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Lebanon - The Earthquake, May 2005


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Synopsis of "The Earthquake"

FACTS & STATS: LEBANON
Land and People, History and Government, Economy, Culture

FACTS & STATS: SYRIA
Land and People, History and Government, Economy, Ancient Culture

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Facts & Stats - Lebanon

Land and People
History and Government
Economy
Culture



Land and People

Lebanon, roughly the size of Connecticut, is located between Israel and Syria on the Mediterranean Sea. Summers are hot and dry; in winter, it snows heavily in the mountains.

Lebanon has a population of 3.8 million people, 94 percent of them Arab, 4 percent Armenian and 1 percent from other backgrounds.

The country's last census was in 1932, when Christians outnumbered Muslims. Now the population is estimated to be 60 percent to 70 percent Muslim, including Shiites and Sunni as well as the smaller Muslim sects known as the Alawite and the Druze. The remaining 30 percent to 40 percent of the population is made up of various Christian sects, including Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox.

Arabic is Lebanon's official language, but French, English and Armenian are also commonly spoken.

Beirut, the capital city, was considered the Paris of the Middle East until it was destroyed by war. Tourists once flocked to the city to enjoy its sandy beaches, vibrant nightlife and skiing.

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History and Government

For centuries, Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire, but after World War II, it passed into the hands of the French under the name of Great Lebanon.

The country's constitution, which was drawn up in 1926, called for a balance of political power between Christians and Muslims and also renamed the country the Republic of Lebanon.

In 1943, a formula was worked out -- based on the 1932 census -- for political representation in Lebanon's government: seats in the Chamber of Deputies (later the National Assembly) were to be divided between Christians and Muslims by a ratio of six to five. The president was to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim.

Also in 1943, Lebanon gained independence, and in 1946, French troops withdrew.

Throughout the 1950s and into the 1960s, Lebanon was peaceful with the exception of a brief insurrection in 1958.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Palestinian refugees fleeing the Arab-Israeli war descended on Lebanon, and Palestinian activists made Lebanon their base for operations against Israel.

With the influx of Palestinians, Muslim and Christian tensions grew.

Full-scale civil war erupted in 1975, with a coalition of Lebanese Muslim militias and Palestinian guerrilla groups on one side and Christian militias on the other.

Syrian troops moved into Lebanon in 1976 to restore peace and control the Palestinians.

Civil war continued to rage as regional powers -- Israel, Syria and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) -- made Lebanon their battlefield.

The Lebanese civil war raged for 16 years, claiming the lives of 150,000 people and displacing hundreds of thousands more.

In June 1982, Israel invaded southern Lebanon in Operation Peace for Galilee.

Several months later, U.S. Marines arrived in Beirut to monitor the withdrawal of PLO guerrillas who were under attack by the Israeli army. The Marines evacuated in 1984 shortly after a suicide bomber killed 241 of them in their barracks.

In 1991, the Lebanese National Assembly, wanting reconciliation, ordered the disbanding of all militias except Hezbollah, a radical Islamic movement armed and funded by Syria and Iran.

Also in 1991, the constitution of the country was amended 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.

In 1992, Rafiq Hariri, a billionaire businessman, became prime minister.

Conflict between Israel, Hezbollah and Palestinian guerrillas continued, particularly in southern Lebanon.

In 1998, pro-Syrian politician Emile Lahoud was elected president by the national assembly.

Finally in 2000, Israel withdrew its troops from southern Lebanon as Hezbollah advanced.

In October of the same year, Rafiq Hariri was elected prime minister a second time.

In 2004, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution demanding that Syrian troops withdraw from Lebanon, but Syria ignored it. The Syrians then forced a change in the Lebanese constitution to ensure that Lahoud would stay in office three years past his fast-approaching term limit.

In protest against the extension of Lahoud's term, Hariri resigned.

On February 14, 2005, Hariri was killed in a bomb explosion in Beirut, an assassination commonly attributed to political leaders in Damascus.

Amid massive protests demanding Syrian troop withdrawal, Prime Minister Omar Karami, a Syria loyalist, resigned. But within days, he was asked by Lahoud to form a new government. Karami resigned again in April 2005 and was immediately succeeded by moderate pro-Syrian Najib Mikati, who also had backing from the opposition. Mikati has been given the task of preparing for upcoming general elections.

Responding to international pressure, Syria's 14,000 troops completely withdrew from Lebanon as of April 30, 2005.

Israel continues to occupy a security zone in southern Lebanon. Firefights regularly break out between the Israeli and Hezbollah guerrillas.

Elections in Lebanon are scheduled for late May 2005.

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Economy

Although Lebanon was once a hub for trade and banking in the Middle East, its civil war badly damaged the economy, and national output dropped by 50 percent.

In 1993, the government launched Horizon 2000, a $20 billion reconstruction effort.

Heavy borrowing to rebuild Lebanon's postwar physical and financial infrastructure led to increasing amounts of national debt.

The national currency is 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. Its main imports are foodstuffs, machinery and transport equipment.

Lebanon's main trading partners are Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland and the United States.

Critics maintain that pro-Syrian interests have drained the Lebanese economy of up to $3 billion a year.

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Culture

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 in her 20s throughout the Arab world and was later invited to sing at the Royal 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) remains Lebanon's most renowned Impressionist painter. Trained in Paris, his portraits and landscapes of Lebanon have been exhibited throughout the world.

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Sources: The New York Times; CIA World Factbook; Agence France-Presse; Freedom House; BBC News; Electionworld.