Map Courtesy CIA World Factbook
The Lebanese Republic or Lebanon is a country in the Middle East, along the Mediterranean Sea (on the west), bordered by Syria on the east and north, and Israel on the south. Lebanon is one of the fifteen present-day countries that comprise what is considered to be the Cradle of Humanity. It is the historic home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years. The region was a territory of the Roman Empire and during the Middle Ages was involved in the Crusades. It was then taken by the Ottoman Empire.
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the League of Nations mandated the five provinces that make up present-day Lebanon to France. Modern Lebanon's constitution, drawn up in 1926, specified a balance of political power among the major religious groups. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon's history from independence has been marked by alternating periods of political stability and turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut's position as a regional center for finance and trade.
After the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict, Lebanon became home to more than 110,000 Palestinian refugees who had fled from Israel. More Palestinian refugees arrived in Lebanon after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and Black September, and by 1975, they numbered more than 300,000, led by Yassir Arafat's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In the early 1970s, difficulties arose over the presence of Palestinian refugees, and full-scale civil war broke out in April 1975, leaving the nation with no effective central government.
On one side were a number of mostly Maronite militias, the most important of which was the one linked to the Phalangist Party; its commander was Bachir Gemayel. The other side comprised a coalition of Palestinians, Sunni, and Druze forces. By early 1976, the war was going poorly for the Maronites, and Syria sent 40,000 troops into the country to prevent them from being overrun; that Baathist Syrians were fighting against Palestinian forces was and remains ironic. By 1978, many of the Maronites had become convinced that the Syrians were really occupying Lebanon for reasons of their own, and by September of that year, they were openly feuding. The Syrian forces remained in Lebanon, effectively dominating its government, into the first years of the twenty-first century.
This period saw the rise of radicalism among the country's different factions, and a number of landmark terrorist attacks against American forces, including the destruction of the United States Embassy by a truck bomb and an even deadlier attack on the U.S. Marines barracks. Concurrently, in 1982 Hezbollah was created by some of the old members of Amal with other religious clerics.
1988 and 1989 were years of unprecedented chaos. The National Assembly failed to elect a successor to President Amine Gemayel (who had replaced his slain brother Bachir in 1982), whose term expired on 23 September. Fifteen minutes before the expiry of his term, Gemayel appointed an interim administration headed by the army commander, General Michel Aoun. His predecessor, Selim al-Hoss, refused to accept his dismissal in Aoun's favour. Lebanon was thus left with no President, and two rival governments that feuded for power, along with more than forty private militias.
The Arab League-sponsored Taif Agreement of 1989 marked the beginning of the end of the war. In all, it is estimated that more than 100,000 were killed, and another 100,000 handicapped by injuries, during Lebanon's 15 year war. On May 22, 2000, Israel unilaterally completed its withdrawal from the south of Lebanon in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425 from 1978. On September 2 2004, the United Nations Security Council, recalling previous resolutions, especially 525 (1978), 520 (1982) and 1553 (July 2004), approved Resolution 1559, sponsored by the United States and France, demanding that Syria, though not mentioned by name, should withdraw its troops from Lebanon. "All foreign forces should withdraw from Lebanon" to allow for free elections.
The country is recovering from the effects of the civil war, with foreign investment and tourism on the rise. Syrian forces occupied large areas of the country until April 2005, and Iran exercises heavy influence over Hezbollah forces in the Beka'a Valley and Southern Lebanon. There has been a marked exodus of Christian Lebanese from the country. Nevertheless, areas of Lebanon and Beirut in particular are moving toward a sense of normality and stability. Lebanese civil society enjoys significantly more freedoms than elsewhere in the Arab world.
On February 14, 2005, after 10 years of relative political stability, Lebanon was shaken by the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in a car-bomb explosion. Accusations of responsibility were directed at Syria, Israel, and local gangsters, with anger at Syria being particularly widespread, because of its extensive military and intelligence presence in Lebanon, as well as the public rift between Hariri and Damascus over the extension of President Lahoud's term. Both Syria and Israel denied any involvement. After Hariri's assassination, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt alleged that a shaken Hariri had told him months before that he was personally threatened by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a 15-minute meeting in the Syrian capital Damascus in August 2004. Up to this point, no person or party has been directly accused of the murder.
It was reported by some sources that upon hearing purportedly leaked information from the United Nations' special investigation report that the Lebanese authorities had covered up evidence of the murder, Hariri's two sons fled Lebanon after being warned that they too were in danger of assassination. However, both sons strenously denied these claims, asserting that they were called away by business which had been on hold since their father's murder.
The assassination resulted in huge anti-Syrian protests by Lebanese citizens in Beirut demanding the resignation of the pro-Syrian government. Following the examples of the Rose Revolution and Orange Revolution in 2004, the popular action was dubbed the "Cedar Revolution" by the US State Department, a name which quickly caught on among the international media. On February 28, 2005, as over 70,000 people demonstrated in Martyrs' Square, Prime Minister Omar Karami and his Cabinet resigned, although they remained in office temporarily in a caretaker role prior to the appointment of replacements.
On March 14, one month after Hariri's assassination, approximately one million protestors rallied in Martyrs' Square, in the largest gathering to date. Protestors of all sects (even including a number of Shiites) marched for the truth of Hariri's murder and for what they call independence from Syrian occupation. The march reiterated their will for a sovereign, democratic, and unified country, free of Syria's hegemony.
In the weeks following the demonstrations, bombs were detonated in Christian areas near Beirut. Although the damages were mostly material, these acts demonstrate the danger of Lebanon relapsing into sectarian strife.
After weeks of unsuccessful negotiations to form a new government, Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned the post for the third time in his political career on 13 April 2005. Two days later, Najib Mikati, a US-educated millionaire businessman and former Minister of Transportation and Public Works, was appointed as Prime Minister-designate. A moderate pro-Syrian, Mikati secured the post through the support of the Opposition, which had previously boycotted such negotiations.
Maj. Gen. Jamil Sayyed, the top Syrian ally in the lebanese security forces, resigned on Monday, 25 April, just a day before the final Syrian troops pulled out of Lebanon. On 26 April 2005, the last 250 Syrian troops left Lebanon.