Lebanon, roughly the size of Connecticut, is located between Israel
and Syria on the Mediterranean Sea. It was once part of the Ottoman
Empire and became a French colony at the end of World War I.
Independent since 1943, Lebanon has a population of 3.7 million
people, 95 percent of them Arab, 4 percent Armenian and 1 percent
from other backgrounds.
Muslims make up 70 percent of the population, including Shiites
and Sunni as well as smaller religious sects known as the Alawite
and the Druze. The remaining 30 percent of the population is
Christian, including orthodox Maronites, Catholics and Protestants.
Lebanon's literacy rate is 86.4 percent.
The country was ravaged by a civil war for 16 years (1975-1991),
the longest of its kind in the Middle East.
The Lebanese Civil War claimed the lives of 150,000 people
and created hundreds of thousands of refugees.
Beirut, the capital of Lebanon, was considered the Paris of
the Middle East until it was destroyed in the war. Tourists
from the region used to flock to the city to enjoy its sandy
beaches, vibrant nightlife and skiing.
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After Lebanon's independence in 1943, Muslims were given a smaller
share of political power than their numbers might suggest. This
disparity partly explains the country's long civil war.
The constitution of the country was amended in 1991, under a
plan for national reconciliation called the Ta'if Accord. The
accord established a new political order in which Muslims and
Christians share legislative power through a unicameral National
The National Assembly has 128 seats, 64 of them held by Muslims
(27 Sunni, 27 Shiite, eight Druze and two Alawite), 64 by Christians
The assembly elects a president for a six-year term. Pro-Syrian
President Emile Lahoud was elected by the National Assembly
in 1998, and in September 2004, Syrians forced a change in the
Lebanese constitution that ensured that Lahoud would stay in
office three years past his fast-approaching term limit.
Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri opposed Lahoud's term extension
and subsequently resigned. On February 14, 2005, Hariri was
killed in a bomb explosion in Beirut. Amid massive protests,
Prime Minister Omar Kamari, a Syria loyalist, resigned. But
within days, parliament voted to reappoint him.
Lebanon's next elections are scheduled for May 2005.
Hezbollah, once a ragtag militia, is currently one of the
most powerful parties in the National Assembly, occupying 12
of the National Assembly's 128 seats. It is a Shiite Muslim
organization led by Sheik Hassan Nasrallah with 20,000 active
members. Founded in 1982, Hezbollah has twin objectives -- the
destruction of Israel and the creation of an Islamic state in
Lebanon. The party runs hospitals, television stations and newspapers
and is widely supported by the Lebanese. After Lebanon's independence
in 1943, Muslims were given a smaller share of political power
than their numbers might suggest. This disparity partly explains
the country's long civil war.
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Lebanon was the battleground for 40 different armies at the
height of its civil war, including the official armed forces
of Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Iran and the United States as well
as Palestinian, Christian and Muslim militias.
Today Lebanon has a standing army of more than 60,000 soldiers.
Hezbollah maintains an armed fighting force of approximately
3,000, most of them clustered on the southern border, in an
area known as the Bekaa valley.
Syria has 14,000 troops stationed in Lebanon. It has occupied
Lebanon since 1976, when it was granted a mandate by the Arab
League to put an end to the civil war.
Israel invaded southern Lebanon in 1982 and had troops stationed
there for almost 20 years. Israeli troops were removed in May
2000, although Israel continues to occupy a "security zone"
in southern Lebanon. Firefights regularly break out between
the Israelis and Hezbollah guerrillas.
U.S. Marines arrived in Beirut in August 1982. Their mission
was to monitor the withdrawal of PLO guerrillas, which were
then under attack by the Israeli Army. The Marines evacuated
in 1984 shortly after a suicide bomber killed 241 of them in
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Lebanon's civil war badly damaged its economy, causing national
output to be cut in half. In 1993, the government launched Horizon
2000, a $20 billion reconstruction effort.
Per capita GDP: $5,200
Per capita GDP at the start of the civil war in 1975: $2,250
Per capita GDP for Lebanon's neighbors: Syria $3,200; Iran
$7,000; Israel $19,000
National currency: the Lebanese pound
Lebanon's economy is based on banking, food processing, textiles
and cement as well as the export of fruits, vegetables and tobacco.
Services constitute 67 percent of the country's GDP, agriculture
12 percent and industry 21 percent.
Lebanon's main trading partners are Saudi Arabia, the United
Arab Emirates, Switzerland and the United States.
In 2001, Lebanon grossed $700 million from its exports while
spending $6.6 billion on imports. Its main imports are foodstuffs,
machinery and transport equipment.
In November 2002, Lebanon received pledges for $4.3 billion
in aid from 26 foreign countries, including France, Canada,
Japan, Belgium, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait,
Oman and Malaysia.
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Lebanon is the birthplace of world-renowned writer and poet
Kahlil Gibran, whose celebrated work The Prophet has
been translated into more than 20 languages since its publication
Fairouz (née Nouhad Alboustani) is considered Lebanon's
best female singer. Born in 1933 (some sources say 1935), she
achieved fame throughout the Arab world in her 20s and was later
invited to sing at Albert Hall in London, Carnegie Hall in New
York and the Olympia in Paris. She stopped singing during the
years of the civil war, but began staging concerts again in
1994, including a large and successful one in Baalbek in 1998.
Marcel Khalife is one of Lebanon's most famous composers of
music for the oud, a Middle Eastern lute. His Al-Mayadine Ensemble
regularly tours the world. In collaboration with Lebanon's Caracalla
Dance Troupe, Khalife's music has helped to popularize a new
form of Near Eastern ballet.
Omar Onsi (1901-1969) was Lebanon's most renowned Impressionist
painter. Trained in Paris, his portraits and his landscapes
of Lebanon have been exhibited throughout the world.
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Signs a New Power-Sharing Law," The New York Times,
September 22, 1990;
"On the Shores of Beirut's Harbor, U.S. Marines Are Standing
Guard," The New York Times, August 26, 1982; CIA
Factbook 2002 (numbers are 2001 estimates); "Saudi Telecom
Sell-Off, Lebanese Recovery Mark Mideast Economic Week," Agence
France-Presse, December 20, 2002; "Lebanon
Obtains 4.5 Billion USD in Credits From Key Donors," Xinhua
General News Service, November 23, 2002.