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Population Demographics - Lebanon has remained since its creation a religiously and ethnically diverse country. Religion has historically been the defining force behind Lebanese policy and political development more so than ethnicity. Several key groups have heavily influenced the history of Lebanon.
  1. Muslim Groups - Muslim groups have traditionally constituted a strong majority of the Lebanese population, and have always been closely involved in Lebanese politics since the it was created as as French mandate. Sunni Muslims are do not make up the majority among Lebanon's Muslim population, however of the different Muslim groups Sunni Muslims have always held the most power within the Lebanese political system, and only Sunni Muslims are eligible for holding the office of Prime Minister. Shi'a Muslims have traditionally constituted a majority of the Muslim population of Lebanon, however while they maintained their own sphere of influence within the Lebanese government they have long been considered the weakest of the three great religious sects that dominate Lebanon's system of government. Other Muslim groups include the Druze, which currently make up roughly 5% of the country's population, the Alawites, and the Isma'ilis; these groups make up a small minority of the overall population and have not figured significantly in greater Lebanese politics.
  2. Christian Groups - The various Christian sects that reside in Lebanon, while never making up the majority, have remained very influential, particularly in the field of Lebanese politics. Lebanon was in part created as a separate mandate from Syria in order to protect the various Christian groups from Muslim dominated Syria. The Maronites, the single most influential Christian group throughout Lebanon's history, constitute the majority of Lebanon's Christian population. Traditionally residing in the area surrounding Mt. Lebanon and heavily concentrated in the city of Beirut, the Maronites have historically held the most power out of the various individual religious groups. However recently the power of the Maronites has waned following the Syrian Occupation. Other prominent Christian groups include Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic, and Protestant, though historically they were never as influential as the Maronite population.
  3. Palestinian Refugees - While not a religious group, the population of Palestinian refugees currently residing in Lebanon has had a significant impact on the cultural, political, and ethnic history of the country. The majority of the refugees currently registered in Lebanon were displaced following the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and while the exact number of refugees currently residing in the country is impossible to determine with any accuracy, the number is no doubt significant enough to have become a very controversial issue since the refugees' first arrival. The refugees are predominantly Sunni Muslims, presenting Lebanon's native Sunni population with a means of further securing the already large Sunni majority and solidifying Sunni political power. Because of this, Lebanon's Sunni population has been traditionally in favor of granting the Palestinians Lebanese citizenship, while the Maronites and other Christian groups have resisted the movement because of the possibility of Sunni dominance of the already fragile Lebanese political system. Lebanese Shi'ites have also resisted the nationalization of the refugees for historically different reasons, the refugees often formed their camps and communities in regions of heavy Shi'a concentration.

Lebanon as a Tourist Attraction - Lebanon was a very famous vacation spot in the 1950s and 60s. It is known for its beaches and mountains. Then in the 1980s, Lebanon became a place of violence due to kidnappers. "Lebanon became infamous, in the 1980s, for the kidnapping of Westerners, thirty in all, most of whom were hapless innocents snared at a time of venomous xenophobia." (Hezbollah. 73.) The hostages were held in horrible conditions and soon "Lebanon became so dangerous for Americans that in 1987, the State department banned the use of U.S. passports for travel to the country, a ban that was not lifted until 1997." (Hezbollah. 74.) Tourism is a large part of the review in Lebanon. In 2006, there were fears that if Lebanon lost their tourism interest, there would be a "loss of $2 billion in income." (Hezbollah. 152.) The tourism also plays a part in politics. "Suleiman was elected president and inaugurated on May 25, just in time to save the lucrative summer tourism season." (Hezbollah. 171.)

Lebanon as a French Mandate - Lebanon as it is today has the unique distinction in the Middle East as the only modern state that did not exist in any way prior to the establishment of the Mandate System after the end of World War I. The creation of modern Lebanon was largely a reactionary measure on the part of France in order to protect their own colonial interests in the region. As stated earlier, the Maronite Christians that made up a vast majority of the Non-Muslim religious population of the region had always been on particularly good terms with France and the Catholic Church in Europe. As the French gained Syria as a mandate, the Maronites and other Christian groups were faced lived in a Post-Ottoman society dominated by Arab Muslims, and Syria in particular was being built up in the minds of the greater Arabic population of the Middle East as a potential Arab Nation. Fearing that the Maronites would face persecution under an Arabic government, the french separated the region surrounding Mt. Lebanon, an area with the greatest concentration of Maronites, into the new mandate of Lebanon. Lebanon was to be in essence an experiment in cooperative religious involvement in government, as the french established a governing system that did not inherently favor one religious group over the other; Sunni and Shi'a Muslims remained very influential in government, but for as long as Lebanon remained under the French mandate the Maronites were the dominant force in Lebanese politics. The creation of Lebanon as a bastion of Christian power in the Middle East also presented many economic benefits to the French. Lebanon served as a significant trade hub for the movement of silk and other important goods through the region.

November 1943 takeover - Using Senegalese troops, the French government took over the Lebanese parliament in November of 1943, evidently with the goal of replacing the government with one more friendly to them. The prime minister, Riyad al-Sulh, and president, Bishara al-Khuri, were both arrested and replaced by Emile Idda. This was met with revolt and demonstrations, including protests on college campuses and the declaration of a strike by major political parties. The French eventually released the government officials and withdrew troops, which ended the situation. (Embers and Ashes, p. 10) Lebanon declared its independence from French rule in 1943. French Troops remained in Lebanon for another 3 years.

National Pact - This was an unwritten agreement between the major factions of Lebanese society which formed the basis of the government after Lebanon became independent in 1943. Under the pact there was always a Maronite Christian President, a Sunni Muslim Prime Minister, and a Shi'a Speaker of the House. This allowed for power to be shared and representation to be somewhat proportional to the population. Problems arose by the 1970s however - among the reasons were underdevelopment of southern Lebanon (which was mostly Shi'a), a general feeling of abandonment by the Shi'a population, and a huge influx of Palestinian refugees, the vast majority of whom were Sunni. These new conditions made the Pact largely obsolete and were all contributing factors to the Lebanese Civil War of 1975-1990.

Lebanese Diaspora - Refers to the trend of Lebanese citizens to leave the country and settle elsewhere, either temporarily or permanently. There are an estimated 4 million Lebanese within the country, while the number abroad are guessed to be anywhere from 4-15 million ( ~12 million was the figure discussed in class). Brazil has the largest population of any country, with over 4 million Lebanese estimated living there. Despite some having been born overseas (many have never even been to Lebanon), all people of Lebanese descent are allowed to vote in Lebanese elections on the grounds that they physically travel to the country and vote there. There are a number of reasons for this trend:

  1. Historic - During the Ottoman Empire it was commonplace for Maronite Christians to flee in order to escape conscription into the Ottoman Army.
  2. Trading Diaspora - By spreading worldwide but maintaining trade relations with other Lebanese, this creates a large trade network in which everyone is able to reliably access resources from fellow citizens that would not otherwise be accessible regionally.
  3. Remittances - Regardless of permanent or temporary emigration, Lebanese outside the country tend to send a considerable amount of money back home to support their families. In 2001, this was estimated to total around $2.5 billion (Norton, 2007, p. 3-4).

Jabal 'Amil - This southern Lebanon region has been a Shi'a stronghold dating back to at least the late 1300s, where it was already a center for learning. It predates the introduction of Shi'ism to Iran by a few hundred years, and scholars from this region actually took part in the first conversions there. Al-Nabatiya (An Nabatiyah/ Nabatiyeh on maps) is one of the most important cities in the region, today a large commercial center.

Sayyid Musa al-Sadr - was the founder of a Shi'a populist movement known as Harakat al-Mahrumin (the Movement of the Deprived), and its militia Amal. Al-Sadr was born in Iran and was a cleric. He came to Lebanon near the end of the 1950s and spoke out against the poverty being experienced by the Shi'a community, challenging them to not accept their current standard of living. Al-Sadr's political stances were complicated, but his general aim was simply to better the lives of the Shi'a population in Lebanon. He supported the position of a Maronite Christian president but condemned their marginalization of the Shi'a. He was anti-communist and instead chose to appeal to pro-Arab sentiments, yet spoke out against Kamal Jumblatt of the Druze for allegedly exploiting the Shi'a in their fighting against the Christians. While supportive of Palestinian refugees, he also warned against the idea of establishing a Palestinian state within Lebanon, claiming this would anger local citizens (which indeed did happen during the 1975 civil war).

In 1969 Al-Sadr was elected as the chairman of the Lebanese Supreme Islamic Shi'i Council, which he immediately used to speak out on behalf of his community to attempt to gain reforms from the government. This was met with little success, if any. Norton explains al-Sadr's greatest achievement was in cutting the power of the elist Shi'a citizens in Lebanon. His power and influence waned with the coming of the 1975 civil war, seeing as his power was based more in words than in violence. in August of 1978 his plane disappeared en route to Libya to attend a ceremony celebrating Muammar Gaddafi's presidency. He was never seen again; among the rumors one claimed Gaddafi had him killed because he viewed al-Sadr as a threat to his own power. (Norton, 2007, p. 17-21)

Ashura - Derived from the Arabic word for ten (عشرة) is the commemoration by Shi'a Muslims of the death by martyrdom of Hussein, son of 'Ali, the son-in-law of Muhammad.

  1. History - After 'Ali's death in 660 A.D. there was a split in the Muslim community over who should succeed him as leader of the Umma. One group believed that the title of Imam, leader of the community, should be passed down by lineage based on relation to 'Ali. They backed Hussein as the next leader. The other group backed Mu'awiyya as the next leader, who was of the 'Umayyad tribe, the group of elites which Muhammad had ironically aligned himself against. in 680 Hussein planned to ride to Kufa and take the title of Imam, but was instead attacked by Mu-awiyya's son Yazid, who attempted to force him to renounce his claim and submit to his authority. Yazid's army met Hussein and his men at Karbala in present-day Iraq; despite being vastly outnumbered, Hussein fought off Yazid's army for ten days before his forces were killed to the last man, tradition holding that he himself was the last to fall.
  2. Celebration in Lebanon -

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Hezbollah Website:


The Israel/Lebanon War- On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah began to shoot rockets and mortars at the Lebanon-Israel border. After Hezbollah killed three Israeli soldiers and captured two of them, they fled back to Lebanon. The Israelis responded with attacks on Lebanon. In response to this, Hezbollah shot hundreds of rockets into Israel. Israel tried to get the Lebanese people and the government to turn against the Hezbollah, but the people stood by them. After two months of constant fighting and civilian casualties, the two sides agreed to a cease fire brought forth by the United Nations.

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