Frontline World

LEBANON - Party of God, May 2003

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Synopsis of "Party of God"

A History of Hezbollah

Negotiating With Hezbollah

Lebanon Country Profile

Hezbollah, the Region and U.S. Policy




Images of Lebanese landscapes, people and culture (images copyright BBC, 2003)
Facts & Stats

• General Background
• Government
• Military
• Economy
• Culture

General Background

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 Assembly.

The National Assembly has 128 seats, 64 of them held by Muslims (27 Sunni, 27 Shiite, eight Druze and two Alawite), 64 by Christians (34 Maronite).

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 their barracks.

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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 in 1923.

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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Sources: "Lebanese Chief 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.