Lebanon

 

History of Lebanon

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The Lebanon, over the course of history, provided an inaccessible haven for tribes and religious groups escaping from repression and persecution in other parts of the Middle East. The principal groupings in the country are: the Maronites, Christians who – uniquely among Eastern Christians – maintained links with, and secured support from, their co-religionists in Europe; the Greek Orthodox Christians; the Shia Muslims, who arrived in Lebanon to escape persecution from the Sunni majority elsewhere in the Islamic world; and the Druze, a heretical Muslim sect founded in the 10th century. The colonial powers that subsequently occupied Lebanon – the Ottoman Turks and the French – were content to leave these sects more or less to themselves.

The Turks took control of the area in the 16th century during the major expansion of the Ottoman Empire and remained there until the end of World War I. With the dissolution of that empire, the French were granted a League of Nations mandate to administer Lebanon until independence in 1941. From that time, the disparate communities cohabited in relative peace with political power divided between Christians, Shia and Sunni Muslims. On this basis, Lebanon developed a thriving economy based on providing business services – banking and finance, transport and trade facilities – for other countries in the region. This situation prevailed until the 1970s when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which had been expelled from Jordan in 1971, established itself in Lebanon with the tacit agreement of the Lebanese.

The influx of a large new community with a powerful armed wing upset the relatively fragile political balance in Lebanon. The PLO’s presence ultimately led to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. By then Lebanon had been engulfed in a six-year civil war between right-wing Christian militias (the Falange and the southern militia led by Saad Haddad, and later the forces led by General Michel Aoun) and various alignments of Muslim and Palestinian forces. Among the latter, the most important were the Amal movement and the more radical, Iranian-inspired Hezbollah organisation. Hezbollah, in particular, which grew from the radicalisation of the Shia population, bore the brunt of the subsequent fighting against the Christian militias and the Israelis. It is now a significant political force in Lebanon.

After the war began in 1976, the capital Beirut was split across the ‘Green Line’, dividing the city between the Christian-dominated east of the city and the Muslim west. Central Government all but broke down, despite repeated attempts to find some kind of political solution. The Israeli invasion succeeded in driving most of the Palestinian guerrillas out of Lebanon, but failed in its principal political objective of installing a Christian-dominated government in power. The Israeli occupation earned Tel Aviv much international criticism. However, following the election of a coalition government in Tel Aviv, the Israelis withdrew in early 1985 to a self-declared ‘security zone’ in the south controlled by the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) and their locally recruited Christian proxy militia, the South Lebanon Army (SLA).

The ‘security zone’ became the scene of an attritional guerrilla war between the IDF/SLA and fighters from Hezbollah which came to an end in 1999 when the Israeli government decided to pull their troops out of the region (with their departure, the SLA immediately collapsed). In the rest of the country, the Syrian army proved to be the ultimate broker and guarantor of a political settlement of the civil war. This process began in November 1989 with the election of a National Assembly. A new President, Elias Hrawi (who succeeded his assassinated predecessor René Daowad) became one of a troika – Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss and the speaker of the parliament, Hussein Husseini, were the others – which led the official administration in the Muslim areas of Lebanon.

By the end of 1991, the Syrians, with tacit Western acceptance following their participation in the UN anti-Iraqi coalition, were in control of Beirut and most of the north and centre of the country. Legislative elections were held in Lebanon in August and September 1992. Christian groups boycotted it – a decision they later appeared to regret as it allowed the Muslim parties, including Hezbollah, to take complete control of the parliament. President Elias Hrawi’s six-year term was due to expire in November 1995 but, after parliament decided to alter the constitution, his term was extended by a further three years. While this angered Christian leaders, it was quite acceptable to ‘Sister Syria’ (as official pronouncements have it) which still maintains a large troop deployment in Lebanon.

The 1996 elections returned Hariri to continue as premier and the ex-Amal guerrilla leader, Nabih Berri, as speaker of the assembly. The original division of responsibilities between president and premier, which saw President Hrawi take charge of foreign policy while Prime Minister Rafik Hariri looked after the reconstruction programme, was also confirmed. That division has remained ever since and much of the country, and Beirut in particular, has recovered to something near its pre-war condition. Hariri relinquished his job in 1998 and, at the same time, Hrawi was replaced by Jamil Lahad as president. However, Hariri, now a dominant figure in Lebanese politics, was reinstated in 2000 following the most recent general election which saw 17 parties share the 128 national assembly seats. In April 2003 the government was dissolved after heavy Syrian pressure behind the scenes, and reconstituted with Hariri remaining as Prime Minister but without any significant Christian participation.

Relations with Israel have deteriorated in the last two years. There have been occasional outbreaks of fighting and exchanges of fire between Hezbollah guerrillas based in the south of the country and Israeli forces across the border. Moreover, the two governments have been immersed for the last twelve months in a serious argument about the allocation of water resources: this is one of the most sensitive issues in the region.

In addition, the tricky issue of the Syrian troops stationed in Lebanon continues to simmer, unresolved. In September 2004, the UN Security Council adopted a resolution that foreign troops must leave Lebanon, pointedly referring to Syria. Parliament voted to extend President Lahoud's term by three years, but prime minister Rafiq Hariri unexpectedly departed. In February 2005, Hariri was killed in a massive car bomb attack in Beirut. This triggered mass protests about the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, from those both for and against. The cabinet of Prime Minister Omar Karami resigned after two weeks of anti-Syrian rallies sparked by the assassination. The USA, amongst others, have been steadily mounting pressure on Syria to Syria to withdraw its troops. However, in March 2005, pro-Syrian former Prime Minister Omar Karami was asked by the president to form a new government. It is not known what conclusion recent events shall take.

Lebanon Cities and Other Destinations

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A lot of cities in Lebanon have Westernised names which are significantly different from their Arabic names. Their equivalent Roman versions of the Arabic names are given in parentheses below.

Cities

• Beirut - the capital and largest city
• Baalbek - a Phoenician and Roman archaeological site, including the biggest temple all over the Roman Empire
• Byblos (Joubeil) - another city with plenty of remains, castles and museums
• Jezzine - main summer resort and tourist destination of South Lebanon
• Jounieh - known for its seaside resorts and nightclubs
• Sidon (Saida) - plenty of medieval remains
• Tripoli (Trablus) - still unspoilt by mass-tourism
• Tyre (Sour) - has a number of ancient sites, including its Roman Hippodrome which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site
• Zahle - capital of Bekaa Valley

Other Destinations

• Batroun— an old city on the Mediterranean shore, with a city center offering many restaurants, cafes, bars, and nightclubs.
• Bcharre - Surrounded by mountains, it's a gateway to the Cedars of God forest and Cedars ski slopes.
• Ehden - mountainous town with beautiful scenery and some sights. It's home to Ehden Nature Reserve.
• Barouk - Famous for its cedar forest.
• Jeita - Known for its Grotto, and Nahr-el-Kalb, a discreet historical site in a walkable distance.
• Kadisha Valley - You can visit the home of the (now deceased) Lebanese poet Khalil Gibran.
• Beiteddine - Famous for its palace.
• Deir el Qamar - Traditional village in Chouf district.
• Baskinta - Village at the foot of Mount Sannine.
• Qornet El-Sawda - Highest peak in the country.
• Mzaar Kfardebiane - Known for its skiing slopes.
• Qaraoun - Known for its lake located in the Beqaa Valley.
• Kefraya - Known for its vineyards.
• Brummana - A traditional town often considered a summer resort with pleasant weather, spectacular views of Beirut and a good nightlife.

Society, Culture and Lifestyle

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Society and Culture
The Lebanon-Society and Culture has a long historical and traditional background. Lebanon population is made up of several ethnic groups. The Lebanon-Society and Culture are mainly consisted of the Arabian people. The official language of Lebanon is Arabic. All the cultural activities such as music and other artistic performances are based on the Arabic language.

Education plays a crucial role in the society of Lebanon. There are numerous educational institutions in the country that impart the basic education. There are universities in the country that have the provisions for higher studies and various professional courses. The students also go to the foreign countries for pursuing higher degrees of education.

Music is an indispensable part of the Lebanese culture. The wild beats and the folk tunes are famous all over the world for its rich variety and melodious rhythms.

The Lebanon cuisine is again immensely famous for the variety of spices and ingredients used in the dishes. The mouth-watering taste and rich aroma of the delicacies are well famous throughout the world.

The people of Lebanon have immense interest in field of sports and athletics. The climate of the country is just perfect to indulge into various sports items that are played in the country. Skiing is one of the most popular activities in Lebanon. Basketball and football are also played in various corners of the country.

With time the society and culture of Lebanon has modernized itself. The society has become tolerant and the youth is much into the western culture with their westernized dressing sense and lifestyle.

People in Lebanon

Comprise of wide variety of ethnic groups and religions, with the majority split between Christian (Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek-Catholic Melkites, Armenians, Protestant) and Muslim (Shi'a, Sunni, Alawites) and Druzes. Other smaller groups include a large number (over 250,000) of Palestinian refugees in the country. The population increases dramatically in the Summer months (June to September), due to the large influx of tourists, many of whom are returning members of the Lebanese diaspora and Lebanese citizens working abroad. There are also significant numbers of Gulf and Levantine Arabs.

You should not be scared of talking to people on the streets and asking information, since most of them will do their best to help you. However, it recommended that you avoid making ANY comment on politics and religion. Lebanon is populated by a very open and highly educated people, although this tends to be true more in Beirut, Mount Lebanon and some of the larger cities. Attitudes and behaviours tend to be more conservative in the Bekaa Valley and rural north and south.

Lebanon had once been called (the self-proclaimed) Switzerland and Paris of the East. The recent wars have diminished this status, but the Lebanese have learned to adapt. Their pursuit of happiness and fun overshadows their financial capabilities and political problems, which has to led to many problems over the years, including political problems, tensions among religious groups, and infrastructure problems.

Government
It is a democratic republic with a parliament, a cabinet, and a president, although power is divided along religious lines. The President (a Maronite Catholic), who lost part of his executive power after the war, is the head of state; the Prime Minister (a Sunni Muslim) is the head of government and chairs the Cabinet; the Speaker of the House (a Shiite Muslim) presides over Parliament, which passes the Cabinet's bills and elects the President.

Religion
Most people in Lebanon are religious and monotheistic. Lebanon is made up of Muslim and Christian sects which escaped persecution throughout history by seeking shelter in its mountains. No one religion is dominant. The country has Muslim Shiites, Sunnis, Druzes and Christian Maronites, and Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox.

Language
The official language is Arabic, followed by French as the second language; English is widely spoken. Armenian is spoken by a small percentage of the population.

Currency
The official Lebanese currency is the Lebanese pound or lira (LL). Notes are available in denominations of: LL1,000; LL5,000; LL10,000; LL20,000; LL50,000; and LL100,000. There are also LL250 and LL500 coins.  U.S. dollars are used widely throughout the country. Restaurants, hotels, and stores often quote their prices in U.S. dollars, and many establishments will convert and provide U.S. dollar prices for you upon request.

Time
Lebanese time is G.M.T. +2 hours in winter (October to March) and +3 hours in summer (April to September), when daylight savings time is observed.

Business Hours
Shops and businesses are typically open Monday through Saturday, 9:00-18:00. Hours vary, and in summer many establishments close early. Restaurant hours vary, and many restaurants, especially in Beirut, are open late. Sunday: official shutdown (Except big stores and trade centers).

Private institutions open from 8:00a.m. to 6:00p.m.
Shops open from 9:00a.m. to 7:00p.m. except on Sunday.
Big stores and trade centers open daily even on Sundays and holidays (from 9:00a.m. to 11:00p.m.). Small shops open in local areas almost all day long.
Museums open daily from 9:00a.m. to 5:00p.m.
Historical sites maybe visited every day from 9:00a.m. till sunset.
Banking hours are Monday through Saturday, 8:30-14:00. Working hours for government offices and post offices are typically 8:00-14:00 from Monday to Thursday.
Friday: 8:00-11:00- Saturday: 8:00-13:00

Lebanon Weather and Climate

Lebanon Current Weather

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Climate
The climate varies from a Mediterranean-type subtropical climate along the coast and in the Bekaa Valley to a generally cool one in the upper mountains. Summers are hot and dry; winters are mild and humid. Frost is rare at lower elevations. The mean temperature in the lowlands is 26.7° C (80° F) in summer and 10° C (50° F) in winter.

The mountainous region is somewhat cooler. Annual precipitation, occurring mainly in winter, is 889 mm (35 in) along the coast, 635 mm (25 in) or less in the Bekaa Valley, and more than 1270 mm (more than 50 in) in the mountains .

Public Holidays

LEBANON Public Holidays Year 2014
Holiday Date

New Year's Day 1 January
Armenian Orthodox Christmas 6 January
Milad Un Nabi (The Prophet's Birthday) 13 January
St. Maroun's Day 9 February
Good Friday 18 April
Easter Sunday 20 April
Orthodox Easter Sunday 20 April
Labour Day 1 May
Martyr's Day 6 May
Resistance and Liberation Day 25 May
Eid Al Fitr 28 July
Assumption 15 August
Eid Al Adha 4 October
Al Hijra (Islamic New Year) 25 October
Ashura 3 November
Independence Day 22 November
All Saints' Day 18 December
Christmas 25 December

Weekend
The Christian communities and some Muslim areas (mainly in downtown Beirut) observe Saturday and Sunday weekends. Some Sunni, most Druze and almost all the Shi'a communities observe Thursday and Friday. Government offices in Beirut close on Saturday afternoon and Sunday all day. Banks are closed on Sunday. Shops are often open 7 days a week.

Muslim festivals
Muslim festivals are timed according to local sightings of various phases of the moon and the dates given above are approximations. During the lunar month of Ramadan that precedes Eid al-Fitr, Muslims fast during the day and feast at night and normal business patterns may be interrupted. Many restaurants are closed during the day and there are restrictions on smoking and drinking. Some disruption may continue into Eid al-Fitr itself. Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha may last anything from two to 10 days, depending on the region.

Travel Advisory

This county has many different religious sects and it is wise to respect the religious differences of the Lebanese population. It is recommended to wear modest clothing when visiting religious sites (Churches, mosques, etc) and when visiting rural towns and villages.

Some areas in Beirut are more conservative than others; visitors should bear that in mind when exploring the city. Keep your dress modest, "topless" at any beach, whether private or public, is not recommended at all. In Tripoli, especially in the old city and most tradisional souks, it is recommended that women dress conservatively.

Lebanese are friendly,they are accustomed to diversity and most tourists experience no problems. Nevertheless tensions with neighboring Israel can erupt (but are usually confined to South Lebanon) and therefore travelers should follow the independent press while in the country.

As a visitor to Lebanon you should exercise a high degree of caution. Avoid large crowds and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Take care of your valuables and other personal possessions. Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance before you travel.