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Country profile: Lebanon PDF Print E-mail
One of the most complex and divided countries in the region, Lebanon has been on the fringes, and at times at the heart, of the Middle East conflict surrounding the creation of Israel.

Since a resurgence of hostilities in 2006, when Israel launched a major military campaign against the Lebanon-based Shia Muslim armed group Hezbollah, the country has struggled to regain the relative stability it enjoyed after the 1975-1990 civil war.

Overview


A small, mountainous country, Lebanon was under French mandate until independence in 1943. Its population is a mixture of Christian sects, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Druze and others, having been a refuge for the region's persecuted minorities.


A country full of promise after civil war between 1975 and 1990, Lebanon was again hit by war in 2006
Politics: A power-sharing deal ensures political representation for all major religious blocs; Hezbollah is a major military and political force - strong enough to resist being crushed in the 2006 war with Israel
International: An expanded multinational UN peacekeeping force is being deployed to police a ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon


Government structures are divided between the various groups. Lebanon has also seen several large influxes of Palestinian refugees, most of whom have limited legal status.

From 1975 until the early 1990s Lebanon suffered a bloody civil war in which regional powers - particularly Israel, Syria and the Palestine Liberation Organisation - used the country as a battlefield for their own conflicts.

Syrian troops moved in shortly after the war started. Israeli troops invaded in 1978 and again in 1982 before pulling back to a self-declared "security zone" in the south from which they withdrew in May 2000.

Syria exerts considerable political clout in Lebanon, although it withdrew its troops in 2005, ending a 29-year military presence.

This followed the assassination in Beirut of former prime minister Rafik Hariri. Lebanese opposition groups accused Syria of involvement; Damascus denied the charge. Huge pro- and anti-Syria rallies were held in Beirut, triggering the government's downfall and the Syrian pullout.

 

The UN has demanded the dismantling of all armed groups in Lebanon, including Palestinian militias and the military wing of Hezbollah, a powerful Shia Muslim movement which controls much of southern Lebanon and enjoys Syrian and Iranian support.

When Hezbollah militia captured two Israeli soldiers in a raid in July 2006, Israel responded with a 34-day military offensive and a blockade. Around 1,000 Lebanese, most of them civilians, were killed. The damage to civilian infrastructure was wide-ranging.

International peacekeepers were drafted in to help police a UN-brokered ceasefire. But Hezbollah's leader has rejected calls for the movement to disarm and political divisions in Beirut cloud the issue of what should be done about the group's military presence in the south.

With its high literacy rate and traditional mercantile culture, Lebanon has traditionally been an important commercial hub for the Middle East.

 

POLITICAL PARTIES

March 14 - Coalition which holds a slim parliamentary majority; pro-west members pushed for exit of Syrian forces; named after mass demonstrations that followed killing of ex-premier Rafik Hariri
Hezbollah - Shia political party with a militant wing that resisted the might of Israel in the war of July 2006; seeks bigger role in government
Amal - Pro-Syrian Shia political party led by parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri; allied with Hezbollah
Free Patriotic Movement - Largely Christian party which constitutes the main opposition; led by former army chief Michel Aoun; has ties with Hezbollah
 

Facts


 

  • Full name: The Lebanese Republic
  • Population: 4.1 million (UN, 2007)
  • Capital: Beirut
  • Area: 10,452 sq km (4,036 sq miles)
  • Major language: Arabic
  • Major religions: Islam, Christianity
  • Life expectancy: 70 years (men), 74 years (women) (UN)
  • Monetary unit: 1 Lebanese pound (or lira) = 100 piastres
  • Main exports: Foodstuffs and tobacco
  • GNI per capita: US $5,770 (World Bank, 2007)
  • Internet domain: .lb
  • International dialling code: +961

Leaders



President: Michel Suleiman

The Lebanese parliament finally elected General Michel Suleiman as president in May 2008 after six months of political stalemate that followed the departure of the previous president, Emile Lahoud, in November 2007.

The newly-elected Lebanese president, Michael Suleiman, arrives at the Lebanese parliament on 25 May 2008
President Suleiman's refusal to take sides has won him respect
The agreement that paved the way for his election ended some of the worst factional violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

As mounting clashes raised fears of a renewed civil war, the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition agreed on General Suleiman - the head of the country's armed forces - as a compromise candidate.

On taking office, the new president hailed the opening of a new phase in Lebanese history, saying that his fellow countrymen had "refused to succumb to self-destruction".

General Suleiman stood unopposed for the presidency, and is widely seen as a unifying figure, whose apparent neutrality has earned him the respect of both sides of the political divide. He is credited with having kept the army on the sidelines in times of political crisis.

He is a Maronite Christian, and so his election also met the requirement of Lebanon's complex power-sharing system that the presidency should be held by a member of that sect.

Prime minister: Fouad Siniora

Fouad Siniora was a close ally of Rafik Hariri, the former premier who was assassinated in February 2005.

He served in all five Hariri cabinets from 1992 to 2004, first as minister of state then finance minister.

Fouad Siniora
Mr Siniora has taken a tough line with the Hezbollah-led opposition

He became prime minister for the first time after the anti-Syrian 14 March forces led by Hariri's son and political heir Saad won control of parliament in the 2005 elections.

His first term in office was dominated by the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, followed by a dangerous standoff with the Hezbollah-led opposition.

When the pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud resigned in November 2007 after parliament failed to reach agreement over the election of his successor, Mr Siniora announced that his cabinet would assume the powers of the presidency.

The political deadlock was resolved with the election of army chief Michel Suleiman as president in May 2008. President Suleiman reappointed Mr Siniora as prime minister and tasked him with forming a new government of national unity.

Six weeks later, the leaders of the various political factions finally reached agreement on the make-up of the government.

Fouad Siniora was born in 1943 and grew up in the southern coastal city of Sidon in a Sunni Muslim family.

He speaks fluent English and attended the American University of Beirut, where he gained an MBA. He went on to make a career in banking and finance.

His interests include Arab literature and writing poetry.

 

Media


 

Lebanon's broadcasting scene is well-developed, lively and diverse, reflecting the country's pluralism and divisions.

It was the first Arab country to permit private radio and television stations. But the government has a say over who may operate stations and whether or not they can broadcast news. Several stations are owned by leading politicians.

 

Beirut family watches news on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV station
Courting controversy: Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV

Press freedom body Reporters Without Borders says the media have more freedom in Lebanon than in any other Arab country, but nevertheless face "political and judicial machinations".

Most broadcasters were set up after the civil war by Muslim and Christian factions. Commercial operators Future TV and LBC attract the lion's share of the viewing audience. Take-up of satellite and cable TV is widespread.

 

Al-Manar TV, backed by the militant group Hezbollah, has aroused controversy. A French court banned the station's satellite channel in 2004 on the grounds of anti-Semitism. The station was targeted by Israeli air raids during military operations against Hezbollah in July 2006.

There are dozens of private radio stations. Broadcasts from BBC Arabic and Radio France Internationale are carried by partner stations.

Criticism of officials and policies is carried daily in dozens of newspapers and hundreds of periodicals. While there are no censorship laws, restrictions in press laws forbid the media from defaming the president or other heads of state and from inciting sectarian strife.

By August 2007, Lebanon had 950,000 internet users, representing 21% of the population, according to the ITU.

 

The press:

Television:

  • Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) - commercial, market leader and pan-regional broadcaster; channels comprise LBC Sat, LBC Europe, LBC Sat America, LBC Sat Australia and LBC Nagham
  • Future TV - commercial; channels comprise Future International, Future News and Future TV USA; owned by Hariri family
  • Tele-Liban - state-run
  • Al-Manar (The Beacon) TV - pro-Hezbollah

Radio:

News agency:

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