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Useful Notes: Lebanon
The country with a tree on its flag. There's a reason for that. The tree is a Lebanese cedar, famous enough to be mentioned in The Bible. A lot. The Bible generally uses the tree and its wood as a metaphor for anything high-class or impressive, as well as writing about the actual cedars.

Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان‎ Libnān or Lubnān), officially known as the Lebanese Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية اللبنانية‎ Al-Jumhūrīyah Al-Libnānīyah) is one of the world's only two multiconfessional countries, with 17 official religions made up of various sects of the three monotheist faiths. However, it's unclear how many people follow what religion in the country; a full census has not been conducted since 1932. This is because the Lebanese Constitution divvies up power along religious lines, and the Christians—who were a slim majority in 1932—were outpaced by the Muslims in the decades that followed.

Lebanon was under a French Mandate from the end of World War One until 1943, leaving a deep impression in language and culture - for the Lebanese mostly, but also for the French. If you ever see French people greet each other with kisses on the cheeks, that's a Lebanese tradition. On the other hand, even today, Lebanese dialects of Arabic contain strong traces of French, and French is officially a national language. Lebanese cooking is famous throughout the Middle East and beyond: hummus, falafel, tabbouleh, and pastries unrivaled in taste (although an Egyptian would dispute that for the falafel and some of the pastries and Greeks would make a similar point about the baklava; Food is Serious Business). An Egyptian restaurant opening abroad might call itself 'Lebanese' to get more customers.

Lebanon's history since independence in The Forties has been checkered at best. Being a fairly small and weak country, it didn't contribute very much to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, even in the initial invasion of Israel in 1948. However, lots of Palestinians fled to Lebanon, whose government refused to allow the Palestinians to integrate. They've been living in festering camps in the countryside ever since (albeit "camps" with a whole lot of pretty permanent-looking structures), a major problem that would come back to haunt the country in its times of trouble.

Outside the camps, however, things seemed to run smoothly. A political crisis in 1958 (pitting Muslims against Christians for reasons related to the Suez War two years earlier) that threatened to turn into a civil war was defused when Dwight Eisenhower, on the request of the Lebanese president, sent the US Army and Marines to keep anything from happening. For a time, Lebanon was reasonably stable and prosperous; Beirut continued to live up to its reputation as the "Paris of the Middle East."

However, by 1975, the Palestinians had organized themselves into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which more or less became a "state within a state" in Lebanon. The Palestinians used southern Lebanon as a base for attacks on Israel, which screwed up everything most massively. Various groups within Lebanon took different positions on the issue (Christians generally frowning on it, Sunnis generally supportive, Shias generally too poor to be noticed). As Israel started bombing the crap out of the Palestinians, the subject came much closer to home, and things got nastier. By April of 1975, it had turned into an all-out civil war. Palestinian and other Muslim militias controlled the south of the country; Christians controlled the center and west; and to top it off, the north and east were invaded by Syria. Beirut itself was divided in two: Muslim militias controlled West Beirut, Christian militias controlled East Beirut, and various people whose religious background did not match the militias' generally fled to the other side before they were shot. Oh, and did we mention that Israel decided to invade in the early 80s?

The war continued until 1990, when an uneasy peace deal was reached in The Nineties that ended the civil war. The early 2000's saw Israel leaving the southern part of the country without any conditions. During these years, much of the country was rebuilt (although bullet holes remained an expected part of any building). However, Syrian troops continued to occupy the country until 2005, until protests resulting from the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri led to their withdrawal.

You think it's over yet? Nope. Syria had backed the Shia militia/political party Hezbullah in the 1980s, and continued to do so after the civil war was over. Hezbullah decided that now that its Syrian protectors were gone, it would focus its attention on making Israel miserable (It Makes Sense in Context, which I haven't the time to give you). As a result, in July-August 2006 after Hezbullah kidnapped 2 Israeli soldiers to make an indirect prisoners exchange because Israel was holding about 180 dead Lebanese men since the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and 40 alive Lebanese men in their prison, Israel started bombing the crap out of Lebanon, but was not able to invade the country this time thanks to Hezbullah for protecting the Lebanese border from Israel. None of this was very fair, as the Israelis managed to destroy part of Beirut yet again (they'd done it as part of their intervention in the civil war) just after the Lebanese had rebuilt it. As getting the crap bombed out of you tends to do, part of the Lebanese people were not at all pleased by this war because of the Americans . It was never quite as intense as the civil war (a veritable bloodbath), but it was enough to give people nightmares until it more or less died down in 2009. And after the 2006 war Hezbullah rebuild Beirut (to say nothing of the other cities) again. It seems like the beautiful cedar tree on the flag is becoming more and more an item of nostalgia.

Thanks to the bloody civil war, the Lebanese left their home country in larger numbers than might be expected from a country Lebanon's size. Christians in particular packed up and went, being generally a bit richer than the Muslims (particularly the Shia). There are now three to five times as many Lebanese living outside Lebanon as within it, and many have done very well for themselves indeed (for instance, Carlos Slim, a Mexican telecom magnate who trades places with Bill Gates for the title "richest man in the world", is of Lebanese descent). This has some benefits—whenever bad things go on in Lebanon, the Diaspora sends back aid and often invests in rebuilding schemes. Even when the violence gets nasty, you often can't tell a few years after it dies down. Of course, if it hasn't died down yet, nobody bothers patching things up...

Lebanon in fiction

Beirut used to be known as the Paris of the Middle East, until the Civil War. If it's set in pre-war Lebanon, expect a Belly Dancer to shimmy her way into the plot somehow.

Malaak Angel Of Peace is the one Lebanese comic series to date, set in a warring Lebanon that criss-crosses with a mythological one.

The Lebanese flag
The flag uses a Spanish fess — three horizontal stripes, of which the central stripe takes half the field, while the other two takes a quarter each. The red upper and lower stripes symbolize the blood of Lebanon's fallen freedom fighters, while the white central stripe symbolizes peace and the land's snow-capped mountains. At the center is the Lebanon Cedar (Cedrus libani), symbolizing immortality and fortitude.

LatviaImageSource/MapsLiberia
KuwaitUsefulNotes/The Middle EastOman

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