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Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان Lubnān), officially the Lebanese Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية اللبنانية), is a small, largely mountainous country in the Middle East, located at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea.

Due to its sectarian diversity, Lebanon follows a special political system, known as confessionalism, meant to distribute power as evenly as possible among different sects.

Until the Lebanese Civil War (1975-90), the country was considered the banking capital of the Arab world and was widely known as the "Switzerland of the Middle East" due to its financial power. Lebanon attracted large numbers of tourists, to the point that its capital, Beirut, was referred to as the "Paris of the Middle East."

By early 2006, extensive efforts to revive the economy and rebuild national infrastructure achieved a considerable degree of stability throughout the country. However, that summer, the 2006 Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah, brought significant civilian and military casualties, extensive damage to Lebanon's civilian infrastructure, and massive population displacement. Lebanon is only slowly recovering from the destruction wrought by that war.

Geography

The name Lebanon ("Lubnān" in standard Arabic; "Lebnan" or "Lebnèn" in the local dialect) is derived from the Semitic root "LBN," which generally means "white" and "milk." This is regarded as reference to the snow-capped Mount Lebanon. Occurrences of the name have been found in three of the 12 tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Bible. The word "Lebanon" is mentioned 71 times in the Old Testament.

Lebanon is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, by Syria to the east and north, and by Israel to the south. The border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Syria is disputed by Lebanon in a small area called Shebaa Farms, but the border has been demarcated by the United Nations.

Lebanon is a narrow strip of territory approximately 135 miles (215 kilometers) long from north to south and 20 to 55 miles wide from east to west. The country has a total area of 4035 square miles (10,452 square kilometers) making it the 166th largest country in the world, or nearly the size of Connecticut in the United States.

Faraya, Mount Lebanon. Taken by Youmna Medlej.

The terrain comprises five ribbon-like topographical areas stretching from North to South. The shoreline, which is 130 miles (210km) long, consists mostly of rocks towards the north, and sand in the south, with some headlands, bays, and offshore islands. The coastal plain is surrounded by sea and mountains, and is rather narrow at about two miles wide. There are the West Mountains, the Beqaa valley, an integral part of Lebanon's agriculture, and the East Mountains. The highest point is Qurnat as Sawda' at 10,131 feet (3,088 meters).

Lebanon has a moderate Mediterranean climate. In coastal areas, winters are cool and rainy while summers are hot and humid. In more elevated areas, temperatures usually drop below 32°F (0°C) during the winter with frequent (sometimes heavy) snow. Summers, on the other hand, are warm at 100° F (38°C) and dry. Although most of Lebanon receives a relatively large amount of rainfall annually (compared to its arid surroundings), certain areas in northeastern Lebanon receive little rainfall because the high peaks of the western mountains block rain clouds from the Mediterranean Sea.

Although there are numerous rivers and streams, none are navigable, and no one river is a source of irrigation water. The Beqaa Valley is watered by two rivers that rise in the watershed near Baalbek: the Orontes flowing north, and the Litani flowing south into the hill region of the southern Beqaa Valley, where it makes an abrupt turn to the west in southern Lebanon and is thereafter called the Al Qasmiyah River.

Beirut, the Mediterranean, and snow-capped Mount Sannine

In ancient times, Lebanon had large forests of Lebanon cedar (the country's national emblem). However, centuries of trading cedar trees, used by ancient mariners for boats, and the absence of efforts to replant them have depleted Lebanon's once-flourishing cedar forests.

Natural hazards include dust storms and sandstorms. Environmental issues include deforestation, soil erosion, desertification, air pollution in Beirut from vehicular traffic, and the burning of industrial wastes, and pollution of coastal waters from raw sewage and oil spills.

Beirut is the capital, largest city, and chief seaport of Lebanon. It is sometimes referred to by its French name, "Beyrouth." There are wide-ranging estimates of Beirut's population, from as low as 938,940 people to 1,303,129 people. Other cities are Tyre, an ancient Phoenician city in the south (population 117,100), and Sidon, another ancient city.

History

Archaeologists have discovered, in Byblos, what is believed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world, remnants of prehistoric huts with crushed limestone floors, primitive weapons, and burial jars which are evidence of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic fishing communities who lived on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea over 7,000 years ago.

The Canaanites

Canaanites were the original inhabitants of the region approximating present-day Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, plus adjoining coastal lands and parts of Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Semitic peoples are thought to have appeared in Canaan in the early Bronze Age, before 2000 B.C.E. Semitic people known as the Amorites became the dominant population group during this period, migrating from the northeast. The Israelites, according to the Book of Judges, during the second millennium B.C.E., gradually subjugated the Canaanite cities, so that by the end of the reign of Solomon, king of Israel, the Canaanites had been assimilated. The Canaanite religion itself was based on the worship of Baal and Ashtoreth. Before the Hebrew conquest, it was likely the Canaanites and the Phoenicians constituted a single nation, and that the people now known as the Phoenicians subsequently developed separately.

The Phoenicians

The coastal plain of Lebanon is the historic home of a string of coastal trading cities of Semitic culture, which the Greeks termed Phoenicia, whose maritime culture flourished there from about 2700 B.C.E. to 450 B.C.E. Ancient ruins in Byblos, Beirut, Sidon, Sarepta, and Tyre show a civilized nation, with urban centers and sophisticated arts. The territory was a cosmopolitan center for many nations and cultures. Its people roamed the Mediterranean seas, were skilled in trade and in art, and founded trading colonies. They created the oldest known 24-letter alphabet, a shortening of earlier 30-letter alphabets such as Proto-Sinaitic and Ugaritic.

Phoenicia maintained an uneasy tributary relationship with the neo-Assyrian and neo-Babylonian empires. Cyrus the Great conquered Phoenicia in 539 B.C.E. Phoenicia was divided into four vassal kingdoms by the Persians: Sidon, Tyre, Arwad, and Byblos, and prospered, furnishing fleets for the Persian kings.

Greeks and Romans

Alexander the Great conquered Tyre in 332 B.C.E. by extending a still-extant causeway from the mainland in a seven-month effort. Tyre fell to the Seleucid Empire (323 B.C.E. to 60 B.C.E.) after Alexander's death. The area was conquered by the Roman Empire in the first century B.C.E., was dominated by the Byzantine Empire, which was the Greek-speaking Roman Empire centered around its capital of Constantinople (306 C.E. - 1095 C.E.). Christianity was introduced to Phoenicia from neighboring Galilee soon after the time of Jesus of Nazareth (c.2 B.C.E. to c. 29 C.E.).

Arab rule and the Middle Ages

The Arab advances brought Islam soon after the death of Islam's Prophet Muhammad (c. 570 C.E. to 632 C.E.). Muslim influence increased greatly in the seventh century when the Umayyad capital was established at nearby Damascus. During the Middle Ages, Lebanon was heavily involved in the Crusades. Lebanon was in the main path of the First Crusade's advance on Jerusalem. Later, Frankish nobles occupied present-day Lebanon as part of the southeastern Crusader States. The southern half of present-day Lebanon formed the northern march of the Kingdom of Jerusalem; the northern half was the heartland of the County of Tripoli. Although Saladin eliminated Christian control of the Holy Land around 1190, the Crusader states in Lebanon and Syria were better defended.

Mamluks and Ottomans

Muslim control of Lebanon was re-established in the late thirteenth century under the Mamluk sultans of Egypt. Lebanon was later contested between Muslim rulers until the Ottoman Empire solidified authority over the eastern Mediterranean. Ottoman control was uncontested during the early modern period, but the Lebanese coast became important for its contacts and trades with Venice and other Italian city-states. Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years, in a region known as Greater Syria, until 1916.

The mountainous territory of Mount Lebanon has long been a shelter for minority and persecuted groups, including its historic Maronite Christian majority along with Druze, and local Shi'a Muslims. It was an autonomous Maronite region of the Ottoman Empire.

French mandate

The area became a part of the French Mandate of Syria following World War I. On September 1, 1920, France formed the State of Greater Lebanon as one of several ethnic enclaves within Syria. Lebanon was a largely Christian (mainly Maronite) enclave but also included areas containing many Muslims and Druze. On September 1, 1926, France formed the Lebanese Republic. The Republic was afterward a separate entity from Syria but still administered under the French Mandate for Syria.

Independence

The flag of Greater Lebanon (1920-1943)

The Vichy authorities in 1941 allowed Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against British forces. The United Kingdom, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebanon.

After the fighting ended in Lebanon, General Charles de Gaulle decided to recognize the independence of Lebanon. On November 26, 1941, General Georges Catroux announced that Lebanon would become independent under the authority of the Free French government. Elections were held in 1943 and on November 8, 1943 the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the mandate. The French reacted by imprisoning the new government, but bowing to international pressure, released them on November 22, 1943, and accepted the independence of Lebanon.

The allied forces kept the region under control until the end of World War II. The last French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon's unwritten National Pact of 1943 required that its president be Christian and its prime minister be Muslim.

1948 Arab-Israeli war

Five years after gaining independence, Lebanon joined its fellow Arab states and invaded Israel during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It took over logistical support of the Arab Liberation Army after it found itself cut off from its bases in Syria while attempting an attack on the newly proclaimed Jewish State. After the defeat of the Arab Liberation Army in Operation Hiram, Lebanon accepted an armistice with Israel on March 23, 1949. Approximately 100,000 Palestinian refugees were living in Lebanon in 1949 as a result of the creation of Israel and the subsequent war. The Lebanese-Israeli border remained closed, but quiet, until after the Six Day War in 1967.

Civil war

Building damaged during the 1975-1990 civil war

In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon, and lasted 15 years, devastating the country's economy. It is estimated that 150,000 people were killed and another 200,000 maimed. The war ended in 1990 with the signing of the Taif Agreement with parts of Lebanon left in ruins. During the civil war, Lebanon was invaded and occupied by the Israel Defense Forces in 1978 and 1982. Israel remained in control of Southern Lebanon until 2000, when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak decided to withdraw due to continuous guerrilla attacks by Hezbollah militants and a belief that Hezbollah activity would diminish and dissolve without the Israeli presence. The UN determined that the withdrawal of Israeli troops beyond the Blue Line was in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, although a border region called the Shebaa Farms remained in dispute. Hezbollah declared that it would not stop until this area was liberated.

Assassinations

On February 14, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb explosion. Leaders of the March 14 Alliance accused Syria of the attack, due to its extensive military and intelligence presence in Lebanon, and the public rift between Hariri and Damascus over the Syrian-backed constitutional amendment extending pro-Syrian President Lahoud's term in office. Syria denied any involvement, claiming that the assassination was executed by the American CIA or the Israeli Mossad in an attempt to destabilize the country. The Hariri assassination marked the beginning of a series of assassination attempts that led to the loss of a number of prominent Lebanese figures.

The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1595 on April 7, 2005, which called for an investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri. The findings of the investigation were officially published on October 20, 2005, in the Mehlis report. The vehicle used for the explosion was a Mitsubishi Fuso Canter stolen in Japan, and was most likely detonated by a suicide bomber. The United Nations Security Council and the Lebanese cabinet have approved a Special Tribunal for Lebanon that would prosecute those responsible for Hariri's death.

Cedar Revolution

The Cedar Revolution was a chain of demonstrations and popular civic action, especially in Beirut, triggered by the assassination of Hariri. On February 28, 2005, with over 50,000 people demonstrating in Martyrs' Square, Prime Minister Omar Karami and his Cabinet resigned. In response, Hezbollah organized a large counter-demonstration attended by hundreds of thousands of people, which was staged on March 8 in Beirut, supporting Syria and accusing Israel and the United States of meddling in internal Lebanese affairs.

On March 14, 2005, one month after Hariri's assassination, one million people rallied in Martyrs' Square in Lebanon demanding the truth about Hariri's murder and independence from Syrian presence in Lebanon. Bombs were detonated in Christian areas near Beirut.

Under pressure from the international community, Syria began withdrawing its 15,000 troops from Lebanon. By April 26, 2005, all uniformed Syrian soldiers had left. On April 27, 2005, the Lebanese celebrated their first free-from-Syria day. UN forces were sent to Lebanon to verify the military withdrawal.

In the elections in May 2005, the anti-Syrian coalition of Sunni Muslim, Druze and Christian parties led by Saad Hariri, the son of assassinated prime minister, won most seats, but did not win the two-thirds majority required to force the resignation of Syrian-appointed President Lahoud. Hariri's Future Movement party nominated Fouad Siniora, a former Finance Minister, to be prime minister. On July 18, 2005, Lebanon elected a new parliament dominated by an anti-Syrian coalition.

2006 Lebanon War

Areas in Lebanon targeted by Israeli bombing (12 July to 13 August 2006)

A cross-border Hezbollah raid and shelling of Israel, which resulted in the capture of two and killing of eight Israeli soldiers brought Israeli airstrikes across much of the country on July 12, 2006, and ground incursions into southern Lebanon. The fighting quickly escalated into 33 days of "open war" and ultimately led to the death of 1,191 Lebanese and 44 Israeli civilians.

Fighting came to end on August 14, three days after UN Security Council Resolution 1701-which called for an immediate cessation of hostilities-was passed. Israel maintained a naval and aerial blockade on Lebanon to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling arms. The blockade was lifted on September 8, and by early December, all Israeli troops had withdrawn.

Since 2006

In October 2007, Émile Lahoud finished his second term as president. The opposition conditioned its vote for a successor on a power-sharing deal, thus leaving the country without a president for over 6 months.

On 09 May 2008, Hezbollah and Amal militants, in an armed attack triggered by a government decision on Hezbollah's communications network, temporarily took over Western Beirut. The situation was described by the government as an attempted coup.

On 21 May 2008, all major Lebanese parties signed an accord to elect Michel Suleiman as President, to form a national unity government with 11 out of 30 seats for the opposition, thus enabling it to veto decisions, and to adopt a new electoral law, based on the 1960 law with amendments for the three Beirut constituencies. The deal was brokered by an Arab League delegation, headed by the Emir and Foreign Minister of Qatar and the Secretary General of the Arab League, after five days of intense negotiations in Doha. Suleiman was officially elected president on 25 May 2008.

Government and politics

The Lebanese parliament building at the Place de l'Étoile

The Lebanese Republic has a parliamentary democracy in which the highest offices are proportionately reserved for representatives from various religious communities to minimize sectarian conflict - a framework known as “confessionalism.”

The chief of state is the president, who is elected by the National Assembly for a six-year term, and who may not serve consecutive terms. The head of government is the prime minister, who, with the deputy prime minister, is appointed by the president in consultation with the National Assembly. The cabinet is chosen by the prime minister in consultation with the president and members of the National Assembly. By agreement, the president is a Maronite Christian, the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the National Assembly is a Shi'a Muslim. The last presidential election was held in 1998. In September 2004 the National Assembly voted 96 to 29 to extend Emile Lahoud's six-year term by three years.

The legislature, the unicameral National Assembly has 128 seats. Members are elected by popular vote on the basis of sectarian proportional representation (divided in half between Muslims and Christians) to serve four-year terms. Those 21 years of age and over have the right to vote, which is compulsory for all males, and authorized for women aged 21 and over with elementary education.

The judiciary comprises four Courts of Cassation (three courts for civil and commercial cases and one court for criminal cases), a Constitutional Council (called for in Ta'if Accord) which rules on the constitutionality of laws, and a Supreme Council, which hears charges against the president and prime minister as needed. Juries are not used in trials. The legal system is a mixture of Ottoman law, canon law, Napoleonic code, and civil law. There is no judicial review of legislative acts, and Lebanon has not accepted compulsory International Court of Justice jurisdiction.

There are religious courts that have jurisdiction on marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Lebanese law does not provide for civil marriage (although it recognizes such marriages contracted abroad). Lebanon has military courts that have jurisdiction over civilians for crimes of espionage, treason, and other security-related crimes. These military courts have been criticized by human rights organizations for "seriously falling short of international standards for fair trial" and having "very wide jurisdiction over civilians."

Lebanon is divided into six governorates that are further subdivided into 25 districts. The districts themselves are also divided into several municipalities, each enclosing a group of cities or villages.

Lebanon's sovereignty has been compromised by civil war, foreign occupations, and the activity of terrorist groups. From the mid-1970s until the parliamentary elections in 1992, civil war precluded the exercise of political rights. Syria occupied the greater part of the country from 1975 until 2005, and Israel occupied parts of it from 1978 to 2000.

Military

The military is officially known as the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and consists of three branches: The Lebanese army, navy, and air force. The LAF consists of approximately 72,100 active personnel with the ground forces consisting of approximately 70,000 troops, the air force consisting of approximately 1,100 personnel and another 1,000 in the Navy. All three branches are operated and coordinated by LAF Command, which is located in Yarzeh, just east of the capital, Beirut. There are a total of six military colleges and schools in the country. Some cadets may be sent to other countries to receive additional training.

The equipment inventory of the LAF is outdated due to a lack of funds, lack of foreign investment, political bickering, and the presence of foreign forces. After the conclusion of the Lebanese Civil War the LAF decided to repair as much of its equipment as it could, while being aided by modest donations from other nations. Approximately 85 percent of the LAF's equipment is US-made with the remaining being British, French, and Soviet-made.

Sectarian politics

Dividing state power between the religious sects, and granting religious authorities judicial power, dates back to Ottoman times. The practice was reinforced during French colonialism, when Christian groups were granted privileges. This system of government, while partly intended as a compromise between sectarian demands, has caused tensions that still dominate Lebanese politics. The Christian population majority is believed to have ended in the early 1930s, but government leaders would agree to no change in the political power balance. This led to Muslim demands of increased representation, and the constant sectarian tension slid into violent conflict in 1958 (prompting U.S. intervention) and again in the grueling Lebanese Civil War, in 1975-90.

The balance of power has been slightly adjusted in the 1943 National Pact, an informal agreement struck at independence, in which positions of power were divided according to the 1932 census. The Sunni elite was then accorded more power, but Maronites continued to dominate the system. The sectarian balance was again adjusted towards the Muslim side - but simultaneously further reinforced and legitimized. Shi'a Muslims (by 2007 the largest sect) then gained additional representation in the state apparatus, and the obligatory Christian-Muslim representation in Parliament was downgraded from a 6:5 to a 1:1 proportion. Christians of various sects were then generally thought to constitute about 40 percent of the population, although often Muslim leaders would cite lower numbers, and some Christians would claim that they still held a majority.

Hezbollah

Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah, literally "party of God," is a Shi'a Islamic political and paramilitary organization based in Lebanon. It follows a distinct version of Islamist Shi'a ideology developed by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Hezbollah began to take shape during the Lebanese Civil War to eradicate Western colonialism in Lebanon, bring to justice those who committed atrocities during the war (specifically the Phalangists), and to establish an Islamic government in Lebanon. Hezbollah has realized that the goal of transforming Lebanon into an Islamic state was not practical and has temporarily abandoned it. The weakness of central government has enabled Hezbollah to become the de facto government of regions under its control.

Economy

Place de l'Étoile in Centre Ville.

Lebanon was shaped by trade, since the area linked the Mediterranean world, India, and East Asia. Merchants exported oil, grain, textiles, metal work, and pottery through the port cities to Western markets. Nomads of the Syrian and Arabian deserts visited the cities of Syria to trade, developing limited routes that often led to the coastal cities of Tripoli, Beirut, Sidon, or Tyre.

Until the Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990), the country enjoyed relative calm and prosperity, driven by the tourism, agriculture, and banking sectors of the economy. It was considered the banking capital of the Arab world and was widely known as the "Switzerland of the Middle East" due to its financial power. Lebanon attracted large numbers of tourists, to the point that the capital Beirut became widely referred to as the "Paris of the Middle East." But the 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.

In the years since, Lebanon has rebuilt much of its war-torn infrastructure by borrowing heavily - mostly from domestic banks. In an attempt to reduce the ballooning national debt, the Rafiq Hariri government began an austerity program, reining in government expenditures, increasing revenue collection, and privatizing state enterprises, but economic and financial reform initiatives stalled and public debt continued to grow despite receipt of more than $2-billion in bilateral assistance at the Paris II Donors Conference.

Lebanon has a competitive and free market regime and a strong laissez-faire commercial tradition. Private property is common and encouraged, while the government owns most public services. Land laws resemble those in France and the United States. 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 legislated against money laundering. There are practically no restrictions on foreign investment. There are no country-specific U.S. trade sanctions against Lebanon.

The Kadisha Valley is a World Heritage Site

A combination of climate, many historic landmarks and World Heritage Sites attracts large numbers of tourists to Lebanon, despite political instability. In addition, Lebanon's strict financial secrecy and capitalist economy-unique in its area-have given it significant economic status among Arab countries. Nearly 65 percent of the Lebanese workforce works in the services sector, which contributes roughly 67.3 percent of the annual Lebanese GDP.

Lebanon is suited for agriculture, as it has water, fertile soil, and has the highest proportion of cultivable land in the Arab world. Agriculture attracts 12 percent of the total workforce, and contributes approximately 11.7 percent of the country's GDP.

Lebanon's lack of raw materials for industry and its dependence on Arab countries for oil have posed difficulties for industrial activity, which is limited to small businesses concerned with reassembling and packaging imported parts. In 2004, industry involved 26 percent of the Lebanese working population, and accounted for 21 percent of Lebanon's GDP.

The Israeli-Hezbollah conflict caused an estimated $3.6-billion in infrastructure damage in July and August 2006, and internal Lebanese political tension continues to hamper economic activity.

Exports totaled $1.881-billion in 2005. Export commodities included authentic jewelry, inorganic chemicals, miscellaneous consumer goods, fruit, tobacco, construction minerals, electric power machinery and switchgear, textile fibers, and paper. Export partners were Syria 25.3 percent, United Arab Emirates 11.4 percent, Switzerland 8.1 percent, Turkey 6 percent, and Saudi Arabia 5.4 percent.

Imports totaled $9.34-billion. Import commodities included petroleum products, cars, medicinal products, clothing, meat and live animals, consumer goods, paper, textile fabrics, and tobacco. Import partners were Italy 11.1 percent, Syria 10.7 percent, France 9.2 percent, Germany 6.4 percent, China 5.4 percent, U.S 5.3 percent, UK 4.4 percent, and Saudi Arabia 4.3 percent.

Per capita GDP was $6,681 in 2006, giving Lebanon a rank of 90 on a list of 181 countries. The unemployment rate was 20 percent in 2006, and 28 percent of the population was estimated to exist below the poverty line in 1999.

Beirut's airport, Rafiq Hariri International Airport, re-opened in September 2006 and the efforts to revive the Lebanese economy have since been proceeding at a slow pace. Major contributors to the reconstruction of Lebanon include Saudi Arabia (with US$ 1.5 billion pledged), the European Union (with about $1 billion) and a few other Gulf countries with contributions of up to $800 million.

Demographics

Demographics of Lebanon, Data of FAO, year 2005 ; Number of inhabitants in thousands.

The number of people inhabiting Lebanon proper was estimated at 3,874,050 in July 2006. About 91 percent of the population is urban and comprises many different ethnic groups and religions. Without accurate figures, it is estimated that there are between five and 15 million people of Lebanese descent spread all over the world, Brazil being the country with the biggest Lebanese community abroad. Argentina, Australia, Canada, Colombia, France, Great Britain, Mexico, Venezuela and the USA also have large Lebanese communities. A total of 394,532 Palestinian refugees have registered in Lebanon with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. Life expectancy for the whole population was 72.63 years in 2005.

Ethnicity

The country encompasses a mix of cultures and ethnic groups built for more than 6,000 years. Although the official language is Arabic, the Arabs only reached Lebanon in the seventh century, and their culture was superimposed on an already diverse ethnic population. Some Lebanese, especially among Maronite Christians, see themselves as descendants of the Phoenicians, Canaanites, Mardaites, and Syriacs. This was supported by genetic studies and tend to de-emphasize or deny Lebanon's Arab heritage. Melkite Greek Catholics, the Greek Orthodox, and some Maronites tend to focus more on the Greek heritage of the region from the days of the Byzantine Empire. Some Christians claim descent from Crusader knights who ruled Lebanon for a couple of centuries during the Middle Ages. This identification with non-Arab civilizations also exists in other religious communities, albeit not to the same extent. Sunni and Alawite Muslim, as well as Greek Orthodox and rural Roman Catholic Christians are believed to be of a mixed Levantine (Syrian/Shami) origin.

Lebanese Armenians, Assyrians, Jews, Kurds and Persians form more distinct ethnic minorities, all of them having a national home territory outside of Lebanon. However, they total less than four percent of the population.

A total of 402,582 Palestinian refugees were registered in Lebanon with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in March 2005, and almost all were refugees or descendants of refugees fr

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