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Lebanon - Overview

Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other country in the world. By early 2016 Lebanon hadn't had a president since May 2014. Its paralyzed and overwhelmed government hadn't passed a budget since 2005. Simultaneously, the country had taken in nearly two million Syrian refugees. Lebanon only has a population of 4.5 million. Regular car bombs hit the capital Beirut, the terrorist group 'Islamic State' (IS) captured Arsal in the country's north-east in 2014. A third of the population supports Hezbollah, which much of the international community has branded a terrorist organization.

In November 2015, one day before the Paris attacks, 'IS' suicide bombers carried out the worst terror attack in Beirut since the end of the countrys civil war in 1990. 43 people died, 200 were wounded. In August 2014, the terrorists took control of the Lebanese town of Arsal, which is located close to the Syrian border. They have since withdrawn, but both IS and al-Nusra militants are still active in its outskirts.

Lebanon is a democratic country with a parliamentary system of government. The major external threat is represented in "Israel's greed and its aggressive and expanding policy" according to the 2005 white paper "The Lebanese Defensive Policy In Light of Vital Interests". Lebanon believes "in the justice of the Palestinian case and supporting the Palestinians legitimate rights in all international circles, particularly the right of refugees to return to their homes and establishing their own independent state."

Lebanons economy has suffered significant damage in the nearly 3 years of instability following the assassination of Rafik Hariri in February 2005. In 2006, following a boom in the first half of the year, the Hizballah-Israel war and subsequent political crisis dealt particularly serious blows, resulting in a significant downturn in the tourist industry and a significant brain drain.

Throughout Lebanon's history, power has only been redistributed, even temporarily, following violent shocks to the system. The 1969 Cairo Agreement, the 1989 Ta'if Accord, the 2005 exit of Syria from Lebanon, and the 2008 Doha Agreement -- all of which realigned the balance of power in Lebanon -- came only after armed strife or mass protests.

From ancient times through the Ottoman era to the colonial era, the present-day states of Lebanon and Syria, along with parts of other states, often have been regarded as one area termed Greater Syria. And, as this name suggests, Syria has played an influential role in the history of the area. Lebanon and Syria have been linked socially and economically, but especially politically.

Lebanon's confessional political system prevents excluding any one group from power, which contributes directly to deadlock. Hizballah seeks a veto on government decisions. the current political system precludes creation of a truly effective, stable government. While Hizballah cannot modify the constitution on its own, it can prevent the other players from making any moves contrary to its interests.

Since 1989, demographics have continued to shift, to the detriment of the Christians and the benefit of the Shia. No census has been taken in Lebanon since the one conducted by the French in 1932, which showed Christians with 55% of the population, a figure that has shrunk to a current estimated maximum of 35% -- a reflection of the effects of war, migration, and higher birth rates among Muslims. Sunni population figures are estimated to be around 25%, and the Shia are estimated at a minimum 30% of the population and growing rapidly.

Lebanon is situated on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 10,452 square kilometers. Lebanon is bounded to the north and east by Syria and to the south by Palestine [aka Israel]. This geographic location made of Lebanon a bridge between East and West, connecting the three continents Asia, Africa and Europe. Lebanon is not considered a rich country in raw materials. Its mineral resources are limited; of most important are the limestone, marble and granite sand used in cement, tiles, ceramics, porcelain, pottery and glass industries.

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.

Lebanon's mountainous terrain has figured prominently in its history. The land's mountains, hills, and valleys provided isolated sanctuaries for a variety of people; some sought escape from repression, while others sought the unfettered practice of their religions. Over the centuries the mountains' geographic remoteness has allowed groups such as Druzes and Maronites to maintain age-old customs and practices.

The present population of Lebanon is estimated at 6,200,000 (July 2015 estimate), consisting of different religious sects and rites. The coastal region is the most populated area. Lebanon is rich with its human resources where more than ten million Lebanese emigrants and descendants spread all over the world. Arabic is the major language in the country but French and English are also widely spoken. Lebanon's three biggest cities, Beirut, Tripoli and Sidon lie along the coastline and have their origins in Phoenician and Roman ports.



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