), 520 (1982) and 1553 (July 2004), approved Resolution 1559, sponsored by the United States and France, demanding that Syria, though not mentioned by name, should withdraw its troops from Lebanon. "All foreign forces should withdraw from Lebanon" to allow for free elections.
The country is recovering from the effects of the civil war, with foreign investment and tourism on the rise. Up until the spring of 2005, Syrian forces have been occupying large areas of the country (see Cedar Revolution below), and Iran exercises heavy influence over Hezbollah forces in the Beka'a Valley and Southern Lebanon. There has been a marked exodus of Christian Lebanese from the country. Nevertheless, areas of Lebanon and Beirut in particular are moving toward a sense of normality and stability. Lebanese civil society enjoys significantly more freedoms than elsewhere in the Arab world.
The "Cedar Revolution"
On February 14, 2005, after 10 years of relative political stability, Lebanon was shaken by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a car-bomb explosion. Accusations of responsibility were directed at Syria, Israel, and local gangsters, with anger at Syria being particularly widespread, because of its extenive military and intelligence presence in Lebanon, as well as the public rift between Hariri and Damascus over the extension of President Lahoud's term. Both Syria and Israel denied any involvement. After Hariri's assassination, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt alleged that a shaken Hariri had told him months before that he was personally threatened by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a 15-minute meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus in August 2004: "[President of Lebanon] Lahoud is me. ... If you and Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon.". Jumblatt said "When I heard him telling us those words, I knew that it was his condemnation of death." This testimony is contained, but not confirmed, in the UN's FitzGerald Report, issued 24 March 2005. Up to this point, no person or party has been directly accused of the murder. The Report has called for a further, much more extensive international inquiry. This has been seconded by the UN Secretary General and agreed to by the Lebanese government, but with reservations about respect for Lebanese sovereignty and the participation (not supremacy) of Lebanese agencies.
Hariri's rift with Assad began with the former's vehement opposition to the Syrian-backed constitutional amendment that extended pro-Syrian president Lahoud's term in office. Hariri resigned over the incident.
It was reported by some sources that upon hearing purportedly leaked information from the United Nations' special investigation report that the Lebanese authorities had covered up evidence of the murder, Hariri's two sons fled Lebanon after being warned that they too were in danger of assassination.  However, both sons strenously denied these claims, asserting that they were called away by business which had been on hold since their father's murder.
The assassination resulted in huge anti-Syrian protests by Lebanese citizens in Beirut demanding the resignation of the pro-Syrian government. Following the examples of the Rose Revolution and Orange Revolution in 2004, the popular action was dubbed the "Cedar Revolution" by the US State Department, a name which quickly caught on among the international media. On February 28, 2005, as over 70,000 people demonstrated in Martyrs' Square, Prime Minister Omar Karami and his Cabinet resigned, although they remained in office temporarily in a caretaker role prior to the appointment of replacements.
In response, Hezbollah organized a large counter demonstration, staged on March 8 in Beirut, supporting Syria and accusing Israel and the United States of meddling in internal Lebanese affairs. Considered a terrorist group by the United States and Israel, Hezbollah is a secondary target of Resolution 1559, which demands all Lebanese militias be disarmed; it has since been trying to rally masses to protest against foreign intervention. This demonstration was much larger than earlier anti-Syrian protests. The BBC and other sources have commented that the response to Hezbollah's call was massive and denoted the power of Lebanon's single largest sectarian denomination, the Shiites. Anti-Syrian protests have been subjected to controversy, due to extensive anti-Syrian agitation by the Hariri-owned Future TV Lebanese network and other Hariri-linked media outlets, which dwarf Hizbollah's. CNN noted some news agencies estimated the crowd at 200,000 , the Associated Press news agency estimated that there were nearly 500,000 pro-Syrian protestors, while the New York Times and Los Angeles Times simply estimated "hundreds of thousands". ,  Al-Jazeera reported a figure of 1.5 million, citing an unnamed official and the television station run by the Syrian-backed militia Amal.
On March 14, one month after Hariri's assassination, approximately one million protestors  rallied in Martyrs' Square, in the largest gathering to date. Protestors of all sects (even including a number of Shiites) marched for the truth of Hariri's murder and for what they call independence from Syrian occupation. The march reiterated their will for a sovereign, democratic, and unified country, free of Syria's hegemony.
In the weeks following the demonstrations, bombs were detonated in Christian areas near Beirut. Although the damages were mostly material, these acts demonstrate the danger of Lebanon relapsing into sectarian strife.
After weeks of unsuccessful negotiations to form a new government, Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned the post for the third time in his political career on 13 April 2005. Two days later, Najib Mikati, a US-educated millionaire businessman and former Minister of Public Works, was appointed as Prime Minister-designate. A moderate pro-Syrian, Mikati secured the post through the support of the Opposition, which had previously boycotted such negotiations.
Syria has said that by April 30, all Syrian troops will be out of Lebanon.
Lebanon is a republic in which the three highest offices are reserved for members of specific religious groups:
This arrangement is part of the "National Pact" (al Mithaq al Watani), an unwritten agreement which was established in 1943 during meetings between Lebanon's first president (a Maronite) and its first prime minister (a Sunni), although it was not formalized in the Constitution until 1990, following the Taif Agreement. The pact included a promise by the Christians not to seek French protection and to accept Lebanon's "Arab face", and a Muslim promise to recognize the independence and legitimacy of the Lebanese state in its 1920 boundaries and to renounce aspirations for union with Syria. This pact was thought at the time to be an interim compromise, necessary until Lebanon formed its own sense of a national identity. Its continued existence and the fallout from subsequent civil wars continue to dominate politics in Lebanon.
The pact also stipulated that seats in the National Assembly would be allocated by religion and region, in a ratio of 6 Christians to 5 Muslims, a ratio based on the 1932 census, which was taken at a time when Christians still had a slight majority. The Taif Agreement adjusted the ratio to grant equal representation to followers of the two religions, but some argue that they still do not reflect current demographics: owing to a higher Muslim birthrate and a higher rate of emigration among Christians, Muslims are now believed to have a clear majority, with between 55 and 70 percent of the population.
The Constitution grants the people the right to change their government. However, from the mid-1970s until the parliamentary elections in 1992, civil war precluded the exercise of political rights. According to the constitution, direct elections must be held for the parliament every four years. The last parliament election was in 2000; the election due to be held in 2004 was postponed for one year.
The National Assembly elects the President of the republic to a six-year term. Consecutive terms for the president are forbidden. This constitutional rule has been bypassed by ad-hoc amendment twice in recent history, however, at the urging of the Syrian government. Elias Hrawi's term, which was due to end in 1995, was extended for three years. This procedure was repeated in 2004 to allow Emile Lahoud to remain in office until 2007. Pro-democracy campaigners denounced the moves.
The last presidential election was in 1998. The President appoints the Prime Minister on the nomination of the National Assembly. Lebanon has numerous political parties, but their role less important than in most parliamentary systems. Most represent, in practice if not in theory, sectarian interests; many are little more than ad-hoc lists of candidates endorsed by a well-known national or local figure. Electoral tickets are often formed on a constituency-by-constituency basis by negotiation among local leaders of clans, religious groups, and political parties; these loose coalitions generally exist only for the election and rarely form cohesive blocs in the National Assembly subsequently.
Lebanon's judicial system is based on the Napoleonic Code. Juries are not used in trials. The Lebanese court system has three levels - courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the court of cassation. 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, divorce, and inheritance. Lebanese law does not provide for Civil marriage (although it recognizes such marriages contracted abroad); efforts by former President Elias Hrawi to legalize civil marriage in the late 1990s foundered on objections mostly from Muslim clerics.
Lebanon has been under Syrian domination since 1990. More information is available here. Many Lebanese are unhappy with what they see as the undue influence exerted by the Syrian government over their affairs. The pro-Syrian administration of Émile Lahoud has curbed freedom of speech, and has attempted (successfully, until recently) to ban demonstrations. Recently, after the assassination of former prime minister Rafic Hariri, international pressure on Syria was dramatically increased, demanding a complete and immediate withdrawal of its forces, including intelligence personnel, from Lebanon.
On Monday February 28, 2005, the Syrian-backed government of Prime Minister Omar Karami announced its resignation, staying on in a caretaker role. However, Karami was reappointed and asked to head a national unity government on Wednesday March 9, 2005, one day after a massive demonstration expressing support for Syria. Negotiations over the formation of the national unity government have stalled, however, over the demands of some politicians for the immediate withdrawal of Syrian forces, and over the reluctance of others (such as Walid Jumblatt) to serve in a government under President Lahoud.
On March 14, the anti-Syrian opposition party responded with a protest that by an Associated Press estimate by reporters on the scene put the number at much higher than the approximately 500,000 who attended the March 8 pro-Syrian rally, however, CNN and The Guardian estimated the crowd at only 200,000, in line with their estimates for the March 8 rally.
Lebanon is divided into six governorates (mohafazat, singular - mohafazah), which are further subdivided into 25 districts (Aqdya, singular - qadaa ), also divided into several municipalities englobing a group of cities or villages.
A Middle Eastern country, Lebanon is demarcated to the west by the Mediterranean (Coast: 225 kilometres) and to the east by the Syro-African Depression . Lebanon borders Syria for 375 kilometres to the north and to the east and Israel for 79 kilometres to the south. The border with Israel has been approved by the United Nations [see ], although a small piece of land called "Shebaa Farms" located in the Golan Heights is claimed by Lebanon but occupied by Israel, who claim that it is actually Syrian land. The UN has officially declared this region not to be Lebanese territory, but Lebanese resistance occasionally launches attacks against Israeli positions within it. In addition, Syria maintains an army of approximately 17,000 troops in Lebanon. Lebanese supporters of Syria claim this is a legitimate presence as it was requested by the Lebanese government at the outset of the civil war in 1975. Opponents of Syria, as well as the international community, claim the Syrian presence is a hostile occupation by a foreign power.
Lebanon has a competitive and free market regime and a strong laissez-faire commercial tradition. The Lebanese economy is service-oriented; main growth sectors include banking and tourism. There are no restrictions on foreign exchange or capital movement, and bank secrecy is strictly enforced. Lebanon has recently adopted a law to combat money laundering. There are practically no restrictions on foreign investment.
The 1975-1991 civil war seriously damaged Lebanon's economic infrastructure, cut national output by half, and all but ended Lebanon's position as a Middle Eastern entrepot and banking hub. Peace has 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.
The population of Lebanon comprises different ethnic groups and religions: Muslims: (Shi'ites, Sunnis, and Alawites), Christians (Maronites mainly of Phoenician descent, various Eastern Orthodox Arabs and Armenians), Druze, and others. No official census has been taken since 1932, reflecting the political sensitivity in Lebanon over confessional (religious) balance. The United States government has estimated that 60% of the resident population is Muslim; the rest is Christian, predominantly Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Armenian Catholic, as well as a minority of Protestants. There is a small minority of Jews, mostly living outside Lebanon. Also, a small community (less than 1%) of Kurds (also known as Mhallamis or Mardins) live in Lebanon. There are approximately 20 million Lebanese spread all over the world.
While 360,000 Palestinian refugees have registered in Lebanon with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) since 1948, estimates of those remaining range between 160,000 and 225,000.
The delicate confessional balance has affected what citizenship rights newcomers have been granted. After over fifty years, mostly Muslim Palestinians have still not been given the right to vote, nor complete liberty of occupation. In contrast, Christian Armenians have been given citizenship.
Many Lebanese still derive their living from agriculture. The urban population, concentrated mainly in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, is noted for its commercial enterprise. A century and a half of migration and return have produced Lebanese commercial networks around the globe from North and South America to Europe, the Gulf, and Africa. Lebanon has a high proportion of skilled labor compared with many other Middle Eastern countries.
Lebanon has been a major crossroads of civilizations for millenia, so it is perhaps unsurprising that this small country would possess an extraordinarily rich and vibrant culture. Lebanon's wide array of ethnic and religious groups each contribute to the country's diverse cuisines, musical and literary traditions, and festivals. Beirut in particular has a very vibrant arts scene, with numerous performances, exhibits, fashion shows, and concerts held throughout the year in its galleries, museums, theaters, and public spaces.
Several international festivals are held in Lebanon, featuring world-renowned artists and drawing crowds from Lebanon and abroad. Among the most famous are the summer festivals at Baalbeck, Beiteddine, and Byblos, where the elite and eclectic line-ups perform against the backdrop of some of Lebanon's most famous and spectacular historical sites.
The foreign policy of Lebanon reflects its geographic location, the composition of its population, and its reliance on commerce and trade. Lebanon's foreign policy is heavily influenced by Syria, which maintains forces throughout parts of Lebanon.
Lebanon concluded negotiations on an association agreement with the European Union in late 2001, and both sides initialed the accord in January 2002. Lebanon also has bilateral trade agreements with several Arab states and is in the process of accession to the World Trade Organization. Lebanon enjoys good relations with virtually all of its Arab neighbors (despite historic tensions with Libya, the Palestinians, and Iraq). Lebanon also is a member of the Organization of Islamic Conference and maintains a close relationship with Iran.
Lebanon does not have diplomatic or trade relations with Israel. In May 1983 Israel and the Christian government of Lebanon signed a de facto peace treaty that would have established bilateral ties but this treaty has been abrogated. Lebanon's official stance on relations with Israel is that relations can only happen after a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian settlement and a return of the Golan Heights to Syria.
Lebanon and Israel have one remaining boundary dispute over a district on the north side of the Golan Heights called Shebaa Farms. Lebanon claims that the Shebaa farms are occupied Lebanese territory, Israel claims that the Shebaa farms are occupied Syrian territory (and thus would be dealt with in an Israel-Syrian treaty). Lebanon would also like Israel to take back Palestinian refugees who have been in Lebanon for decades.
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