What Should I Know About Lebanon?

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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 September 2019
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Lebanon is a small Middle Eastern country. It is approximately 4,000 square miles in size (10,400 sq. km), making it smaller than the US state of Connecticut. The country borders the Mediterranean, surrounded on both the north and east by Syria, and bordering Israel on the south.

Historically, the region was populated by the Phoenicians. From about 2700 BCE to 450 BCE these people plied the waters of the Mediterranean and built a powerful sea-going civilization. Eventually the Persians, and then Alexander the Great, conquered the region, and for the next two millennia the history of Lebanon was one of conquering and uprising.

Lebanon was one of the first nations to receive Christianity, and in the 20th century was often referred to as the only Middle Eastern state that was predominantly Christian, although this shifted in the latter part of that century. The country was also one of the early nations to receive Islam, not long after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. It then became the site of many battles between Christians and Muslims during the crusades, forming part of the Kingdom of Jerusalem before eventually being retaken by the Mamluk’s of Egypt. Later, the area was controlled by the Ottomans, who would retain control through many tumultuous periods until the collapse of their empire at the end of World War I.


In the administrative period that followed the War, France took control of the country, drawing up official boundaries to separate the region from surrounding Syria. It was at this time that the practice of creating a system of government that attempted to represent the various religious groups was started. Originally the president of the country was required to be a Christian, while the Prime Minister was required to be a Sunni Muslim. Independence was gained in 1943, during World War II, although troops remained until the end of the War.

In the 1960s, Lebanon underwent a period of calm and enormous growth. Money poured into the country from the surrounding Gulf states, flush with oil wealth. Because of the enormous banks and stability, Lebanon was sometimes referred to as the Switzerland of the Middle East. Because of the beautiful beaches, luxurious accommodations that sprang up with the wealth, and relative stability, it was often also called the Paris of the Middle East, attracting massive numbers of tourists.

This period of prosperity all came to an end beginning in 1966, when the largest bank in Lebanon collapsed. A year later the Arab-Israeli war sparked a massive influx of Palestinian refugees. Not only did this put a strain on the nation’s infrastructure, but the militant actions undertaken by some segments of these refugees provoked retaliation from Israel, which began bombing southern Lebanon extensively. Just as this began to die down, arguments between the Christian and Muslim populations began to act up, and in 1975, exacerbated further by Syria, Israel, and the PLO, everything boiled over into a civil war. The war would last until 1990, and claim more than 100,000 lives. During this time Syria moved in a great number of troops, who remained in the country until 2005. Israel also controlled a large segment of the country, claiming security concerns, until a massive withdrawal in 2000.

In 2005 the so-called Cedar Revolution — so named for the cedar tree on the Lebanese flag — occurred following the assassination of the Prime Minister. The assassination was thought by many to be linked to Syria, and the revolution was largely a reaction to the Syrian presence. By April 26, it was reported that all Syrian troops had left the country.

Although Lebanon remains war-torn from the past thirty years, it is beginning to recover. Basic infrastructure has been rebuilt, tourism and foreign investment are on the rise, and the country is quickly become a hot travel destination. Nonetheless, the security situation remains tense since the Israeli-Hezbollah clashes in 2006, and it is highly advised that anyone planning a trip check with their government for security advisories. Flying in is easy these days, with flights arriving daily in Beirut from many major airlines. Once there, the country offers a great deal. Ancient ruins and living cities thousands of years old make excellent destinations, as do the various ski resorts, beaches, and the amazing nightlife of Beirut.


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Post 2

Lebanon does not mean cedar. It comes from Laban/Lavan (phoenician for white), referring to the snow on its mountains.

Post 1

lebanon does not mean cedar... it refers to the white mountains

Moderator's reply: Thanks for pointing out this error; we have corrected it.

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