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Useful Notes / Lebanon

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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 a Western Asian country and one of the world's only two multiconfessional countries, with 18 official religions made up of various sects of the three monotheist faithsnote . 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 to (barely) hold together the extremely sectarian nature of the population. The three highest posts in the country are reserved for each members of the religious: a Maronite Catholic President, a Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, and a Shia Muslim Speaker of Parliament. No exceptions.


One of the few nations (the other famous example being Ireland) in which the people who live outside the country far outnumber those who live inside it. Not counting residents, refugees, and the like, the total population of Lebanon is (as of 2018) slightly more than 4 million. The diaspora? 14 million. And this is all made very, very, recently, so you can bet that the country's population would be much higher if there were no wars.

Lebanon is where ancient Phoenicia, Canaan, and other ancient civilizations were based. Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabians, Ottomans, French, and others have ruled and made their mark over present-day Lebanon. The city of Tyre, among other cities, was very prominent in the ancient World. The city of Baalbek has a Roman-era temple. Lebanon was a Christian country, and the only one in the Arab world. Because of all the commotion in the late 20th century, a great deal of the Christians, who are historically wealthier than their Muslim neighbors, emigrated and settled in various countries, particularly Brazil, the United States, Australia (where they are stereotypically hated) and other countries, creating the aforementioned humongous diaspora. 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 schemesnote . That's not to say that the Christians disappear altogether, though; estimates count that 40% of the population still identify as Christians.


Each confessional groups are segregated in different parts of the country, especially after the civil war. A rough breakdown for the larger ones are:

  • Sunni Muslims live in the districts of Akkar, eastern Baalbek, West Beqaa, and northern Sidon, plus the cities of Tripoli and Sidon.
  • Maronite Christians are the majority in the northern half of the Mount Lebanon and the southern half of the North Governorates, including the cities of Jounieh and Byblos, and some enclaves in the south (notably in Jezzine).
  • Shia Muslims dominate the districts of Hermel, Nabatieh, Bent Jbeil, and Tyre, and has a plurality in Baalbek.
  • Greek Orthodox have wildly scattered distribution, although they have a majority in Koura district.
  • Druze are concentrated in Aley, Chouf, and Rachaya districts.
  • Greek Catholics live in northeastern Baalbek district and Zahle city.
  • Beirut is nowadays divided into a Sunni Muslim west, Christian east, and Shia Muslim south.

Other than the above, Lebanon also hosts an unusually diverse array of ethnic and religious minorities for such a small country, most of which are displayed in the 18 recognized confessionals (see above). The town of Bourj Hammound a few kilometers from the capital is heavily Armenian. Turks settled during colonial times and continue to live there today. Refugees from other Arab countries set up residences whenever their countries flare up in chaos, including Palestinians (from 1948), Iraqis (from 2003), and Syrians (from 2011). The last one has been a very contentious issue among civilians, the military, and politicians alike; with 1.5 million people as of 2015, they have added a whopping 25% into the population within the span of four years. Other than putting more pressure into the already exhausted resources, non-Sunnis are especially worried that their arrivals would jolt the fragile confessional balance and bring them crashing down, like it did when the second wave of Palestinians arrived forty years ago.

What is now Lebanon was under a French Mandate from the end of World War I 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 '40s has been checkered at best. A major reason for this is that its independence is not really accepted by Damascus, who holds that Lebanon is more or less a(n autonomous at best) part of Syria proper. This even goes as far as to show in the maps produced, showing the border between the two countries as being internal, like you would get between American states. Being a fairly small and weak country that had sizable ties with Israel and the West, 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. Particularly since the camps soon became instruments of PLO power, serving and political *and military* strongholds that they would later use to pressure and eventually intervene in Internal Lebanese politics.

Outside the camps, however, things seemed to run smoothly. A political crisis in 1958 (pitting mostly Christian pro-Westerners against mostly-Muslim pro-Syrians 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 U.S. 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). In retaliation for the PLO bombing the crap out of them from Lebanon, Israel started bombing the crap out of the Palestinians on Lebanese soil, driving the subject much closer to home and pushing things to get much nastier. By April of 1975, it had turned into an all-out civil war. Pro-PLO militias controlled the south of the country; Anti-PLO controlled the center and west; and to top it off, the north and east were invaded by Syria. Beirut itself was divided in two: the PLO and its allied militias controlled West Beirut, their enemies 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 Syria and Israel decided to invade?

A force of American, British, French, and Italian peacekeepers were deployed to the country in the early 1980s to try and bring a stop to the civil war or at least to restrain the warring sides. However, they soon got sucked into the frenzied fighting and soon became a target of Syrian and Iranian intelligence, as well as their Islamist paramilitary proxies. As a result, one enterprising group picked two volunteers with the know how to drive, loaded trucks up with high explosives, and on October 23rd of 1983 sent it careening into the Peacekeeping compounds. By far the more infamous and deadly attack was that on the USMC barracks, which killed 241 American servicemen and a Lebanese civilian and was basically the Trope Codifier for modern suicide bombing; less well known is that there was another attack on the French Para barracks not far, which killed an additional 58 Frenchmen and a Lebanese janitor's wife and four children. All in all, the death total wracked up to 299 peacekeepers, 305 total including civilians, and the two perpetrators. The event was one of the most devastating attacks any of the countries had suffered, and led to the decision to remove the Peacekeepers and leave Lebanon to the paramilitaries.

The war continued until 1990, when an uneasy peace deal was reached in The Nineties that ended the civil war. The early 2000s 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, the Syrian elephant in the room stayed on for years in an effort to thoroughly subordinate Lebanon to its control, though generally preferring to act through quislings, sympathetic locals, and well-timed and deniable "accidents" than directly. One of these was the assassination of the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, which turned out to be a massive miscalculation as it spurred major protests that forced Syria to withdrawal.

You think it's over yet? Nope. While Syria moved back to the other side of the border, it was determined to keep its influence in-country. It had backed the Shia militia/political party Hezbollah in the 1980s, and continued to do so after the civil war was over. Hezbollah 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 Hezbollah kidnapped 2 Israeli soldiers and returned to rocketing Israel from Lebanon. In turn, Israel returned bombing the crap out of Lebanon in an attempt to destroy Hezbollah, but did not go beyond that because of internal politics and the hope that it would work enough. All of this contributed to Beirut getting torn up *again* just after the Lebanese had finished rebuilding it. 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, though the country still remained divided. Hezbollah remains largely dominant in the country to the point where it threatens the independent Lebanese government, with supporting and opposing militias and paramilitaries all taking chunks of the country and threatening balkanization.

The Arab Spring sucked Lebanon into its vortex just a few years later; as you might expect for a country that has faced considerable occupation from a larger, authoritarian neighbor. Like before, Lebanon would again face major shock waves because of events and decisions in Syria. This time, however, the event in question was not the expansion of Syrian power but the explosion of the Syrian Civil War against the Assad government. As a result, both Pro and Anti Syrian/Baathist/Assad factions have gone across the border in large numbers to fight in what is almost a larger proxy war, even as internally the country suffers from a sort of smaller "proxy cold war", with both sides maneuvering for advantage.

The beautiful cedar tree on the flag was adopted as both the symbol of the government and the anti-Syrian factions, and it looks like until that conflict is resolved it will remain tormented.

Lebanon in fiction/literature

Beirut used to be known as the Paris of the 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.

  • The Epic of Gilgamesh: Gilgamesh went to the cedar forests of Lebanon to get to...the Persian Gulf. Though do take note that the tale is mostly exploits of fun and glory; it's not like Homer or Virgil got perfectly correct with their writings anyway.
  • Features quite a bit in Classical Mythology, courtesy of the Phoenicians. Europa, who inspired the name for the continent of Europe, was a Phoenician princess who got abducted by Zeus in bull form. One of the Twelve Olympians, Dionysus, also had a (mortal) Phoenician grandfather.
  • Mentioned a lot in The Bible, because of the aforementioned cedar trees and a certain reason *cough* Creator Provincialism *cough* in part of the Bible writers, who mostly came from Israel/Palestine, although much of the region is mentioned. According to this website, it's mentioned 73 times, and that's not including the indirect references.
  • Malaak: Angel of Peace is the one Lebanese comic series to date, set in a warring Lebanon that criss-crosses with a mythological one.
  • Most of the works of Khalil Gibran, including The Prophet, are set in or at least inspired by his native rural Lebanon.
  • The Insult, a 2017 film in which a minor confrontation between a Christian car mechanic and a Palestinian construction worker in Lebanon blows up into a major incident and a trial. First Lebanese film to get an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.
  • Waves '98 is an animated short film in which a young student in Beirut gets aboard a gigantic golden elephant (really!) and takes a strange and mystical journey.

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.


Example of: