Friday, August 04, 2006

Lebanon - a basic brief

Lebanon is about 70 percent the size of Connecticut. Before the present war erupted, it had a population of approximately 3,875,000. However, according to CNN this week, an estimated 200,00 Lebanese have refugeed to Syria to escape combat zones.

The median age of the people is 28, about seven years younger than that of the USA.

Lebanon is the most religiously diverse country in the Middle east. Seventeen religious sects are recognized by the government. Its population breaks down as follows:

Muslim 59.7% (Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant), other 1.3%

Arabic is the official language, but French, English and Armenian are widely spoken as well.

Until the 1970s, Lebanon's capital city, Beirut, was known as "the Paris of the Middle East" for its sophisticated, cosmopolitian character. The religious sects of the country generally got along well. However, Christians were politically dominant, guaranteed by the country's constitution. Resentment among the Muslim people began to rise sharply in the 1960s, prodded sharply by Lebanese socialists and secularists.

In 1971, Jordan expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) into Lebanon. The result was civil war in Lebanon that broke out in 1975 and lasted until 1991. According to Answers.com,
Civil conflict resulting from tensions among Lebanon's Christian and Muslim populations and exacerbated by the presence in Lebanon in the 1970s of fighters from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). In 1975 Lebanon's Muslims and leftists supported the PLO and sought more political power; its Christians, seeking to maintain their political dominance, opposed the PLO. The factions fought fiercely through early 1976, and Lebanon became effectively partitioned, with the Christians in power in the north and the Muslims in the south. Fearing an expanded war, both Israel and Syria intervened on the side of the Christians, who had begun to lose ground. Fighting continued at a lower level of intensity until 1982, when Israel invaded southern Lebanon to destroy Palestinian guerrilla bases; PLO forces were driven out of Beirut, and by 1985 Israel had withdrawn from most of Lebanon, which by then was split internally over whether to accept Syria's leadership. In 1989 the Christian leader General Michel Aoun attempted to drive Syria from Lebanon but was defeated, and the Arab League mediated a peace deal; his removal from power in 1990 eliminated the largest obstacle to implementing a 1989 peace accord. In southern Lebanon, fighting between Israeli and Hezbollah forces continued even after Israel's final withdrawal from Lebanese territory in 2000.
Here is timeline since 1976 of key events in Lebanon. Of particular note regarding the present crisis are,
14 Feb. 2005 - Former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri is assassinated while campaigning to win the upcoming election. He was predicted to win massively. Especially worrying for the Syrians was Hariri's ties to the French.
A United Nations investigation of Hariri's assassination blames Syria for the deed. As a result of mass demonstrations in Lebanon and the threat of sanction, Syria ended its military presence in Lebanon in April 2005, having basically ruled Lebanon for 29 years.

Israel's campaign in Lebanon from 1982-2000 ended the PLO's activities there. Most Lebanese were not happy to have Israel in their country, but they were just as unhappy to have the PLO there, whom the Lebanese considered foreign invaders as well.

Next: What is Hezbollah?

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