Middle Eastern country, one of the smallest in the region, on the Mediterranean Sea, bordering Syria and Israel. Its capital is Beirut. It was caught up in some degree of civil war from 1975 to 1991, with several militias controlling different parts of the country. Much of this is religious conflict between Christians and Muslims (and between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims). Both Syria and Israel have sent in troops in the past; Israel withdrew in 2000, but Syria's remain, and the Encyclopedia of the Orient describes Lebanon's current government as a "parliamentarian republic that is under direct control of Syria." Things are set up so that the country's "president is always a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, while the speaker of the National Assembly a Shi'i Muslim," which leaves the Christians with power disproportionate to their numbers and the Shi'ites the least powerful. The 128 seats in the National Assembly are also distributed in advance between the religious groups. This kind of division between groups has prevailed since the country became independent after World War II.

Geographically, the country has the Mediterranean coast, the Lebanon Mountains, a green valley, and then another line of mountains (the Anti-Lebanon Mountains) over the border with Syria. Most of the people live on the coast, with a minority in the Bekaa Valley where most of the country's agriculture is located; the rest of the country is arid. Much of the country was once covered with cedar forests but these have largely been cut down over the centuries.


Historically, Lebanon has been referred to as the "land of milk and honey". Also, Lebanon has a great deal of natural resources and a good defensive location. Therefore, the history of Lebanon is full of conquerers, pillagers, and looters.

Lebanon was first settled around 10,000 BC, and their crude villages had evolved into early cities by approxamately 3000 BC. 500 years later, the settlers qualified as a flourishing civilization: the Phoenicians. In the 9th century BC, the Assyrians invaded and broke the Phoenician's Mediterranean trade monopoly. The Assyrians were conquered by the Neo-Babylonians, and they were consequently overran by Persians. The decline of the Phoenicians finally came when Alexander the Great entered the scene and added Phoenicia to his empire. In 64 BC, Phoenicia was conquered yet again by Pompey the Great. At this time, Beirut flourished and became an important trade center.

The first powerful Muslim dynasty were the Umayyuds. For about a century, they held control of Lebanon until they fell to the Abbasids. These conditions held until the Fatimid dynasty took control of Lebanon. In the 11th century, the Crusaders ravaged the Lebanese shore on their way to the Holy City.

The next rulers were the Muslim Ayyubids, who controlled Syria, Egypt, western Arabia and parts of Yemen. At the end of the 13th century, the Ayyubids were overthrown by the Mamlukes, who ruled the region for nearly 300 years. This lasted until the Ottoman Empire decided to sink their teeth into Lebanon.

The sultan Selim I conquered Lebanon in 1516, but he was undermined by a man named Fakhreddine. Fakhreddine was an ambitious and talented man who was able to unite the region that would become modern Lebanon. Unfortunately, he was far too smart for his own good, and he found himself executed by his paymasters. Fakhreddine's successor was his nephew Ahmad Maan. Ahmad Maan did not possess the masterful political talents of his uncle, but he was intelligent enough to be awarded an emirate by the Ottoman rulers. Upon his death, the power passed to the Shihab family. They kept control until 1840, which was the end of the "age of emirs."

In 1842, Mount Lebanon was divided into two regions. Instantly, the two regions started fighting with each other. This was encouraged by the Ottomans, for it made controlling each region easier. By 1845, the two regions were engaged in open war. With some prodding from Europe, the Ottomans created a single Lebanese administrative unit under an Ottoman governor and abolished the feudal system. This worked, and Lebanon experienced stability until WWI, when a major famine hit and military rule was enforced. At the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Lebanon passed to French control.

Lebanon achieved national independence during WWII, and it quickly became a major trade center. Unfortunately, the power was held by Christians, when well over half of the population was Muslim. This gave the Muslims a feeling of alienation from "their" own government. The large numbers of Palestinians didn't help the situation, and civil war broke out in 1975. For the next 20 years, full-scale civil wars and foreign wars became very standard fare.

Syria finally intervened to hammer out a shaky peace between the Christians and Muslims. Then, the Israelis invaded Lebanon and formed a militia to protect the northern borders of Israel from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This forced the United Nations to send in peacekeepers to once again stop the in-fighting between Muslims and Christians. In 1982, Israel laid siege to Beirut. Their aim was to destroy the PLO. Finally, the PLO was partially evacuated by the UN, and a force of both US and European troops was sent to the region to protect non-Christian/Jewish civilians. The withdrawal of Israel resulted in renewed fighting between Christians and Druze Muslims. In 1984, the European and US troops were attacked and forced to leave.

The Muslim areas of Lebanon gradually started to fall under Syrian control, but a new government tried to expel Syria in 1988. The attack was a failure, and there was continued fighting until Elias Hrawi, who was in fairly good standing with Syria, was elected president. By 1992, all fighting with Syria came to an end. In August 1992, Lebanon held parliamentary elections for the first time in 20 years, and the Hezbollah became the majority in parlaiment. The new prime minister was Rafiq Hariri.

The Hezbollah kept fighting with Israeli troops until Israel responded by bombing 80 villages in southern Lebanon. This was known as Operation Grapes of Wrath. In April 1996, Israel stirred up more trouble by launching more airstrikes on Beirut and southern Lebanon. Most other nations immediately got angry with Israel, and the United Nations swooped in to negotiate a cease-fire.

The long series of wars have killed enormous numbers of citizens. Fortunately, the infrastructure of Lebanon is recovering and the economy is starting to flourish again. Lebanon should continue to do well, as long as foreigners remember to keep out of Lebanon for war-related purposes, be they Israelis, Palastinians, Syrians, Americans, or the United Nations.

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