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Area: 10,452 sq km (4,036 sq miles)
Capital City: Beirut (population: 2.1m, estimate 2007)
People: 4 million. The population is predominantly Arab with a sizeable Armenian minority ( figure does not include an estimated 320,000 Palestinian refugees). The Lebanese diaspora is thought to total 14 million
Languages: Arabic (official), English, French, Armenian
Religion(s): There are 18 registered sects in Lebanon including, Maronite Christian, Shia Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Druze
Currency: Lebanese Pound/ US dollar are used interchangeably
Major political parties: Numerous political groupings exist in Lebanon, organised along mostly sectarian lines
Head of State: President General Michel Sleiman
Prime Minister: Sa'ad el- HaririNajib Miqati
Foreign Minister: Adnan Mansour
Basic Economic Facts
GDP: US$ 59.3 billion (2010)
GDP per capita (PPP): $14,400 (201009)
Annual Growth: 7.5% (2010)
Major Industries: Financial Services, Agriculture, Tourism, Food Processing, Jewellery, Textiles, Mineral and Chemical products
Major trading partners: Exports Syria 26.8%, UAE 13.5%, Saudi Arabia 6.4%, Turkey 5.2%, Qatar 4.1%, Switzerland 4% (2010). Imports from: USA 10.4%, Syria 10.3%, Italy 7.6%, China 7.5%, France 6.9%, Ukraine 5.5%, Germany 5.3% (2010).
Source: CIA World Factbook
Lebanon is a predominantly service oriented free-market economy. Main growth sectors include tourism, banking, health and education. Recent political uncertainty and unrest caused the economy to slow to 1.5% in 2011 after four years of strong growth. Foreign direct investment, tourism and remittances all suffered as a result of political events in the MENA region last year. Lebanon’s growth prospects depend on the economic performance and perceptions of political risk in other Arab states - Lebanon’s principal export markets. As a result, risks to the economy are high, particularly the crisis in neighbouring Syria.
The IMF, EU and others have repeatedly reminded successive Lebanese Governments of the need for major structural reforms. Failure to implement these reforms is damaging prospects for long-term economic growth. The current government has made some moves to develop infrastructure in the electricity sector, but nothing has yet been implemented. There is a possibility of major hydrocarbon deposits in Lebanese waters, but the government still has much work to do before exploration can begin. Most importantly, the IMF emphasises the need for Lebanon to develop a long term strategy to tackle its public debt, which remains at very high levels.
Lebanon was created in its present boundaries in 1920 under the French mandate. It became independent in 1943. Inter-community rivalries have been endemic, but until the 1970s were generally kept within bounds by a complex confessional system, enshrined in the 1943 National Pact. Under this system the President is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament is Shia Muslim. These divisions are reflected throughout the Cabinet and civil service, where posts are distributed on a confessional basis.
In 1970, large numbers of PLO fighters expelled from Jordan sought refuge in Lebanon, leading to destabilisation. In 1975/1976 there was a civil war which pitted a coalition of Christian groups against the joint forces of the PLO, left-wing Druze and Muslim militias. Against this backdrop the Syrian military presence was established; Syria sent in its own troops in June 1976 to restore peace and in October that same year accepted the Arab League proposal to establish a predominantly Syrian Arab Deterrent Force, which was charged with restoring calm.
In 1982, the PLO presence in Lebanon led to an Israeli invasion. A multinational force of US, French and Italian contingents (joined in1983 by a British contingent) were deployed in Beirut after the Israeli siege of the city, to supervise the evacuation of the PLO. It returned in September 1982 after the assassination of Bashir Gemayel and the subsequent massacres by the Christian Phalange militia in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila. The multinational force was withdrawn in the spring of 1984.
In September 1988 Lebanon slipped further into crisis when the Parliament failed to elect a successor to President Gemayel as a result of differences between the Christians and the Muslims and Syrians.
The Arab League Summit of May 1989 led to the formation of a Saudi- Moroccan-Algerian committee to solve the crisis. On 16 September 1989 the committee issued a peace plan which was accepted by all. A ceasefire was established, the ports and airports were re-opened and refugees began to return.
In the same month, the Lebanese Parliament agreed a Charter for National Reconciliation, known as the Taif Accord. This included an outline timetable for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and a formula for the de-confessionalisation of the Lebanese political system.
After sixteen years of civil war, peace returned to Lebanon at the end of 1990. There has been no significant fighting in the country (excepting the troubles in South Lebanon) for some years. The Taif Accord has still not been implemented in full and the Syrians only withdrew their troops in 2005. Lebanon’s political system continues to be divided along sectarian lines..
Lebanon has close and historic relations with Syria that encompass local and regional politics, trade and commerce and, familial ties. Given the deep interconnections between the two countries, the Syrian uprising has important implications for its neighbour.
Lebanon has good political and economic relations with regional neighbours Turkey, Iran, Jordan, Egypt and Iraq. Lebanon does not have diplomatic relations with Israel (NB: travellers seeking to visit the country will not be permitted to enter Lebanon if they have an Israeli stamp in their passport).
Large numbers of the Lebanese diaspora live in West Africa and Latin America; as such Lebanon has close relations with Sierra Leone and Brazil centred around trade and commerce rather than politics.
Lebanon has a good relationship with the EU and is particularly close to France due to their historic links - French is still widely spoken in (mainly) Christian communities within Lebanon and widely understood in the capital.
Lebanon also has good links with other P5 members of the United Nations Security Council. It was a non-permanent member of the Security Council in 2010-2011.
UK / Lebanese Relations
The UK and Lebanon have strong political, economic and cultural ties. President Sleiman visited the UK in April 2009 and was received by Her Majesty The Queen. Foreign Office Minister, Alastair Burt visited Lebanon for the first time in July 2010. Prime Minister Hariri came to the UK on a Guest of Government Visit in November 2010 where he met Prime Minister David Cameron. Prime Minister Miqati met David Cameron in London in November 2011. The British Council is present in Lebanon with a strong English Language teaching focus and a number of community development projects. www.britishcouncil.org/lebanon.htm (http://www.britishcouncil.org/lebanon.htm)
Lebanon is a small country and averages around 50km from east to west and 225 km from north to south. It sits lengthways against the Mediterranean, bordered on two sides by Syria and one side by Israel. The country forms part of the fertile crescent - a high arc of well watered land connecting Egypt to Iraq. Lebanon's three biggest cities, Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon lie along the coastline and have their origins in Phoenician and Roman ports. Two large mountain ranges run parallel to each other down the length of the country: Mount Lebanon and the Anti Lebanon. The Mount Lebanon range runs along the coastline and in some cases the flat coastal strip is limited to a matter of metres before the land starts to climb. The highest point in the Mount Lebanon range stands at over 3000m and is snow covered for around half the year. The vast and fertile plateau of the Bekaa valley runs between the two mountain ranges and forms the northern extremity of the Great Rift Valley.
Along the coast the climate is mild with hot dry summers and wet winters but in the mountains heavy winter snow is usual.
UK performance was strong in the 1990s during reconstruction following the civil war. The assassination of the Prime Minister in 2005 and the Hizballah-Israel war the following year took a heavy toll on the economy and resulted in a significant downturn in the tourist industry, flat GDP, a substantial brain drain and reduced trade. However, ilateral trade with Lebanon has increased over the last two years. Opportunities exist in a variety of sectors including construction, oil and gas, health, education, food and drink, and IT. For 2010 UK exports to Lebanon were £398.8 million which represents an increase of 17% over 2009. UK imports were £36.7 million which represents and 8% increase over 2009. Major Lebanese exports to the UK include power generating machinery, pharmaceuticals, road vehicles and beverages. Lebanon’s main exports to the UK are paper-based products, miscellaneous manufactured articles and transport equipment. Lebanon is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Levant and the UK’s 8th largest trading partner in the Middle East – the UK’s 56th largest market overall.
Political life in post-war Lebanon was dominated by Syrian patronship. Renee Mouawad was Lebanon’s first President after the end of the 15-year Civil War. He was assassinated 17 days after his election. He was succeeded by Elias Hrawi whose presidency ran from 1989 through to1998, with the National Assembly amending the constitution to allow him to remain beyond the original 1995 expiry date of his 6 year term in office. General Emile Lahoud was then unanimously elected President by the Lebanese parliament in October 1998. Under Syrian pressure the Lebanese parliament again passed a constitutional amendment to extend President Lahoud’s term in office in September 2004 for a further 3 years.
Prior to the extension of President Lahoud’s mandate, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1559 on 2 September 2004. This resolution called for respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon; all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon; and the disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia.
On 14 February 2005, former Lebanese Prime Minister, Rafiq Hariri, was assassinated in a bomb that killed 19 others and injured over 200. In Lebanon it was widely believed that Syria was involved in this attack, and on 14 March 2005 approximately one million demonstrators came out onto the street to demand the departure of Syrian forces. In response to domestic and international pressure, Syria withdrew and a UN verification team reported on 23 May 2005 that all Syrian troops had withdrawn from Lebanon, although it was uncertain whether all intelligence personnel had left.
Lebanon’s politics have been dominated by two alliance blocs: the anti-Syrian ‘March 14’ and the pro-Syrian ‘March 8’ blocs. On 7 April 2005 the UN Security Council passed Resolution 1595, which asked that the UN Secretary General to establish an International Independent Investigation Commission into the Hariri assassination. Following completion of the Commission’s work, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in The Hague was set up to carry on the investigation and to bring to trial those accused of the assassination. The Special Tribunal has indicted four members of Hizballah for the murder of Rafic Hariri and has issued warrants for their arrest. To date the four individuals have not been arrested despite Lebanese attempts to seek their arrest. The Special Tribunal is now preparing a trial in absentia set to begin in the latter half of 2012.
This crisis was further exacerbated by the outbreak of a major conflict between Hizballah and Israel in July and August 2006. The situation further deteriorated in November, when six Ministers from the Hizballah-led opposition resigned from the Cabinet, over plans to set up the Tribunal. The Parliament remained closed during that time and hundreds of opposition demonstrators camped out in central Beirut until May 2008.
Tensions were further increased by the assassination of Hizballah's second in command, Imad Mugniyah, in a car bomb in Damascus on 12 February 2008. Mugniyah had been one of the most wanted terrorists for over twenty years, for his suspected involvement in a number of terrorist attacks during the 1980s. Hizballah immediately accused Israel of having conducted the assassination and are ostensibly committed to revenge.
In May 2008, tensions culminated in violent clashes between the Shia militias Hizballah and Amal and their allies on one hand and Sunni and Druze militias on the other.. General Michel Sleiman, the Lebanese army commander, was elected President on 25 May 2008, ending a seven-month vacuum in the presidency after the mandate of the former President, Emile Lahoud, expired on 23 November 2007. A Qatari hosted conference in May 2008 calmed some of the underlying tensions and led to the election of a National Unity Government headed by PM Fouad Siniora. This Government received a vote of confidence by the Lebanese Parliament on 12 August 2008.
Parliamentary elections held in June 2009 were won by the “14 March“ bloc, led by Saad Hariri. It was not until 9 November 2009 that Mr Hariri successfully formed a National Unity Government. This government lasted until 12 January 2011 before the opposition ‘March 8’ bloc pulled out of the National Unity Government over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
Najib Miqati was nominated by “March 8” for the premiership and was subsequently asked by President Sleiman to form a new government after receiving 68 votes in parliament. Prime Minister Miqati announced the formation of a government on 13 June 2011 and his governments programme was passed by parliament on 13 July.
Once the new government was formed, the Cabinet declared its support for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, and Lebanon subsequently agreed to pay its contribution to the STL.
Currently, there is debate over the electoral system reform bill and the next parliamentary election is scheduled for 2013. Parliament should then elect a president in 2014.
Fighting between Israel and mainly Shia militia continued in South Lebanon after the ratification of the Taif Accord. During the period of Israeli occupation, which lasted until 2000, Hizballah emerged as the main Shia militia opposing the Israeli occupation.
UN Security Council Resolution 425 in 1978 called for Israel's unconditional withdrawal from Lebanese territory and established the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). The United Nations established a 'Blue Line' on the ground. The Blue Line is the best possible assessment of the international border (based on the 1923 border agreed between Britain and France). In May 2000 Israel withdrew its troops from Lebanon, in accordance with UNSC Resolution 425, ending a 22 year military presence in country.
After Israeli withdrawal the Lebanese government continued to accept Hizballah’s control of the South. Between 2000 and 2006, the Blue Line remained largely stable, with occasional exchanges of fire. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 1559 on 2 September 2004. This resolution called for respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout the country; all remaining foreign forces to withdraw from Lebanon; and the disbanding of all Lebanese and non-Lebanese militia.
On 12 July 2006 a major conflict erupted between Lebanon and Israel when the militia of the Shia party, Hizballah, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory and killed a further eight. This led to a retaliatory response by Israel, in which Israel attacked sites across Lebanon.
Palestinian Refugee Camps in Lebanon
Approximately 320,000 Palestinian refugees remain in camps in camps in Lebanon after the end of the civil war. On 20 May 2007 clashes erupted between Fatah al-Islam, a radical Islamist group, and the Lebanese army when security forces tried to arrest suspects in a bank robbery. Militants from Fatah al-Islam attacked army posts at the entrances to the nearby Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al Bared some 14km North of Tripoli. Almost all of the 30,000 civilians fled the camp and most are now living in poor conditions in the nearby Baddawi Refugee camp. Over 180 Lebanese soldiers and an unknown number of militants and civilians were killed in the violence. The fighting is the bloodiest internal conflict in Lebanon since the civil war ended 17 years ago. The Lebanese Army announced on 2 September 2007 that it had taken control of the camp and that hostilities had ended. Significant internationally supported efforts have since been made to rebuild the camp.
The 2006 conflict between Israel and Hizballah
According to official Lebanese figures, 1,187 Lebanese people died in the 34-day conflict and over 4,000 were injured. The majority of them were civilians, and many of them children. There was extensive damage to infrastructure and up to a million people were displaced from their homes, mainly from the south of the country.
Hizballah responded to the counter-attack with a volley of rocket attacks over the border. In total, Hizballah fired approximately 4,000 rockets in to Israel. These unguided missiles landed on towns and cities in northern Israel, including Haifa, Israel’s third largest city. In total 117 Israeli soldiers were killed in the attacks and 43 civilians, with another 100 injured. Some 300,000 Israelis were also displaced during the conflict in response to the missile attacks.
Following intense diplomatic activity at the UN to bring hostilities to an end, the Security Council adopted Resolution 1701 on 11 August 2006, which called for a full cessation of hostilities. A formal ceasefire came into place on 14 August 2006.
BBC News Country Timeline: Lebanon (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/middle_east/newsid_819000/819200.stm)
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