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Beirut, Lebanon

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You are here: History


Located on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean between Syria and Israel, Lebanon is a comparatively small country of around 10,452 sq km in size. It has an estimated population of 4 Million people which is divided into numerous different religious communities.

From the French Mandate to Independence

In 1922, shortly after the First World War, France was awarded a mandate over Lebanon’s territory. In 1926, a constitution was put in place which was left largely untouched after the Lebanese independence in 1943. It can be described as confessionalist, given that public offices are distributed according to the demographic weight of the different religious sects. In the unwritten National Pact of November 1943, Christian and Muslim politicians agreed to maintain this proportional system of power sharing. Since then, the President has to be a Christian Maronite, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of Parliament a Shiah Muslim.

Civil War

In the meantime, social conflicts increased within society mainly due to systematic discrimination against large parts of the Muslim population and other sectarian factions in economic and political terms. These tensions in combination with the intervention of foreign powers in domestic and foreign affairs culminated in 1975 and led the country into a civil war. It was only in 1991 that this long and fiercely fought civil war finally came to an end.

Syrian Presence and the Assassination of Rafik Hariri

In the same year, the newly established Lebanese government entered into a brotherhood contract with Syria. It provided the neighbour state with considerable influence on Lebanese domestic affairs. After 1998, increasing militarization and Syrian influence on the state could be observed. Related to the dominant Syrian presence – military as well as administrative – the discontent of the Lebanese people, with the exception of pro-Syrian factions, increased. The situation escalated after the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005. Shortly afterwards, Syrian and Lebanese regimes were held responsible. Because of enormous public protests and high international pressure, the Syrian military and intelligence forces withdrew from Lebanon at the end of April 2005. In May and June 2005 the first parliamentary elections without Syrian presence took place in which the anti-Syrian alliance led by Saad Hariri won control of parliament. Since that time, the political landscape can be described as bi-polar, with the Hezbollah-led and pro-Syrian March 8 alliance and the anti-Syrian March 14 alliance as the two dominant oppositional forces. Soon, a newly created Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was mandated by the UN in order to investigate Hariri’s assassination and to find possible suspects. The debate about the activity of the STL since became an issue of serious conflict in the political debate.

Recent developments

In July 2006, Israel attacked targets in Lebanon after Hezbollah seized two Israeli soldiers. The so called 34 days-war cost the lives of more than 1000 – mainly Lebanese – civilians and displaced hundreds of thousands of people in both Lebanon and Israel. In January 2011, the national unity government of Prime Minister Saad Hariri collapsed when the Hezbollah-led opposition withdrew its ministers from the government, leading to a severe government crisis. The background for this was the soon to be announced indictment of the STL which was expected to charge four Hezbollah members of being involved in the assassination. After a few months of negotiations, the Parliament, in which the March 8 Alliance gained the majority, elected Najib Mikati as new Prime Minister of Lebanon. Meanwhile the STL indictment was released, indeed charging four Hezbollah members. Yet, Hezbollah so far refused to hand over the suspects to the investigators.