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Lebanon: Country Profile

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Lebanon: Country Profile

Map of Lebanon

Lebanon Basics:

Official country name: Republic of Lebanon
Area: 4,015 sq miles (10,400 sq km
Population: 3.9 million (2007 est.), not including 400,000 Palestinian refugees
Median age: 28.3
Ethnic Groups: Arab, 95 percent; Armenian, 4 percent; others, 1 percent
GDP and GDP per capita: $20.6 billion and $5,282

Lebanon: Government and Politics:

Lebanon is a democracy established, since independence from France in 1943, on a confessional system. The president must be a Maronite Christian. The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim. The speaker of the unicameral, 128-seat National Assembly must be a Shiite Muslim. The Assembly is popularly elected (members serve four years) and apportioned by sectarian shares. The only census ever completed in Lebanon dates back to 1932, making accurate political representation of Lebanon’s dozen-odd religious sects highly debatable—and cause for chronic political tensions.

Lebanon: Religion:

Lebanon’s religious diversity is unique in the Middle East. The largest sect is believed to be Shiite Muslims. Other Muslim sects include Sunnis, Druze and Alawis. Maronites, an indigenous form of Catholicism, are largest Christian sect. Others include Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Roman Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox (or Gregorian), Assyrians and, left over from missionary days in the 19th and early 20th century, Protestants of various denominations. Lebanon also has a small community of Jews, now much diminished from its peak of about 6,000 in 1945. Religious expression and practice is largely free.

Lebanon's Economy:

Lebanon was once the Middle East’s banking capital thanks to banking confidentiality laws similar to Switzerland’s. No longer. Lebanon was also a tourism Mecca thanks to its beaches, ski resorts and cultural life. No longer. The 1975-1990 civil war decimated both sectors. Reconstruction and an austerity plan helped mend both sectors considerably. But Lebanon’s economy was painfully set back again by the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in July-August 2006. The war cost Lebanon closet to $4 billion in infrastructural damage alone. Political instability since is preventing investment from picking up.

Lebanon's Military:

Lebanon’s military, dependent on conscription, was about 30,000 strong before the civil war broke out in 1975. The army broke up along sectarian lines in 1976 and was reconstituted in the 1980s and early 1990s, as various sectarian and tribal militias were officially disarmed. Hezbollah, the Shiite militia in the south of the country, did not disarm. The Lebanese army, trained and supplied by France, the United and Britain, defied another break-up in the summer of 2007 when it besieged and defeated militant Palestinians in a Palestinian refugee camp in the north of the country.

Human Rights, Civil Rights and Media in Lebanon :

Civilians were the indiscriminate and overwhelming share of the victims in Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war, which included two Israeli invasions and Israeli and Syrian occupation lasting more than two decades. About 150,000 to 200,000 Lebanese are believed to have been killed during those conflicts. Civilians again were heavily victimized in the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel (more than 1,000 civilians were killed). Domestically, Lebanese prisons are brutal, but arbitrary arrests are rare since Syria withdrew its occupation and intelligence forces in 2006. Media are largely free.

Lebanon's History:

The Lebanese coast was first inhabited in 3,000 B.C. by Semitic traders Greeks called Phoenicians. More interested in commerce than empire, the people of ancient Lebanon were more susceptible to play host to a succession of invaders than build a national identity. That’s still true since Lebanon got its independence from France in 1943. Lebanon’s Christian-Muslim divide weathered a brief civil war in 1958 and deadlier one-—with Palestinian militants, Syria and Israel in the mix—-from 1975 to 1990. An uneasy peace, interrupted by the 34-day war between Hezbollah and Israel in summer 2006, reigns since.

Current Issues:

Lebanon is in stalemate. Syrian withdrawal in 2005, after 29 years of occupation, left the western-backed government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to make good on its promise of political reform and fair elections. The Lebanese are still waiting. A series of assassinations of anti-Syrian legislators, beginning with the 2004 assassination of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, haven’t helped. Presidential elections scheduled for this fall have been delayed once already as legislators representing Hezbollah are boycotting the National Assembly and a compromise candidate remains elusive.
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