Three Arab states surround Israel: Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon. Each country possesses its own unique physical and cultural geography.
Phoenicians created an empire along the Mediterranean coast of present-day Lebanon four thousand years ago, and many armies fought over the strategically located region. After the end of the Ottoman Empire, the area became a European protectorate under the French Mandate. Independence was granted by the French in 1943.
Lebanon has a population of about four million. Following World War II, Beirut, the capital city of Lebanon, became known as the “Paris of the Middle East,” with Western-style nightclubs and a jet-setting business class. Lebanon was also called the “Switzerland of the Middle East” because of its advanced banking and finance, which were supported by a relatively stable political climate.
Then Lebanon fell into conflict in the 1970s, when the minority Christian government clashed with a majority Muslim population. Many factions fought on both the Christian and Muslim sides.
Lebanon had a full-scale civil war from 1975 until 1990. The war destroyed the infrastructure of the country. Only one-third of Beirut’s population remained. The once thriving city had been reduced to a collection of bullet-ridden empty buildings.
Conflict between Israel and Syria has had violent results in Lebanon. Israel has taken military action against anti-Israel groups within Lebanon. In 1982, Israel attacked PLO strongholds, which were operating out of Lebanon. Anti-Israel groups in Lebanon, such as Hezbollah, receive aid from other Arab states. Syria has continually intervened in Lebanon. In 2004, massive demonstrations arose in Lebanon calling for the removal of all Syrian troops. Syria withdrew in 2005.
Lebanon has developed a unique parliamentary democratic system. A number of government positions are reserved for specific religious/political parties. The deputy prime minister position, for example, is reserved for an Orthodox Christian; the prime minister is a Sunni Muslim; the speaker of the parliament is a Shia Muslim; and the president can only be a Maronite Catholic Christian.
Lebanon is a fascinating geographic study, with dynamic cultural conditions and the beautiful Mediterranean coast, the attractive interior mountains, and the cosmopolitan city of Beirut.