With its high literacy rate and traditional mercantile culture, Lebanon has been an important commercial hub for the Middle East.
It has also often been at the centre of Middle Eastern conflicts, despite its small size, because of its borders with Syria and Israel and its uniquely complex communal make-up.
Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze are the main population groups in a country that has been a refuge for the region’s minorities for centuries.
REPUBLIC OF LEBANON: FACTS
- Capital: Beirut
- Area: 10,452 sq km
- Population: 5.2 million
- Languages: Arabic, French
- Life expectancy: 76 years (men) 80 years (women)
The post is currently vacant. After Michel Aoun left the presidency in 2022, prime minister Najib Mikati said he would not be assuming the powers of the presidency, as they would be delegated to the council of ministers as a whole, as per Lebanon’s constitution, which does not allow for an interim president.
Prime minister: Najib Mikati
Najib Mikati, Lebanon’s richest man, returned to head the government in September 2021, having served as prime minister twice before.
His appointment ended months of political paralysis, as the country struggled with a collapsing economy and nearly two years of protests demanding wholesale political reform.
Lebanon had been without a government since Hassan Diab resigned after a massive blast destroyed Beirut port and the surrounding area in August 2020.
Lebanon’s broadcasting scene is developed, lively and diverse, and reflects the country’s pluralism and divisions.
It was the first Arab country to permit private radio and TV. These outlets dominate the broadcasting scene and air some of the most outspoken TV talk shows in the region.
News websites have emerged as a key information source.
Some key dates in Lebanon’s history:
1516-1918 – Lebanon part of the Ottoman Empire.
1920 – The League of Nations grants the mandate for Lebanon and Syria to France, which creates the State of Greater Lebanon out of the provinces of Mount Lebanon, north Lebanon, south Lebanon and the Bekaa.
1926 – Lebanese Representative Council approves a constitution and the unified Lebanese Republic under the French mandate is declared.
1944 – France agrees to transfer power to the Lebanese government.
1958 – Faced with increasing opposition which develops into a civil war, President Camille Chamoune asks the US to send troops to preserve Lebanon’s independence. The US sends marines.
1967 – Lebanon plays no active role in the Arab-Israeli war but is to be affected by its aftermath when Palestinians use Lebanon as a base for attacks on Israel.
1975 – Phalangist gunmen ambush a bus in Beirut’s Ayn-al-Rummanah district, killing 27 mainly Palestinian passengers, claiming guerrillas had previously attacked a nearby church. These clashes start Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war.
1976 – Syrian troops enter Lebanon to restore peace but also to curb the Palestinians, thousands of whom are killed in a siege of the Tel al-Zaatar camp by Syrian-allied Christian militias in Beirut.
1978 – In reprisal for a Palestinian attack, Israel launches a major invasion of southern Lebanon. It withdraws from all but a narrow border strip, which it hands over to its proxy South Lebanon Army mainly Christian militia.
1982 – Following an attempted assassination of Israel’s UK ambassador by a Palestinian splinter group, Israel launches a full-scale invasion of Lebanon.
1982 – Pro-Israeli president-elect Bachir Gemayel is assassinated. Israel occupies West Beirut. Phalangist militia kills thousands of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps. US, French and Italian peacekeeping force arrives in Beirut.
1983 – Suicide attack on US embassy kills 63 people in April, and another in October on the headquarters of the peacekeepers kills 241 US and 58 French troops. US troops withdraw in 1984.
1985 – Most Israeli troops withdraw apart from a “security zone” in the south.
1988 – Outgoing President Amine Gemayel appoints an interim military government under Maronite commander Michel Aoun in East Beirut after inconclusive presidential elections. Prime Minister Selim el-Hoss forms a mainly Muslim rival administration in West Beirut.
1989 – Parliament meets in Taif, Saudi Arabia, to endorse a Charter of National Reconciliation transferring much of the authority of the president to the cabinet and boosting the number of Muslim MPs.
1990 – The Syrian air force attacks the Presidential Palace at Baabda and Aoun flees. This formally ends the civil war.
1991 – The National Assembly orders the dissolution of all militias, except for the powerful Shia group Hezbollah. The Lebanese army defeats the PLO and takes over the southern port of Sidon.
1992 – After the first elections since 1972, wealthy businessman Rafik Hariri becomes prime minister.
2000 – Israel pulls out of south Lebanon
2005 – Former prime minister Rafik Hariri is killed by a car bomb in Beirut, sparking anti-Syrian rallies and a political crisis.
2006 – Israel attacks after Hezbollah kidnaps two Israeli soldiers. Civilian casualties are high and there is widespread damage in the 34-day war. UN peacekeeping force deploys along the southern border, followed by Lebanese army troops for first time in decades.
2008 – Lebanon establishes diplomatic relations with Syria for first time since both countries gained independence.
2012 – The Syrian civil war that began in March 2011 spills over into Lebanon in clashes between Sunni Muslims and Alawites in Tripoli and Beirut.
2013 – European Union lists the military wing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
2014 – UN says there are now more than one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
2020 – Government quits after months of protests over falls in the value of the currency, the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, and rioting after a massive chemical explosion in Beirut’s port.