Full Country Name:
The Lebanese Republic
Country Profile: Lebanon
10,452 sq km (4,036 sq miles)
Beirut (population: 1.6m, estimate 1996)
4 million, including an estimated 300,000 Palestinian refugees. The population is predominantly Arab with a sizeable Armenian minority. The Lebanese diaspora is thought to total 14 million
Arabic (official), English, French, Armenian
There are 18 registered sects in Lebanon including Druze, Maronite Christian, Shia Muslim and Sunni Muslim
Major political parties:
Numerous political groupings exist in Lebanon, organised along mostly sectarian lines
Head of State:
President Emile Lahoud
Acting Foreign Minister – Tarek Mitri (also Minister of Culture)
Membership of international groups/organisations:
Arab League (AL), Intergovernmental Group of 24 (G-24), Group of 77 at the United Nations (G-77), International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), International Criminal Court (ICC), International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU), International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement (ICRM), International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRCS), International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Monetary Fund (IMF), International Maritime Organisation (IMO), International Criminal Police Organisation (Interpol), Non Aligned Movement (NAM), Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), United Nations (UN), United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), World Health Organisation (WHO), World Trade Organisation (WTrO - observer)
Lebanon is tiny (around half the size of Wales) and averages around 50km from east to west and 225 km from north to south. It sits lengthways against the Mediterranean, sandwiched 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.
Recent Political Developments
A major crisis erupted between Lebanon and Israel on 12 July 2006 when the militia of the Shiite party, Hizballah, kidnapped two Israeli soldiers from Israeli territory and killed a further eight. This led to a massive retaliatory response by Israel, in which Israel attacked sites across Lebanon. According to official Lebanese figures, 1,187 Lebanese people died in the hostilities 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.
Political system and history since Syrian withdrawal
The principle of confessionalism is central to Lebanon's political system. Under the Taif Accord (the agreement that ended the civil war in 1990), senior positions of state are divided amongst the different confessional groups. The President is a Christian (Maronite), the Prime Minister is Sunni and the Speaker of the Parliament is a Shi'ite. Parliament is similarly divided with an equal number of Christian and Muslim MPs.
General Emile Lahoud was unanimously elected President by the Lebanese parliament in October 1998. Under Syrian pressure the Lebanese parliament passed a constitutional amendment to extend President Lahoud’s term in office in September 2004.
Prior to the extension of President Lahoud’s mandate, the UN Security Council adopted resolution 1559 (UNSCR 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, Rafic 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.
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. The work of the commission is ongoing.
Elections for the Lebanese National Assembly were then held over four consecutive weekends beginning in Beirut on 29 May 2005 and finishing in northern Lebanon on 19 June 2005. This resulted in victory for the “14 March” coalition (named after the largest bloc of protesters against the Hariri assassination). Subsequently Fuad Siniora was appointed Prime Minister of a coalition government including several of the major parties.
History since Independence
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, the Speaker of Parliament is Shia Muslim. These divisions are reflected throughout the Cabinet and civil service.
In 1970, large numbers of PLO fighters expelled from Jordan sought refuge in Lebanon leading to further 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. It ended in Syrian intervention, at the Lebanese government's request, initially to prevent a Christian defeat. The presence of the Syrian forces was subsequently authorised by an Arab League mandate as the 'Arab Deterrent Force'. But despite its presence, intermittent fighting continued, and between 1975 and 1982 an estimated 10% of the Lebanese population was killed or wounded.
In 1982, the PLO presence in Lebanon led to an Israeli invasion. A multinational Force (MNF) of US, French and Italian contingents was 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 pro-Israeli Christian Phalange militia in the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila. A British contingent (of approximately 100) joined the MNF in February 1983. Following a deterioration in the security situation, the MNF was withdrawn in the spring of 1984.
In May 1984 a Syrian-supported Government of National Unity was formed. Negotiations at Syrian insistence between the three main militia/political groups (AMAL, PSP and the Christian Lebanese Forces) on political reforms in Lebanon led to the Tripartite Accord of 1985. It involved progress towards the total deconfessionalisation of the political system within a decade and consolidation of privileged Syrian/Lebanese relations. Tension within the Christian community over the Accord led to the Lebanese Forces (LF) coup of January 1986 in which the pro-Accord leaders of the LF were displaced.
Heavy fighting in February 1987 in West Beirut between AMAL and a coalition of left-wing forces headed by the Druze militia led to renewed Syrian military intervention. Other clashes were mainly between AMAL, and the Palestinians.
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. Gemayel's final act was to appoint the Maronite commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces, General Aoun, as Prime Minister. The legitimacy of this government was disputed by the acting Prime Minister of the previous administration, Selim Hoss (a Sunni). This led to virtual partition along sectarian lines. Hoss's government was based in West Beirut, while Aoun occupied the Presidential Palace at Baabda in the East.
The rivalry erupted into fighting in March 1989 following Aoun's blockade of the Muslim ports in South Beirut. There was heavy shelling of the Christian enclave by Syrian forces, returned by Aoun's troops. During the fighting more than 800 were killed.
The Arab League Summit of May 1989 led to the formation of a three man committee of the Kings of Morocco and Saudi Arabia and the President of Algeria, charged with solving the crisis. On 16 September 1989 they issued a seven-point peace plan for Lebanon. This was accepted by both Hoss and Aoun, as well as by the Syrians. As a result, a ceasefire was established, the ports and airports were re-opened and the refugees began to return.
In September 1989, the Lebanese Parliament was convened in Taif, Saudi Arabia, which agreed a Charter for National Reconciliation, known as the Taif Accord. This included an outline timetable for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, initially from Beirut, and a formula for the deconfessionalisation of the Lebanese political system.
A meeting of Lebanese Deputies in Kleat, Northern Lebanon, on 5 November 1989 ratified the Taif Accord and elected Rene Moawad, a Maronite Christian, as President. The election was welcomed by the UK and by most of the international community. Aoun declared the elections illegal, and announced that he would be holding elections himself in 1990. Moawad was however assassinated on 22 November 1989 and his successor, Elias Hrawi, immediately removed Aoun from his command of the Lebanese Armed Forces, surrounding the Christian enclave with Syrian troops.
The anticipated Syrian attack on the enclave did not materialise as, from January - May 1990, East Beirut was locked in an internecine struggle between Christian forces. This caused extensive damage and loss of life. The fighting almost halted the economic cycle of the country and led to increased unemployment and the emigration of skilled workers. Aoun was forced out of the Christian enclosure by a Syrian air attack in October 1990. Aoun took refuge in the French Embassy from which he went into exile in France.
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 and the main political groupings accept the Taif Accord as the basis of a post-war settlement.
Following the Taif Accord, south Lebanon remained the one area of active fighting. Israel continued to occupy part of south Lebanon with Israeli Defence Force soldiers and a Lebanese proxy-army, the South Lebanon Army (SLA). During the period of occupation, Hizballah emerged as the main Shia militia opposing the Israeli occupation and the Lebanese government continued to accept their control of south Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal. 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). UNIFIL is deployed in Lebanon outside the security zone but could not intervene in the fighting. The Israelis withdrew from southern Lebanon in May 2000. 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).
Between 2000 and 2006, the Blue Line has remained largely stable, with occasional exchanges of fire, until July 2006 when Hizballah launched a raid over the border to capture Israeli soldiers, sparking 34 days of intense conflict between Israel and Hizbollah. Since the cessation of hostilities established by UN Security Council Resolution 1701 and the deployment of a much larger UNIFIL presence in south Lebanon, the border has largely been calm. But the potential for escalation remains high.
Basic Economic Facts
GDP: US$ 22.2 billion
GDP per head: US$ 5800
Annual Growth: -5% (2006)
Major Industries: Banking, food processing, jewellery, textiles, mineral and chemical products
Major trading partners: Switzerland 20%, UAE 7.7%, Syria 7.7%, Saudi Arabia 6.4%, Iraq 6%, Turkey 4.5%, Jordan 3.7%, Kuwait 3.6%, Qatar 2.8%, USA 2.3%.
Aid & development: Small projects only
Exchange rate: US$ 1: L 1500
Lebanon’s economy has suffered significant damage in the 2 years of instability following the assassination of Hariri in February 2005. In 2006, following a mini-boom in the first half of the year, the war, blockade , and subsequent political crisis dealt particularly serious blows, resulting in a collapse of the tourist industry, negative GDP and a significant brain drain.
The banking and financial sector however continues to thrive, and effective crisis management from the Central Bank has for the moment removed any serious risk of currency collapse or default on debt repayment. The national debt reached a record level of $40.4 billion by end of 2006 (185% of GDP), but has been mitigated somewhat by the Paris III conference pledges on 25 January 2007. Paris III resulted in nearly $8 billion of grants and loans being pledged in return for economic reforms due to begin later in 2007.
LEBANON'S RELATIONS WITH NEIGHBOURS
Besides Israel, Lebanon's most significant regional relationship is with Syria. As explained above Lebanon’s relationship with Syria has been going through a transformation since the recent departure of Syrian troops in April 2005. This was the first time since 1976 that Syrian forces have not been present in Lebanon.
LEBANON'S RELATIONS WITH THE UK
There is a large and active Lebanese community in the United Kingdom.
Trade and Investment with the UK
Lebanon has not been a traditional market for UK exports. UK performance was strong in the nineties during the reconstruction following the civil war, and started to increase again in 2002. Performance has flatlined over the last few years, largely because of political instability, but 2006 figures represent remarkable resilience given the war and 2 month closure of the ports.
Our main exports are medicinal and pharmaceutical products; petroleum; petroleum products and related materials; power generating machinery and equipment; telecommunications sound recording and reproducing apparatus and equipment; and beverages. Lebanon's main exports to the UK are metal ores and scrap; beverages; telecommunications & sound recording, reproducing apparatus and equipment; paper, paperboard and pulp; and miscellaneous manufactured articles.
The Lord Mayor of London visited in January 2003. An Inter Parliamentary Delegation of British Parliamentarians visited Lebanon in September 2004. Former FCO Minister Baroness Symons visited Lebanon in November 2003 and February 2005. Then Foreign Secretary Jack Straw visited in January 2006. Prime Minister Siniora visited the UK in May 2006. FCO Minister Kim Howells and the Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn visited Lebanon in July and August 2006 respectively, in response to the current crisis. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, visited Lebanon on 11 September 2006. The Foreign Secretary visited from 1-2 December 2006. A Lebanese Inter Parliamentary Delegation visited the UK from 25 February to 2 March 2007.
Last updated: 3 April 2007