Embassy of Lebanon in the UK, 21 Palace Gardens Mews, London, W8 4RB
UK's Ambassador to Lebanon
H.E Mr Hamish Cowell CMG
British Embassy Beirut, Serail Hill, Embassy Complex, Beirut Central District, PO Box: 11- 471 Beirut, Lebanon
Lebanon shares a border with Syria that stretches from its north to west. To its south lies Israel and on its east the Mediterranean Sea. Its climate is temperate with hot summers and wet winters creating a fertile country.
Lebanon has some natural resources including and much agricultural land, which makes up 63% of the country. It is notable in the region given its access to water. Most of Lebanon’s population live on the coast, with most being in or around the capital of Beirut.
Population and ethnic mix
Lebanon’s total population stands at around 6 million people. Shia and Sunni Muslims, Christian and Druze are the main population groups in a country that has provided a refugee for the region's minorities for centuries.
The population is majority Arab (although many Lebanese Christians would consider themselves non-Arab, often instead choosing Phoenicians) with a small Armenian population which makes up about 4% of the population. However, there is wide religious diversity.
No official census in decades
There has been no official census in Lebanon since the 1930s, because the idea of a census is considered too controversial in a country where power is so delicately balanced across various religions and sects. Estimates suggest just over 60% of the population being Muslim. Most estimates point to an equal split within the Muslim community between Sunni and Shia. A further estimated 34% of the population are Maronite Catholics and a further 5% being Druze.
Lebanon is a parliamentary republic and is divided into 8 governates. The country’s constitution has been in place since 1926. The country’s legal system is a mixture of civil French law, Ottoman legal traditions and the various religious laws of each denominiation in the country.
The country’s executive involves a President as chief of state who is elected by the National Assembly in a two-thirds majority vote. Presidential terms last for 6 years. The prime minister is the head of the government and is appointed by the President with the National Assembly in consulation. The prime minister chooses the cabinet with the consultation of the president and National Assembly.
The country’s legislative branch is the National Assembly is made up of 128 seats. Members are elected by proportional representation from a list.
Lebanon applies a unique quota system to its major political appointments. They state that the president must be Maronite, the prime minister Sunni and the speaker of the house a Shia. Parliamentary seats are divided between Christians and Muslims in the ratio of six to five??. Maronites control of the army, with a Druze chief of staff??.
In 1923, the League of Nations gave France a mandate to administer Syria and Lebanon. The territory was then divided into four parts: majority Maronite Christian Lebanon, the majority Muslim Syrian Republic, Lattakia and Jebel Druze. However, the division of the territory into various statelets did not quell a growing sentiment among Arab Muslims that French presence in the territory went against the spirit of Arab Nationalism, which led to key moments of dissent in revolts of 1925 and 1926.
1926 was also the year that saw Lebanon’s new constitution with its unique provisions to share power across the various sects and religions in the country. It was controversial from its inception as it was seen by many groups to give too large a favour to the Maronites. After a Sunni boycott, the constitution was paused. In 1937, a new census would be proposed although the proposal was never ratified by the French. World War 2 disrupted Lebanon’s bid for independence. For a short time, it administered by the Vichy government in France. A year later the Free French army took over the administration promising independence that would soon arrive.
A census has not been conducted in Lebanon since 1932 as meany fear to do so would ignite an already fragile power-sharing balance struck in the diverse country. It was, after all, this census that was the basis of the division of power in the 1943 Lebanese National Covenant. Lebanon’s early years of independence were not easy: the declaration of the state of Israle immediately pushed the new country into a protracted geopolitical and economic crisis and the wave of refugees coming from Palestine into Lebanon. While refuges were largely welcomed into Lebanon, being majority Sunni Muslims, Lebanon’s Maronites became worried that this demographic increase might dilute their fragile stake in the politics of the country.
First civil war
Lebanon’s first civil war came about after the controversial pro-Western Maronite president, Camille Chamoun, who also focused on trying to slow the speed of the ever-growing pan-Arabism movement, tried to extend his rule into a second term. Chamoun petitioned the US to send troops as tensions between Maronites and Muslims intensified. Chamoun would eventually be replaced by Fouad Chehab, thus ending the war.
While the interim period between the two civil wars saw Beirut branded the ‘Paris of the East’, various longstanding issues for Lebanon were compounded. More Palestinian refugees would arrive as Arab relations with Israel continued to strain the region. As more Palestinians arrived, the refugee camps into which they settled became harder to govern for Lebanon’s authorities. In 1969 it was agreed that the PLO would have a large deal of autonomy over its administration of these Palestinian camps in Lebanon, a move which greatly worried Lebanon’s Maronites. As the latter became more concnerned, a dangerous path of escalation emerged by which young Maronites were recruited to arms, who then fought Palestinians, paving the way for the balkanisation of Lebanese society and the second Lebanese Civil War.
Second Civil War
The second civil war saw truly horrific killing undertaken by a wide variety of sides in the conflict. Many place the spark of the conflict at the moment in April 1975 when Maronite gunmen attacked a bus in Beirut resulting in the deaths of 27 Palestinians. Soon after, a series of bloody attacks would impact all communities of the country eventually splitting Beirut with what has been labelled the Green Line, with the Christian section to the east and Muslim to the West.
In 1976, neighbouring Syria sent troops into the country. Syria would eventually occupy most of Lebanon o the side of the Maronites, angering its fellow Arab nations. A deal between Syria and the Arab League would eventually lead to the first ceasefire in the conflict. Another neighbouring power, Israel, would however soon get involved itself occupying the south of the country. In 1982 Israel would intensify its efforts against Palestinian fighters by marching on Beirut.
Corruption and past conflict are among the reasons for Lebanon's deep economic and political crisis. Approximately 50 per cent of Lebanon's 6.8 population are beneath the poverty line, and the country is experiencing severe shortages of bare necessities such as fuel, medicines and food. The country was already in deep crisis at the time of the devastating explosion in the Beirut Port on August which killed 218 people, left 300,000 people homeless and caused about $15 billion in damage to property. The COVID-19 pandemic had overwhelmed many hospitals by the time of the explosion.
In recent months, Lebanon has witnessed many public protests over political instability, economic failure and corruption. In September, Hezbollah helped cement its hold on the country by delivering Iranian diesel to Lebanon via Syria, an apparent breach of US sanctions against Tehran.
The influx of refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria has also placed huge pressure on Lebanon's dwindling resources. According to Human Rights Watch, there are now approximately 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon, of whom around 78 per cent lack legal status.
Ottoman Empire annexes Lebanon
The League of Nations awards the mandate for both Lebanon and Syria to France
An unwritten constitution sets out the foundations of the state, using the 1932 census to distribute seats in parliament, on a ration of six-to-five in favour of Christian. The president is to be Maronite Christian and prime minister a Sunni
INDEPENDENCE: France transfers power to Lebanese government
CIVIL WAR 1: President Chamille Chamoune calls on US to send in troops
CIVIL WAR 2: Phalangist gunmen attack a bus in Beirut, killing 27 Palestinian passengers. This and other violent incidents lead to civil war
Syrian troops enter Lebanon to restore peace and to curb Palestinians. Syrian-allied Christian militias kill thousands of Palestinians in the Tel al-Zaatar camp
Israel invades southern Lebanon following attacks by Palestinians. It withdraws from all but a narrow border strip
Israel launches full scale invasion of Lebanon following attempted assassination by Palestinian militants of Israeli's ambassador to London
Suicide bomb attacks kill 63 people at US embassy in Beirut; another kills 241 US and 58 French peace-keeping troops in the Lebanese capital
Phalangist militias kill thousands of Palestinians in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila; pro-Israeli PM-elect Bachir Gemayel is assassinated
Israel withdraws apart from narrow security zone in the south
WAR ENDS: Syrian airforce attacks presidential palace at Baaba and Maronite commander in chief Michel Aoun flees. This ends the war
Wealthy businessman Rafic Hariri becomes prime minister in first elections since 1972
Israel attacks Hezbollah bases in south Lebanon and Bekka Valley
Israel withdraws from southern Lebanon
UN Security Council resolution demands foreign troops leave Lebanon. Syria rejects the call which is clearly aimed at Damascus
Former PM Rafic Hariri is killed in a suicide truck bombing in Beirut. Attack sparks anti-Syria rallies and forces resignation of Omar Karami's cabinet. Murder of anti-Syrian figures happens time and again
Hariri's son Saad Hariri leads anti-Syrian alliance to win control of parliament. Hariri ally becomes Fouad Siniora
Four pro-Syrian generals charged in connection to Hariri assassination
International Criminal Court to try suspected killers of Hariri in The Hague
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah calls on Lebanon to boycott UN Hariri tribunal
Hezbollah and associated ministers resign from the government causing it to collapse
Najib Mitaki forms cabinet dominated by Hezbollah, UN special tribunal issues 4 arrest warrants in relation to Hariri muder. All 4 are Hezbollah, which rejects warrants
2012 - 2016
More than a million refugees from the conflict in neighbouring Syria pour into Lebanon over 3-4 year period
Suicide bombings in Al-Qaa in north eastern Lebanon, allegedly by Syrian nationals, strain relations between refugees and their Lebanese hosts
New electoral law is introduced after long delay
Mass protests against economic failure and corruption topple government of Saad Hariri, who is succeeded by Hassan Diab
Lebanon announces it would default on a sovereign debt for the first time in in its history, a strong indicator of the country's deep economic crisis
BEIRUT PORT BLAST: Huge explosion in Port of Beirut devastates parts of the city, killing 218 people, injuring more than 7,000 and leaving 300,000 homeless
Diab government resigns in wake of port explosion; political instability and mass protests continue
Najib Mikati, said by Forbes to be Lebanon's richest man, becomes prime minister