Lebanon is a nation of over four million people in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Israel and Syria. The country's rugged terrain historically helped isolate, protect, and develop numerous factional groups based on religion, clan, and ethnicity.
Its major environmental issues include:
- soil erosion;
- air pollution in Beirut from vehicular traffic and the burning of industrial wastes;
- pollution of coastal waters from raw sewage and oil spills
Lebanon is susceptible to dust storms and sandstorms.
Nahr el Litani is the only major river in Near East not crossing an international boundary.
Following World War I, France acquired a mandate over the northern portion of the former Ottoman Empire province of Syria. The French separated out the region of Lebanon in 1920, and granted this area independence in 1943.
A lengthy civil war (1975-90) devastated the country, but Lebanon has since made progress toward rebuilding its political institutions. Under the Ta'if Accord - the blueprint for national reconciliation - the Lebanese established a more equitable political system, particularly by giving Muslims a greater voice in the political process while institutionalizing sectarian divisions in the government.
Since the end of the war, Lebanon has conducted several successful elections. Most militias have been reduced or disbanded, with the exception of Hizballah, designated by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and Palestinian militant groups.
During Lebanon's civil war, the Arab League legitimized in the Ta'if Accord Syria's troop deployment, numbering about 16,000 based mainly east of Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. Israel's withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 and the passage in September 2004 of UNSCR 1559 - a resolution calling for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and end its interference in Lebanese affairs - encouraged some Lebanese groups to demand that Syria withdraw its forces as well.
The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and 22 others in February 2005 led to massive demonstrations in Beirut against the Syrian presence ("the Cedar Revolution"), and Syria withdrew the remainder of its military forces in April 2005.
In May-June 2005, Lebanon held its first legislative elections since the end of the civil war free of foreign interference, handing a majority to the bloc led by Sa'ad Harir, the slain prime minister's son.
In July 2006, Hizballah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers leading to a 34-day conflict with Israel in which approximately 1,200 Lebanese civilians were killed. UNSCR 1701 ended the war in August 2006, and Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deployed throughout the country for the first time in decades, charged with securing Lebanon's borders against weapons smuggling and maintaining a weapons-free zone in south Lebanon with the help of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).
The LAF in May-September 2007 battled Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp, winning a decisive victory, but destroying the camp and displacing 30,000 Palestinian residents.
Lebanese politicians in November 2007 were unable to agree on a successor to Emile Lahud when he stepped down as president, creating a political vacuum until the election of LAF Commander Gen. Michel Sulayman in May 2008 and the formation of a new unity government in July 2008.
Legislative elections in June 2009 again produced victory for the bloc led by Sa'ad Hariri, but a period of prolonged negotiation over the composition of the cabinet ensued. A national unity government was finally formed in November 2009 and approved by the National Assembly the following month.
In January 2010, Lebanon assumed a nonpermanent seat on the UN Security Council for the 2010-11 term.
Inspired by the popular revolts that began in late 2010 against dictatorships across the Middle East and North Africa, marches and demonstrations in Lebanon were directed instead against sectarian politics. Although the protests gained some traction, they were limited in size and unsuccessful in changing the system.
Opposition politicians collapsed the national unity government under Prime Minister Sa'ad Hariri in February 2011. After several months in caretaker status, the government named Najib Miqati Prime Minister.
Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Israel and Syria
Geographic Coordinates: 33 50 N, 35 50 E
Area: 10,400 sq km (land: 10,230 sq km; water: 170 sq km)
Land Boundaries: 454 km (Israel 79 km, Syria 375 km)
Lacking a treaty or other documentation describing the boundary, portions of the Lebanon-Syria boundary are unclear with several sections in dispute. Since 2000, Lebanon has claimed Shab'a Farms area in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The roughly 2,000-strong UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) has been in place since 1978.
Coastline: 225 km
Maritime Claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
Natural Hazards: dust storms, sandstorms
Terrain: narrow coastal plain. El Beqaa (theBekaa Valley) separates the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains. The highest point is Qornet es Saouda (3,088 m)
Climate: Mediterranean; mild to cool, wet winters with hot, dry summers; Lebanon mountains experience heavy winter snows
Topography of Lebanon. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Ecology and Biodiversity
People and Society
Population: 4,140,289 (July 2012 est.)
The population of Lebanon comprises 18 sects including Christians, Muslims, and Druze. No official census has been taken since 1932, reflecting the political sensitivity in Lebanon over confessional (religious) balance. While there is no consensus over the confessional breakdown of the population for this reason, it is safe to say that the Muslim sects as a whole make up a majority, and that Shia, Sunnis, and Maronites are the three largest groups.
About 400,000 Palestinian refugees, some whose families have been in Lebanon since 1948, are registered with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). They are not accorded the civil and legal rights enjoyed by the rest of the population and are not allowed access to public education or health or social services. As a result, the majority of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon rely entirely on UNRWA as the sole provider of education and health, relief, and social services. UNRWA’s operations in the 12 official refugee camps in Lebanon face a number of challenges, including crumbling infrastructure, overcrowded housing, poverty, systemic unemployment, and a higher percentage of registered special hardship cases than any other field.
With no official figures available, it is estimated that 600,000-900,000 persons fled the country during the initial years of civil war (1975-76). Although some returned, continuing conflict through 1990 as well as after the 2006 war sparked further waves of emigration, casting even more doubt on population figures. As much as 7% of the population was killed during the civil war between 1975 and 1990. Approximately 17,000-20,000 people are still missing or unaccounted for from the civil war period.
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 Arab countries.
Source: World Wildlife Fund
|Credit Jacques Descloitres, MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC|
Ethnic Groups: Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1%. Note: many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendents of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians. 17 religious sects recognized. Muslim 59.7% (Shia, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Coptic, Protestant), other 1.3%
0-14 years: 23% (male 487,930/female 464,678)
15-64 years: 68% (male 1,370,628/female 1,446,173)
65 years and over: 9% (male 173,073/female 200,619) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: -0.38% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 14.92 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 6.63 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: -12.08 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 75.23 years
male: 73.67 years
female: 76.88 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 1.76 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
Literacy (age 15 and over can read and write): 82.2% (2003 est.)
Urbanization: 87% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 0.9% (2010-15 est.)
Lebanon is the historic home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years (c.2700-450 B.C.). In later centuries, Lebanon's mountains were a refuge for Christians, and Crusaders established several strongholds there. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations mandated the five provinces that comprise present-day Lebanon to France. Modern Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political power among the various religious groups. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon participated in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War and signed an armistice with Israel on March 23, 1949.
Lebanon's history since independence has been marked by periods of political turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade. In 1958, during the last months of President Camille Chamoun's term, an insurrection broke out, and U.S. forces were briefly dispatched to Lebanon in response to an appeal by the government. During the 1960s, Lebanon enjoyed a period of relative calm and Beirut-focused tourism and banking sector-driven prosperity. Other areas of the country, however, notably the south, north, and Bekaa Valley, remained poor in comparison.
In the early 1970s, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian refugees, many of whom arrived after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the secret 1969 Cairo Agreement permitting the establishment of Palestinian camps in Lebanon, and 1970 "Black September" hostilities in Jordan. Among the 1970 arrivals were Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense.
Beginning of the Civil War--1975-81
Full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975. After shots were fired at a church, gunmen in Christian East Beirut ambushed a busload of Palestinians. Palestinian forces joined predominantly leftist-Muslim factions as the fighting persisted, eventually spreading to most parts of the country and precipitating the Lebanese President's call for support from Syrian troops in June 1976. In fall of 1976, Arab summits in Riyadh and Cairo set out a plan to end the war. The resulting Arab Deterrent Force, which included Syrian troops already present, moved in to help separate the combatants. As an uneasy quiet settled over Beirut, security conditions in the south began to deteriorate.
After a PLO attack on a bus in northern Israel and Israeli retaliation that caused heavy casualties, Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978, occupying most of the area south of the Litani River. In response, the UN Security Council passed Resolution 425 calling for the immediate withdrawal of Israeli forces and creating the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), charged with maintaining peace. Israeli forces withdrew later in 1978, turning over positions inside Lebanon along the border to their Lebanese ally, the South Lebanon Army (SLA) under the leadership of Maj. Saad Haddad, thus informally setting up a 12-mile wide "security zone" to protect Israeli territory from cross border attack.
An interim cease-fire brokered by the U.S. in 1981 among Syria, the PLO, and Israel was respected for almost a year. Several incidents, including PLO rocket attacks on northern Israel, as well as an assassination attempt on the Israeli Ambassador to the United Kingdom, led to the June 6, 1982 Israeli ground attack into Lebanon to remove PLO forces. Operation "Peace for Galilee" aimed at establishing a deeper security zone and pushing Syrian troops out of Lebanon, with a view toward paving the way for an Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement. With these aims in mind, Israeli forces drove 25 miles into Lebanon, moving into East Beirut with the support of Maronite Christian leaders and militia.
In August 1982, U.S. mediation resulted in the evacuation of Syrian troops and PLO fighters from Beirut. The agreement also provided for the deployment of a multinational force composed of U.S. Marines along with French and Italian units. A new President, Bashir Gemayel, was elected with acknowledged Israeli backing. On September 14, however, he was assassinated. The next day, Israeli troops crossed into West Beirut to secure Muslim militia strongholds and stood aside as Lebanese Christian militias massacred almost 800 Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps. Israel's then-Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon was held indirectly responsible for the massacre by the Kahane Commission and later resigned. With U.S. backing, Amine Gemayel, chosen by the Lebanese parliament to succeed his brother as President, focused anew on securing the withdrawal of Israeli and Syrian forces. The multinational force returned.
On May 17, 1983, Lebanon, Israel, and the United States signed an agreement on Israeli withdrawal that was conditioned on the departure of Syrian troops. Syria opposed the agreement and declined to discuss the withdrawal of its troops, effectively stalemating further progress. In August 1983, Israel withdrew from the Shuf (southeast of Beirut), thus removing the buffer between the Druze and the Christian militias and triggering another round of brutal fighting. By September, the Druze had gained control over most of the Shuf, and Israeli forces had pulled out from all but the southern security zone, where they remained until May 2000. The virtual collapse of the Lebanese Army in February 1984, following the defection of many Muslim and Druze units to militias, was a major blow to the government. With the U.S. Marines looking ready to withdraw, Syria and Muslim groups stepped up pressure on Gemayal. On March 5, 1984 the Lebanese Government canceled the May 17 agreement; the Marines departed a few weeks later.
This period of chaos witnessed the beginning of terrorist attacks launched against U.S. and Western interests. These included the April 18, 1983 suicide attack at the U.S. Embassy in West Beirut (63 dead), the bombing of the headquarters of U.S. and French forces on October 23, 1983 (298 dead), the assassination of American University of Beirut President Malcolm Kerr on January 18, 1984, and the bombing of the U.S. Embassy annex in East Beirut on September 20, 1984 (9 dead).
It also saw the rise of radicalism among a small number of Lebanese Muslim factions who believed that the successive Israeli and U.S. interventions in Lebanon were serving primarily Christian interests. It was from these factions that Hizballah emerged from a loose coalition of Shia groups. Hizballah employed terrorist tactics and was supported by Syria and Iran.
Worsening Conflict and Political Crisis--1985-89
Between 1985 and 1989, factional conflict worsened as various efforts at national reconciliation failed. Heavy fighting took place in the "War of the Camps" in 1985 and 1986 as the Shia Muslim Amal militia sought to rout the Palestinians from Lebanese strongholds. The Amal movement had been organized in mid-1975, at the beginning of the civil war, to confront what were seen as Israeli plans to displace the Lebanese population with Palestinians. (Its charismatic founder Imam Musa Sadr disappeared in Libya 3 years later. Its current leader, Nabih Berri, is the Speaker of the National Assembly.) The combat returned to Beirut in 1987, with Palestinians, leftists, and Druze fighters allied against Amal, eventually drawing further Syrian intervention. Violent confrontation flared up again in Beirut in 1988 between Amal and Hizballah.
Meanwhile, on the political front, Prime Minister Rashid Karami, head of a government of national unity set up after the failed peace efforts of 1984, was assassinated on June 1, 1987. President Gemayel's term of office expired in September 1988. Before stepping down, he appointed another Maronite Christian, Lebanese Armed Forces Commanding General Michel Aoun, as acting Prime Minister, contravening Lebanon's unwritten "National Pact," which required the prime minister to be Sunni Muslim. Muslim groups rejected the move and pledged support to Salim al-Hoss, a Sunni who had succeeded Karami. Lebanon was thus divided between a Christian government in East Beirut and a Muslim government in West Beirut, with no president.
In February 1989 Aoun attacked the rival Lebanese Forces militia. By March he turned his attention to other militias, launching what he termed a "War of Liberation" against the Syrians and their Lebanese militia allies. In the months that followed, Aoun rejected both the agreement that ultimately ended the civil war and the election of another Christian leader as president. A Lebanese-Syrian military operation in October 1990 forced him to take refuge in the French Embassy in Beirut and later to go into a 15-year exile in Paris. After Syrian troop withdrawal, Aoun returned to Lebanon on May 7, 2005 and won a seat in the 2005 parliamentary elections. His Free Patriotic Movement became a principal element of the pro-Syrian opposition bloc.
End of the Civil War--1989-91
The Taif Agreement of 1989 marked the beginning of the end of the war. In January of that year, a committee appointed by the Arab League, chaired by Kuwait and including Saudi Arabia, Algeria, and Morocco, had begun to formulate solutions to the conflict, leading to a meeting of Lebanese parliamentarians in Taif, Saudi Arabia, where they agreed to the national reconciliation accord in October. Returning to Lebanon, they ratified the agreement on November 4 and elected Rene Moawad as President the following day. Moawad was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut on November 22 as his motorcade returned from Lebanese Independence Day ceremonies. Elias Hrawi, who remained in office until 1998, succeeded him.
In August 1990, parliament and the new President agreed on constitutional amendments embodying some of the political reforms envisioned at Taif. The National Assembly expanded to 128 seats and was divided equally between Christians and Muslims (with Druze counted as Muslims). In March 1991, parliament passed an amnesty law that pardoned all political crimes prior to its enactment. The amnesty was not extended to crimes perpetrated against foreign diplomats or certain crimes referred by the cabinet to the Higher Judicial Council. In May 1991, the militias (with the important exception of Hizballah and Palestinian militias) were dissolved, and the Lebanese Armed Forces began to slowly rebuild itself as Lebanon's only major nonsectarian institution.
In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 were killed, and another 100,000 left handicapped, during Lebanon's 15-year civil war. Up to one-fifth of the pre-war resident population, or about 900,000 people, were displaced from their homes, of which perhaps a quarter of a million emigrated permanently. The last of the Western hostages taken during the mid-1980s were released in May 1992.
Postwar Reconstruction--1992 to 2005
Postwar social and political instability, fueled by economic uncertainty and the collapse of the Lebanese currency, led to the resignation of Prime Minister Omar Karami in May 1992, after less than 2 years in office. Former Prime Minister Rashid al Solh, who was widely viewed as a caretaker to oversee Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in 20 years, replaced him.
By early November 1992, a new parliament had been elected, and Prime Minister Rafik Hariri had formed a cabinet, retaining for himself the finance portfolio. The formation of a government headed by a successful billionaire businessman was widely seen as a sign that Lebanon would make a priority of rebuilding the country and reviving the economy. Solidere, a private real estate company set up to rebuild downtown Beirut, was a symbol of Hariri's strategy to link economic recovery to private sector investment. After the election of then-commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Emile Lahoud in 1998, following Hrawi's extended term as President, Salim al-Hoss again served as Prime Minister. Hariri returned to office as Prime Minister in November 2000. Although problems with basic infrastructure and government services persist, and Lebanon is now highly indebted, much of the civil war damage was repaired throughout the country, and many foreign investors and tourists returned.
In early April 1996, Israel conducted a military operation dubbed "Grapes of Wrath" in response to Hizballah's continued launching of rockets at villages in northern Israel. The 16-day operation caused hundreds of thousands of civilians in south Lebanon to flee their homes. On April 18, Hizballah fired mortars at an Israeli military unit from a position near the UN compound at Qana, and the Israeli Army responded with artillery fire. Several Israeli shells struck the compound, killing 102 civilians sheltered there. In the "April Understanding" concluded on April 26, Israel and Hizballah committed themselves to avoid targeting civilians and using populated areas to launch attacks. The Israel-Lebanon Monitoring Group (ILMG), co-chaired by France and the United States, with Syria, Lebanon, and Israel all represented, was set up to implement the Understanding and assess reports of violations. ILMG ceased operations following the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon.
On May 23, 2000, the Israeli military carried out a total withdrawal of Israeli troops from the south and the Bekaa Valley, effectively ending 22 years of occupation. The SLA collapsed and about 6,000 SLA members and their families fled the country, although more than 3,000 had returned by November 2003. The military court tried all of the SLA operatives who remained in the country and the average sentence handed down was 1-year imprisonment.
On June 16, 2000, the UN Security Council adopted the report of the Secretary General verifying Israeli compliance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 (1978) and the withdrawal of Israeli troops to their side of the demarcated Lebanese-Israeli line of separation (the "Blue Line") mapped out by UN cartographers. (The international border between Lebanon and Israel is still to be determined in the framework of a peace agreement.) In August 2000, the Government of Lebanon deployed over 1,000 police and soldiers to the former security zone, but Hizballah also maintained observation posts and conducted patrols along the Blue Line. While Lebanon and Syria initially agreed to respect the Blue Line, both since have registered objections and continue to argue that Israel has not fully withdrawn from Lebanese soil. As regional tension escalated with the Palestinian intifada in September 2000, Hizballah cited Blue Line discrepancies when it reengaged Israel on October 7, taking three Israeli soldiers captive in an area known as Shebaa Farms. (In 2001, the Israeli Government declared the three soldiers were believed to be dead.) Shebaa Farms, a largely unpopulated area just south of the Blue Line opposite the Lebanese town of Sheba'a, was captured by Israel when it occupied Syria's Golan Heights in 1967. The Lebanese Government has repeatedly laid claim to the area since shortly before Israel's general withdrawal. Meanwhile, the Syrian Government has verbally stated that the Shebaa Farms tract is Lebanese, but, as with the rest of the Lebanon-Syria border, has been unwilling to commit to a formal border demarcation in the area. As a result of secret mediation by the German Government, Israel released a number of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel in early 2004 in exchange for Elhanan Tannenbaum, an Israeli reservist abducted by Hizballah in late 2000.
In January 2000 the government took action against Sunni Muslim extremists in the north who had attacked its soldiers, and it continues to act against groups such as Asbat al-Ansar, which has been linked to the al-Qaida network, and other extremists. On January 24, 2002, Elie Hobeika, a former Lebanese Forces figure associated with the Sabra and Shatila massacres and who later served in three cabinets and the parliament, was assassinated in a car bombing in Beirut.
A September 2004 vote by the Chamber of Deputies to amend the constitution to extend President Lahoud's term in office by 3 years amplified the question of Lebanese sovereignty and the continuing Syrian presence. The vote was clearly taken under Syrian pressure, exercised in part through Syria's military intelligence service, whose chief in Lebanon had acted as a virtual proconsul for many years. Syria, which has historically viewed Lebanon as part of its own territory, has not signed a boundary agreement with Lebanon, although it established full diplomatic relations with Lebanon, including nominating an ambassador to Lebanon, in 2009. The UN Security Council expressed its concern over the situation by passing Resolution 1559, also in September 2004, which called for withdrawal of all remaining foreign forces from Lebanon, disbanding and disarmament of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militias, the deployment of the Lebanese Armed Forces throughout the country, and a free and fair electoral process in the presidential election.
Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who had resisted Syria's effort to secure Lahoud's extension, and 22 others were assassinated in Beirut by a car bomb on February 14, 2005. The assassination spurred massive protests in Beirut and international pressure that led to the withdrawal of the remaining Syrian military troops from Lebanon on April 26. In the months that followed Hariri's assassination, journalist Samir Qassir, Lebanese politician George Hawi, and journalist Gebran Tueni were murdered by car bombs, and Defense Minister Elias Murr and journalist May Chidiac narrowly avoided a similar fate when they were targeted with car bombs. The UN International Independent Investigative Commission (UNIIIC) headed by Detlev Mehlis began an investigation of Hariri's assassination and related crimes, beginning with the October 2004 attempt to assassinate Communications Minister Marwan Hamadeh. Following the investigative groundwork laid by the UNIIIC, the official opening of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on March 1, 2009, in The Hague marked an important step toward ending impunity for political assassinations in Lebanon. The investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri and others remains ongoing under the leadership of chief prosecutor Daniel Bellemare. On June 30, 2011, the Tribunal handed down an indictment and arrest warrants for four alleged members of Hizballah--Salim Jamil Ayyash, Mustafa Amine Badreddine, Hussein Hassan Oneissi, and Assad Hassan Sabra--for involvement in the Hariri assassination. On August 9, 2011, Lebanese Prosecutor General Said Mirza submitted a report to the Tribunal detailing the Government of Lebanon's efforts to locate and arrest the four men, and reportedly explaining that none had yet been arrested.
Parliamentary elections were held in 2005 and the anti-Syrian March 14 coalition--led by Saad Hariri, Rafik Hariri's son--won a majority of 72 seats (out of 128). Hariri ally and former Finance Minister Fouad Siniora was named Prime Minister and Nabih Berri was reelected as Speaker of Parliament. Parliament approved the first "made-in-Lebanon" cabinet in almost 30 years on July 30. The ministerial statement of the new cabinet (which included two Hizballah ministers), a summary of the new government's agenda and priorities, focused on political and economic reform, but also endorsed Hizballah's right to possess military weapons to carry out a "national resistance" against the perceived Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory.
Hizballah forces continued to launch sporadic military strikes on Israeli forces, drawing responses that produced casualties on both sides. Israel continued to violate Lebanese sovereignty by conducting overflights of Lebanese territory north of the Blue Line. UNIFIL recorded numerous violations of the Blue Line by both sides following the Israeli withdrawal. In general, however, the level of violence along the Israeli-Lebanon front decreased dramatically from May 2000 until mid-2006.
War with Israel--2006
On July 12, 2006, Hizballah guerillas crossed into Israel, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others, precipitating a war with Israel. Israeli air strikes hit Hizballah positions in the south and strategic targets throughout Lebanon, and Israeli ground forces moved against Hizballah in southern Lebanon. Hizballah resisted the ground attack and fired thousands of rockets at civilian targets in Israel. By the time the war ended on August 14, an estimated 1,200 Lebanese civilians and hundreds of Hizballah fighters had died, along with 119 Israeli military and 43 Israeli civilians. UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the war, provided for a ceasefire, Israeli withdrawal and lifting of blockades, disarming of Hizballah and other militias, and a ban on unauthorized weapons transfers into Lebanon. UNSCR 1701 also significantly strengthened UNIFIL's mandate and authorized its enlargement from about 2,000 up to a maximum of 15,000. Bolstered by UNIFIL, which by the beginning of 2007 had more than 11,000 personnel, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) deployed to southern Lebanon and the border with Israel for the first time in almost four decades.
The war temporarily or permanently displaced roughly one-quarter of Lebanon's population and caused enormous damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure. The country, which was already seriously indebted, suffered roughly $5 billion in damages and financial losses. The international community provided massive humanitarian relief, plus substantial aid for economic reconstruction and reform, with $940 million in aid pledged at an August 31, 2006, donors conference in Stockholm and $7.6 billion in pledges announced at a Paris conference January 25, 2007. Aid pledged in Paris was to be coordinated with the Lebanese Government's program for fiscal and economic reform.
Following its historic deployment to southern Lebanon, in May-September 2007, the LAF battled Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli, winning a decisive victory, but destroying the camp and displacing approximately 30,000 Palestinian residents. The U.S. is the largest supporter of Nahr al-Bared relief and reconstruction, contributing a total of $91 million through FY 2010 toward UNRWA’s 4-year $328 million emergency appeal.
Doha Agreement and Post-Doha Lebanon
After a cabinet walkout by Shia ministers over the issue of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in November 2006, Lebanon’s political deadlock came to a head in 2007 when Lebanese politicians were unable to agree on a successor to President Emile Lahoud. Hizballah’s takeover of west Beirut in May 2008 and resulting outbreak of violence led Lebanese leaders, with Arab League mediation, to draft the Doha Agreement. The Doha Agreement paved the way for the election of a consensus candidate as President--LAF Commander Michel Sleiman--in May 2008 and the formation of a new unity government.
Parliamentary elections were held in 2009, under the new electoral law mandated by the Doha Agreement. While the new electoral law maintained the Taif Agreement’s division of parliamentary seats equally between Christians and Muslims, it also divided Lebanon into 26 electoral districts and mandated that elections be held on a single day, rather than consecutive weekends. Saad Hariri’s coalition secured a parliamentary majority in the 2009 elections. The new national unity cabinet headed by Prime Minister Hariri received parliament’s vote of confidence on December 10, 2009, after 6 months of extensive negotiations between the majority and the opposition. As in 2005 and 2008, the new cabinet’s ministerial statement focused on political and economic reform, but also endorsed Hizballah's role, along with that of the Lebanese people and army, in confronting Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory. A number of recent security incidents in south Lebanon highlight the continuing threat to Lebanon’s stability and security posed by Hizballah’s arms and the need for full implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1559, 1680, and 1701, including the disarmament of all militias, the delineation of the Lebanon-Syria border, and enforcement of the weapons-free zone.
Unity Government Collapses
On January 12, 2011, while Prime Minister Hariri was meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama, Hizballah and its March 8 allies withdrew their ministers from Hariri’s national unity cabinet over issues related to the Tribunal, thereby forcing its collapse. On January 24, President Sleiman named former Prime Minister and member of parliament Najib Mikati as Prime Minister-designate, leaving Hariri and his cabinet in caretaker status. On June 13, following several months of negotiations, Mikati announced a government that did not include any ministers from Saad Hariri's March 14 coalition, which had refused to participate. The cabinet included a majority of ministers from the Hizballah-led March 8 alliance, with a remaining "centrist bloc" of ministers aligned with Mikati, Sleiman, and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The Mikati cabinet received its parliamentary vote of confidence on July 7, 2011.
Lebanon is a parliamentary democracy in which the people constitutionally have the right to change their government. However, from the mid-1970s until the parliamentary elections in 1992, civil war precluded the effective exercise of political rights. According to the constitution, direct elections must be held for the parliament every 4 years. Parliament, in turn, is tasked to elect a new president every 6 years. A presidential election scheduled for the autumn of 2004 was pre-empted by a parliamentary vote to extend the sitting president's term in office by 3 years. An election for a new president was held in May 2008 with the next election scheduled for 2014. Parliamentary elections were held on June 7, 2009. The president, based on binding consultations with the parliament, appoints the prime minister. While political parties are legal and may be formed, most that exist are based on sectarian interests.
Since the emergence of the post-1943 state, national policy has been determined largely by a relatively restricted group of traditional regional and sectarian leaders. The 1943 national pact, an unwritten agreement that established the political foundations of modern Lebanon, allocated political power on an essentially confessional system based on the 1932 census. Until 1990, seats in parliament were divided on a six-to-five ratio of Christians to Muslims (with Druze counted as Muslims). With the Taif Agreement, the ratio changed to half and half. Senior positions in the government bureaucracy are allocated on a similar basis. Gaining political office is virtually impossible without the firm backing of a particular religious or confessional group. The pact also allocated public offices along religious lines, with the top three positions in the ruling "troika" distributed as follows:
- The presidency is reserved for a Maronite Christian;
- The prime minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim, and
- The speaker of parliament is reserved for a Shia Muslim.
Efforts to alter or abolish the confessional system of allocating power have been at the center of Lebanese politics for decades. Those religious groups most favored by the 1943 formula sought to preserve it, while those who saw themselves at a disadvantage sought either to modify its demographic formula or to abolish it entirely. Nonetheless, many of the provisions of the national pact were codified in the 1989 Taif Agreement, perpetuating sectarianism as a key element of Lebanese political life. In the spring of 2011, capitalizing on the "Arab Spring" of popular uprisings throughout the region, several groups called for the "de-confessionalization" of Lebanon and an end to sectarian quotas. The groups could not agree, however, on what would replace the system and their movement lost momentum.
Although moderated somewhat under Taif, constitutionally, the president has a strong and influential position. The president has the authority to promulgate laws passed by the Chamber of Deputies, to issue supplementary regulations to ensure the execution of laws, and to negotiate and ratify treaties.
The Chamber of Deputies is elected by adult suffrage (majority age is 21) based on a system of proportional representation for the various confessional groups. Political blocs are usually based on confessional and local interests or on personal/family allegiance rather than on left/right policy orientations.
The parliament traditionally has played a significant role in financial affairs, since it has the responsibility for levying taxes and passing the budget. It also exercises political control over the cabinet through formal questioning of ministers on policy issues and by requesting a confidence debate.
Government Type: Republic
Capital: Beirut - 1.909 million (2009)
Administrative divisions: 6 governorates (mohafazat, singular - mohafazah);
Note: two new governorates - Aakkar and Baalbek-Hermel - have been legislated but not yet implemented
Independence Date: 22 November 1943 (from League of Nations mandate under French administration)
Legal System: mixed legal system of civil law based on the French civil code and religious laws covering personal status, marriage, divorce, and other family relations of the Jewish, Islamic, and Christian communities. Lebanon has not submitted an International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction declaration; and, is a non-party state to the International criminal court (ICCt) jurisdiction. 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, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance, within particular religious communities.
International Environmental Agreements
Lebanon is party to international agrements on: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. It has signed, but not ratified international agrements on: Environmental Modification, and Marine Life Conservation.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 4.8 cu km (1997)
Freshwater Withdrawal: 1.38 cu km/yr (33% domestic, 1% industrial, 67% agricultural)
Per Capita Freshwater Withdrawal: 385 cu m/yr (2000)
Agricultural products: citrus, grapes, tomatoes, apples, vegetables, potatoes, olives, tobacco; sheep, goats
Irrigated Land: 900 sq km (2008)
Natural Resources: limestone, iron ore, salt, water-surplus state in a water-deficit region, arable land
arable land: 16.35%
permanent crops: 13.75%
other: 69.9% (2005)
Lebanon has a free-market economy and a strong laissez-faire commercial tradition. The Lebanese economy is service-oriented; main growth sectors include banking and tourism. According to the Central Bank of Lebanon, Lebanon posted 7.5% GDP real growth in 2010, with inflation running at 4.5%. There are no restrictions on foreign exchange or capital movement, and bank secrecy is strictly enforced. Lebanon has legislation to combat money laundering and terrorism finance, and joined the Kimberley Process in September 2005. There are practically no restrictions on foreign investment; however, the investment climate suffers from red tape, corruption, arbitrary licensing decisions, high taxes, tariffs, and fees, archaic legislation, and a lack of adequate protection of intellectual property. There are no country-specific U.S. trade sanctions against Lebanon.
The 1975-90 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.
Lebanon embarked on a massive reconstruction program in 1992 to rebuild the country's physical and social infrastructure devastated by both the long civil war (1975-90) and the Israeli occupation of the south (1978-2000). In addition, the delicate social balance and the near-dissolution of central government institutions during the civil war handicapped the state as it sought to capture revenues to fund the recovery effort. Monetary stabilization coupled with high interest rate policies aggravated the debt service burden, leading to a substantial rise in budget deficits. Thus, the government accumulated significant debt, which by the end of 2010 had reached $52.6 billion, or 135% of GDP. Unemployment was estimated at 9.2% in 2007 by the Central Administration of Statistics, according to latest published data.
The government has maintained a firm commitment to the Lebanese pound, which has been pegged to the dollar since September 1999. The government passed an Investment Development Law as well as laws for the privatization of the telecom and the electricity sector, signed the Euro-Med Partnership Agreement with the European Union (EU) in March 2003 and the Association Agreement in 2006, and is working toward accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). In order to increase revenues, the government introduced a 10% value added tax (VAT) that became applicable in February 2002 and a 5% tax on interest income that became applicable in February 2003. The Finance Ministry submitted additional revenue-raising measures as part of the 2009 budget.
Plagued by mounting indebtedness, Lebanon submitted a comprehensive program on its financing needs at the Paris II donors conference in November 2002 and succeeded in attracting pledges totaling $4.4 billion, including $3.1 billion to support fiscal adjustment and $1.2 billion to support economic development projects. Despite the substantial aid it had received, the government made little progress on its reform program, and by 2006, even before the war between Hizballah and Israel, the debt problem had grown worse. After the war, $940 million in relief and early reconstruction aid was pledged to Lebanon August 31, 2006 at a donors conference in Stockholm, and an additional $7.6 billion in assistance for reconstruction and economic stabilization was pledged in Paris January 25, 2007 at the International Conference for Support to Lebanon, or "Paris III". Unlike the Paris II aid, much of the Paris III aid was contingent on Lebanon's meeting agreed benchmarks in implementing its proposed 5-year economic and social reform program. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) signed an Emergency Post-Conflict Assistance (EPCA) Program with Lebanon to support the Government of Lebanon's economic reform program in 2007, and a second EPCA for 2008-2009, to monitor the progress of reforms and to advise donors on the timing of aid delivery.
The collapse of the government in early 2011 over its backing of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and unrest in neighboring Syria slowed economic growth to 1.5% after four years of 8% average growth. In September 2011 the Cabinet endorsed a bill that would provide $1.2 billion in funding to improve Lebanon's downtrodden electricity sector, but fiscal limitations will test the government's ability to invest in other areas, such as water.
GDP: (Purchasing Power Parity): $61.61 billion (2011 est.)
GDP: (Official Exchange Rate): $41.5 billion (2011 est.)
GDP- per capita (PPP): $15,600 (2011 est.)
GDP- composition by sector:
services: 79.7% (2011 est.)
Industries: banking, tourism, food processing, wine, jewelry, cement, textiles, mineral and chemical products, wood and furniture products, oil refining, metal fabricating
Currency: Lebanese pounds (LBP)