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Lebanon (my country of origin)

Temperature & Time


Lebanon (Arabic Lubnan), republic in southwestern Asia, bounded on the north and east by Syria, on the and south by Israel, and on the west by the Mediterranean Sea. The area is 10,400 sq km (4015 sq mi). The capital and leading port is Beirut. Other important coastal cities include TripolSidon (Sayda) and Tyre (Sur).

Land and Resources

Lebanon is about 217 km (about 135 mi) long and 40 to 80 km (25 to 50 mi) wide. A very narrow coastal plain extends along the Mediterranean Sea. Inland the terrain is dominated by two major mountain ranges, which are separated by the fertile Bekáa Valley (Al Biqa‘). The Lebanon range rises abruptly from the coastal plain; it is cut by numerous deep gorges and in the north contains the country's highest peak, Qurnat as Sawda’ (3083 m/10,115 ft). The other major range, the Anti-Lebanon, lies along the Syrian border in the east. Lebanon's major, and only navigable, river, the Litani, is in Beka'a Valley. Many of the other rivers flow only during the rainy winter season.

Beka'a Valley

Laitani river



The climate varies from a Mediterranean-type subtropical climate along the coast and in Beka'a Valley to a generally cool one in the upper mountains. Summers are hot and dry; winters are mild and humid. Frost is rare at lower elevations. The mean temperature in the lowlands is 26.7° C (80° F) in summer and 10° C (50° F) in winter. The mountainous region is somewhat cooler. Annual precipitation, occurring mainly in winter, is 889 mm (35 in) along the coast, 635 mm (25 in) or less in Beka'a Valley, and more than 1270 mm (more than 50 in) in the mountains.


Plants and Animals

Stands of oak, pine, cypress, and cedar of Lebanon are found in the higher mountains. A Mediterranean brush vegetation, with some trees, is found in most other areas. A few species of wild animals survive, including jackal and wolf, wild ass, and gazelle.

Cedar of Lebanon

Snow on mountains of Lebanon



According to a 1993 estimate, the population of Lebanon was 3,552,369; the overall density was about 341 people per sq km (about 884 per sq mi). About 81 percent of the people lived in urban areas.

The Lebanese are descended from many ethnic strains, mainly Semitic, and may be traced to the ancient Phoenicians, Philistines, Assyrians, and Arabs. Among relative newcomers are an Armenian minority of about 6 percent and a number of Palestinian Arabs.



Arabic is the official language of Lebanon. French and English have wide official and commercial use, and Armenian is spoken by that minority group.



Primary education is free but not compulsory in Lebanon. The literacy rate, higher than 85 percent, is among the highest in the Arab world. In 1991 about 345,700 pupils attended primary school and about 285,500 students were enrolled in secondary school. The government operates a number of trade, agricultural, and other specialized schools.

Beirut is the location of five Lebanese universities: the government-supported Lebanese University (1951), the American University of Beirut (1866), the Lebanese American University (1955 formerly Beirut University College) the Jesuit-affiliated Saint Joseph University (1881), Beirut Arab University (1960), and a university operated by the Lebanese Maronite Order. Their total annual enrollment in the early 1990s was about 87,600. The country also has a variety of specialized schools and several teacher-training colleges.



Blending traditional Arabic and recent Western influences, mainly French and U.S., Lebanon reached a high level of cultural achievement, exemplified in the works of the poet-painter Khalil Gibran. The National Library, in Beirut, is a depository for United Nations documents. The library of the Saint John monastery in Khinsharah dates from 1696 and has on display one of the first printing presses (with Arabic and Greek fonts) of the Middle East. The American University Museum and the National Museum, in Beirut, house regional antiquities and artifacts.


Currency, Banking, Commerce and Foreign Trade

The unit of currency in Lebanon is the Lebanese pound, divided into 100 piasters (1580 pounds equal U.S.$1; 1996). The Bank of Lebanon (1964) functions as central bank and sole bank of issue.

Commerce is of major importance to the economy. Before the mid-1970s, many foreign firms had branches in Beirut. The climate, scenery, and historical remains attracted tourists, with consequent benefits to the economy. Both commerce and the tourist industry suffered from the civil warfare of the 1970s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, annual imports were valued at about $4.1 billion and exports at some $925 million. Lebanon's chief suppliers of imports are Italy, France, the United States, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia; the main destinations for exports are Saudi Arabia, Switzerland, Jordan, Kuwait, and the United States. In January 1996 Bayrut's stock exchange reopened after closing in 1983 because of the war.


Government, Executive and Legislature

Lebanon is a republic governed under a constitution promulgated in 1926, as amended. The constitution was substantially revised in 1990.

Under the 1990 constitution, the president of Lebanon, who must be a Maronite Christian, was to be elected by the legislature for six years and was not allowed to serve two successive terms. However, in October 1995 the Lebanese parliament amended the constitution to allow the president, then at the end of his single six-year term, to serve three more years without elections. Otherwise, the president's powers were weakened by the constitutional amendments. Whereas before 1990 the president could appoint and dismiss the prime minister and other ministers, he now may appoint the prime minister only after consultation with the National Assembly. Furthermore, following a May 1995 agreement, the prime minister, rather than the president, appoints the cabinet ministers. The prime minister, whose powers were strengthened by the amendments, must be a Sunni Muslim. Nearly all executive decisions require the signature of both the president, who is head of state, and the prime minister, who heads the government.

Under the revised constitution, the unicameral National Assembly has 128 members elected by universal suffrage. The speaker of the assembly is always a Shiite Muslim and serves a four-year term. Legislative seats are divided equally between Christians and Muslims. This system, strengthened by a tradition of rallying around strong leaders rather than platforms, has inhibited development of Western-style political parties. During August and September 1992, Lebanon held its first legislative elections in 20 years.



The mountains that have given Lebanon its name—sometimes referred to as Mount Lebanon, or the Mountain—have also shaped its history. The inaccessibility of its highlands has not only provided a refuge for dissident religious groups over the centuries, but has also hampered unity among the region's distinctive populations.

Roman-Byzantine Rule

In 64 BC Pompey the Great conquered Phoenicia, which comprised the territory of modern Lebanon; he annexed it to the Roman Empire and administered it as part of the province of Syria. Aramaic, the dominant language of the East, began to replace Phoenician, marking the cultural integration of the territory with its neighbors. From the 4th century AD on, the Christianization of the Roman Empire and the subsequent emergence of a doctrinally intolerant orthodoxy in the Eastern, or Byzantine, part caused religious tension in Syria as a whole. By the 7th century, Maronites, a sect espousing the belief that Christ had both human and divine natures but only one will, sought refuge from persecution in the northern districts of Mount Lebanon.

Early Muslim Rule

In the 630s Arabs, inspired by a new religion, Islam, had conquered most of Syria, and Mount Lebanon was integrated into the Arab military district of Damascus. The conquerors allowed the indigenous Christian and Jewish populations to retain their religion—subject, however, to discriminatory taxes and regulations. In 759 and 760 Christian peasants revolted, but the rebellion faltered, surviving only in local legend. Enduring through the entire Islamic period, however, were the rivalries between the different Arab tribal groupings—the Qays (North) and Kalb, or Yemen (South)—who had settled in the area after the conquest.

The decline of the united caliphate and the rise of local dynasties formed the unsettling background to the next stage in the region's history. Early in the 11th century the Druze, an extremist Shiite Muslim sect, established themselves in southern Mount Lebanon, becoming sometimes partners and sometimes rivals of the heretofore dominant Maronites. In 1099 Crusaders from Christian Europe occupied the country and remained until the 13th century. Up until then the Maronites had been carrying on an increasingly lonely resistance to the processes of Islamization and Arabization. The Crusaders helped to ensure their religious and cultural survival by giving them ties to their coreligionists in the West.

The Ottomans

In 1516 the Ottoman Turks conquered the entire eastern Mediterranean coast. Two local dynasties successively came to dominate the Mountain under Ottoman rule: the Maans (1516-1697) and the Shihabs (1697-1842). The most ambitious of these rulers was Fakhr al-Din II, who forged an alliance with the Italian duchy of Tuscany. Although of Druze origin, he ruled tolerantly, attracting Maronite peasants to his southern districts. With the end of the Maan line, local notables chose the Shihabs to be emirs (princes). After 1711, because of the defeat and expulsion of one Druze faction, the Maronites came to predominate. Reflecting this shift of power, members of the Shihab family converted to Christianity. In 1770 a Maronite Shihab became the emir. His successor, Bashir II, who reigned from 1788 to 1840, subdued the Druze and emerged as master of Lebanon and a power in the Levant. Gaining support from the Ottomans, the European powers, and discontented Maronite peasants, the Druze ended Shihab rule in 1842.

The turmoil of these years finished the Maronite-Druze cooperation upon which Lebanon's autonomy rested. The Ottomans now played a more direct role, but their administrative reforms proved unworkable. In 1858 the political, religious, social, and economic tensions between Druze and Maronite, Muslim and Christian, and landlord and peasant burst into a civil war that ended in 1860 after considerable bloodshed and an apparent Druze triumph. The Ottomans and the European powers, however, sent forces to restore order and to punish those Muslims they considered at fault in the war. In 1861 they established a new administration for Lebanon that lasted until World War I (1914-1918). The new regulations provided that the country be governed by a non-Lebanese Ottoman Christian, counseled by local notables but directly responsible to Istanbul. The World War I years brought famine and devastation, increasing the flow of Christian immigrants to the Americas.

French Rule

Strictly speaking, the history of Lebanon within its current borders and with its distinctive mix of Muslim and Christian populations begins only in 1920, when the French, who had gained control through secret wartime agreements, combined the largely Muslim-inhabited coast and plain with the Christian-dominated Mountain to create the state of Greater Lebanon under their mandate. For practically all of the preceding two millennia this territory had been part of larger provinces within continent-spanning empires. Although Lebanon had rarely formed a distinct political entity, Maronites had developed a belief in Mount Lebanon as a country with a history and a character of its own. Because the French fostered this belief, their rule was supported by the Maronites, who gained economically and politically from it. In 1926 the French established the Lebanese Republic, but complete independence was not achieved for Lebanon until 1946, when the last French troops were evacuated.

The Lebanese Civil War

In 1975 fighting broke out between Lebanese Muslims and the Maronite-dominated Phalange faction. In June the Arab League imposed a truce, creating a Arab force to keep the peace. Violence continued nonetheless, and in 1978 Israel invaded southern Lebanon. Israeli troops were replaced by a UN force. In June 1982 Israel invaded again. Later that month, with Israeli troops surrounding Beirut, the Lebanese parliament elected Bashir Gemayel as president; after Bashir was assassinated in September, his brother Amin Gemayel was elected to replace him. Subsequently, the Israelis withdrew to southern Lebanon, and an international peacekeeping force was stationed in Beirut. The Western forces pulled out completely by February 1984.

When Gemayel's presidential term expired in September 1988, he named the army commander General Michel Aoun to head an interim government. In October 1989, Lebanese negotiators, meeting in Saudi Arabia, agreed on a new constitution providing equal power for the Muslims and Christians. On November 5, legislators ratified the charter and elected Rene Moawad as president. He was assassinated 17 days later, and the Lebanese parliament chose another President, Elias Hrawi, to succeed him. Voting for a new National Assembly in 1992 represented the nation's first legislative elections in 20 years. Rafik al-Hariri became prime minister and was elected to a second term in May 1995.  

Historical sights in Lebanon