Lebanon History


Lebanon is the historical home of the Phoenicians, Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished there for more than 2,000 years (c. 2700-450 B.C.). In later centuries, Lebanon's mountains were a refuge for Christians, and Crusaders established several strongholds there. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the five Ottoman provinces that had comprised present- day Lebanon were mandated to France by the League of Nations. The country gained independence in 1943, and French troops werewithdrawn in 1946.

Lebanon's history from independence can be defined largely in terms of its presidents, each of whom shaped Lebanon by a personal brand of politics: Sheikh Bishara al-Khoury (1943- 52), Camille Chamoun (1952-58), Fuad Shihab (1958-64), Charles Helou (1964-70), Suleiman Franjiyah (1970-76), Elias Sarkis (1976-1982), and Amine Gemayel (1982-88). From the end of the term of Amine Gemayel in September 1988 until the election of Rene Moawad in November1989, Lebanon had no president. The terms of the first two presidents ended in political turmoil. In 1958, during the last months of President Chamoun's term, an insurrection broke out, aggravated by external factors. In July 1958, in response to an appeal by the Lebanese Government, U.S. forces were sent to Lebanon. They were withdrawn in October 1958, after the inauguration of President Shihab and a general improvement in the internal and international aspects of the situation.

President Franjiyah's term saw the outbreak of full-scale civil conflict in 1975. Prior to 1975, difficulties had arisen over the large number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the presence of Palestinian fedayeen(commandos). Frequent clashes involving Israeli forces and the fedayeen endangered civilians in south Lebanon and unsettled the country. Following minor skirmishes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, serious clashes erupted between the fedayeen and LebaneseGovernment forces in May 1973. Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense, with occasional clashes between privatesectarian militias. The Muslims were dissatisfied with what they considered an inequitable distribution of political power and social benefits. In April 1975, after shotswere fired at a church, a busload of Palestinians was ambushed by gunmen in the Christian sector of Beirut, an incident widely regarded as the spark that touched off the civil war. Palestinian fedayeen forces joined the predominantly leftist-Muslim side as the fighting persisted, eventually spreading tomost parts of the country. Elias Sarkis was elected president in 1976. In October, Arab summits in Riyadh and Cairo set forth a plan to end the war. The resulting Arab Deterrent Force (ADF), composed largely of Syrian troops, moved in at the Lebanese Government's invitation to separate the combatants, and most fighting ended soon thereafter. As an uneasy quiet settled onBeirut and parts of Lebanon, security conditions in southern Lebanon began to deteriorate. A series of clashes occurred in the south in late 1977 and early 1978 between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Lebanese leftists on the one hand, and the pro- Israeli, southern Lebanese militia (eventually known as the "Army of South Lebanon," or SLA)on the other.

After a raid on a bus in Northern Israel left large numbers of Israeli and Palestinian guerrilla casualties, Israel invaded Lebanon in March 1978, occupying most of the area south of the Litani river. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 425 calling for withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon and creating a UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), charged with maintaining peace. When the Israelis withdrew, they turned over positions inside Lebanon along the border to their Lebanese ally, the SLA, and formed a "security zone" which exists to this day under the effective control of Israel and the SLA.

In mid-1978, clashes between the ADF and the Christian militias erupted. Arab foreign ministers created the Arab Follow-Up Committee, composed of Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait, to end fighting between the Syrians and Christians. After the Saudi ambassador was wounded in December 1978, the committee did not meet again formally until June 1981, when it was convened to address security and national reconciliation. The committee was unsuccessful in making progress toward a political settlement and has been inactive since November 1981.

Israeli-Palestinian fighting in July 1981 was ended by a cease-fire arranged by U.S. President Ronald Reagan's special envoy, Philip C. Habib, and announced on July 24, 1981. The cease-fire was respected during the next 10 months, but a string of incidents, including PLO rocket attacks on northern Israel, led to the June 6, 1982, Israeli ground attack into Lebanon to remove PLO forces. Israeli forces moved quickly through south Lebanon, encircling west Beirut by mid-June and beginning a three- month siege of Palestinian and Syrian forces inthe city.

Throughout this period, which saw heavy Israeli air, naval, and artillery bombardments of west Beirut, Ambassador Habib worked to arrange a settlement. In August, he was successful in bringing about an agreement for the evacuation of Syrian troops and PLO fighters from Beirut. The agreement also provided for the deployment of a three-nation Multinational Force (MNF) during the period of the evacuation, and by late August, U.S. Marines, as well as French and Italian units, had arrived in Beirut. When the evacuation ended, these units departed. The U.S. Marines left on September 10. In spite of the invasion, the Lebanese political process continued to function, and Bashir Gemayel was elected President in August, succeeding Elias Sarkis. On September 14, however, Bashir Gemayel was assassinated. On September 15, Israeli troops entered west Beirut. During the next three days, Lebanese militiamen massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila refugeecamps in west Beirut.

Bashir Gemayel's brother, Amine, was electedPresident by a unanimous vote of the parliament. He took office September 23, 1982. MNF forces returned to Beirut at the end of September as a symbol of support for thegovernment. In February 1983, a small British contingent joined the U.S., French, and Italian MNF troops in Beirut. President Gemayel and his government placed primary emphasis on the withdrawal of Israeli, Syrian, and Palestinian forces from Lebanon, and in late 1982, Lebanese- Israeli negotiations commenced with U.S.participation.

On May 17, 1983, an agreement was signed by the representatives of Lebanon, Israel, and the United States that provided for Israeli withdrawal. Syria declined to discuss the withdrawal of its troops, effectively stalemating further progress. Opposition to the negotiations and to U.S. support for the Gemayel regime led to a series of terrorist attacks in 1983 and 1984 on U.S. interests, including the bombing on April 18, 1983 of the U.S. embassy in west Beirut (63 dead), of the U.S. and French MNF headquarters in Beirut on October 23, 1983 (298 dead), and of the U.S. embassy annex in east Beirut on September 20,1984 (8 killed). Although the general security situation in Beirut remained calm through late 1982 and the first half of 1983, a move by Christian militiamen into the Druze-controlled Shuf area southeast of Beirut following the Israeli invasion led to a series of Druze-Christian clashes of escalating intensity beginning in October 1982. When Israeli forces unilaterally withdrew from the Shuf at the beginning of September 1983, a full-scale battle erupted with the Druze, backed by Syria, pitted against the Christian Lebanese Forces (LF) militia as well as the Lebanese army. U.S. and Saudi efforts led to a cease-fire on September 26.

This left the Druze in control of most of the Shuf. Casualties were estimated to be in the thousands. The virtual collapse of the Lebanese army in February 1984, following the defection of many of its Muslim and Druze units to opposition militias, was a major blow to the government.

As it became clear that the departure of the U.S. Marines was imminent, the Gemayel Government came under increasing pressure from Syria and its Muslim Lebanese allies to abandon the May 17 accord. The Lebanese Government announced on March 5, 1984, that it was canceling its unimplemented agreement with Israel. The U.S. Marines left the same month. Further national reconciliation talks at Lausanne under Syrian auspices failed. A new "government of national unity" under Prime Minister Rashid Karami was declared in April 1984 but made no significant progress toward solving Lebanon's internal political crises orits growing economic difficulties. The situation was exacerbated by thedeterioration of internal security. The opening rounds of the savage "camps war" in May 1985--a war that flared up twice in 1986-- pitted the Palestinians living in refugee camps in Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon against the Shi'ite Amal militia, which was concerned with resurgent Palestinian military strength in Lebanon. Eager for a solution in late 1985, Syria began to negotiate a "tripartite accord" on political reform among the leaders of various Lebanese factions, including the LF.

However, when the accord was opposed by Gemayel and the leader of the LF was overthrown by his hardline anti-Syrian rival, Samir Jaja, in January 1986, Syria responded by inducing the Muslim government ministers to cease dealing with Gemayel in any capacity, effectively paralyzing the government. In 1987, the Lebanese economy worsened, and the pound began a precipitous slide. On June 1, Prime Minister Karami was assassinated, further compounding the political paralysis. Salim al-Huss wasappointed acting prime minister. As the end of President Gemayel's term of office neared, the different Lebanese factions could not agree on a successor. Consequently, when his term expired on September 23, 1988, he appointed Army Commander General Michel Aoun as interim Prime Minister. Gemayel's acting Prime Minister, Salim al-Huss, also continued to act as de facto Prime Minister. Lebanon was thus divided between an essentially Muslim government in west Beirut and an essentially Christian government in east Beirut. The working levels of many ministries, however, remained intact and were not immediately affected by the split at the ministerial level.

In February 1989, General Aoun attempted to close illegal ports run by the LF. This led to several days of intense fighting in east Beirut and an uneasy truce between Aoun's army units and the LF. In March, an attempt by Aoun to close illegal militia ports in predominantly Muslim parts of the country led to a 6-month period of shelling of east Beirut by Muslim and Syrian forces and shelling of west Beirut and the Shuf by the Christian units of the army and the LF. This shelling caused nearly 1,000 deaths, several thousand injuries, and further destruction to Lebanon's economic infrastructure.In January 1989, the Arab League appointed a six-member committee on Lebanon, led by the Kuwaiti foreign minister. At the Casablanca Arab summit in May, the Arab League empowered a higher committee on Lebanon--composed of Saudi King Fahd, Algerian President Bendjedid, and Moroccan King Hassan--to work toward a solution in Lebanon. The committee issued a report in July 1989, stating that its efforts had reached a "dead end" and blamed Syrian intransigence for the blockage. After further discussions, the committee arranged for a seven-point cease- fire in September, followed by a meeting of Lebanese parliamentarians in Taif, SaudiArabia.

After a month of intense discussions, the deputies informally agreed on a charter of national reconciliation, also known as the Taif agreement. The deputies returned to Lebanon in November, where they approved the Taifagreement on November 4, and elected Rene Moawad, a Maronite Christian deputy from Zghorta in north Lebanon, President on November 5. General Aoun, claiming powers as interim Prime Minister, issued a decree in early November dissolving the parliament and did not accept the ratification of the Taif agreement or the election of President Moawad.

President Moawad was assassinated on November 22, 1989, by a bomb that exploded as hismotorcade was returning from Lebanese independence day ceremonies. The parliament met on November 24 in the Biqa' Valley and elected Elias Hraoui, a Maronite Christian deputy from Zahleh in the Biqa' Valley, to replace him. President Hraoui named a Prime Minister, Salim al-Huss, and a cabinet on November 25. Despite widespread international recognition of Hraoui and his government, General Aoun refused to recognize Hraoui's legitimacy, and Hraoui officially replaced Aoun as army commander in early December.In late January 1990, General Aoun's forces attacked positions of the LF in east Beirut in an apparent attempt to remove the LF as a political force in the Christian enclave. In the heavy fighting that ensued in east Beirut and its environs, over 900 people died and over3,000 were wounded. In August 1990, the National Assembly approved, and President Hraoui signed into law,constitutional amendments embodying the political reform aspects of the Taif agreement.

These amendments gave some presidential powers to the council of ministers, expanded the National Assembly from 99 to 108 seats, and divided those seats equally between Christians and Muslims (see GOVERNMENT section below).

In October 1990, a joint Lebanese-Syrian military operation against General Aoun forced him to capitulate and take refuge in the French embassy. On December 24, 1990, Omar Karami was appointed Lebanon's Prime Minister. General Aoun remained in the French embassy until August 27, 1991 when a "special pardon" was issued, allowing him to leave Lebanon safely and take up residence in exile in France. 1991 and 1992 saw considerable advancement in efforts to reassert state control over Lebanese territory. Militias--with the important exception of Hizballah--were dissolved in May 1991, and the armed forces moved against armed Palestinian elements in Sidon in July 1991. In May 1992 the last of the western hostages taken during the mid-1980s by Islamic extremists was released. In October 1991, under the sponsorship of the United States and the then-Soviet Union, the Middle East peace talks were convened in Madrid, Spain. This was the first time that Israel and its Arab neighbors had direct bilateral negotiations to seek a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.

Lebanon, Jordan, Syria, and representatives of the Palestinians concluded round 11 of the negotiations in September 1993. A social and political crisis, fueled by economic instability and the collapse of the Lebanese pound, led to Prime Minister Omar Karami's resignation May 6, 1992. He was replaced by former Prime Minister Rashid al Sulh, who was widely viewed as a caretaker to oversee Lebanon's first parliamentary elections in 20 years. The elections were not prepared and carried out in a manner to ensure the broadest national consensus. The turnout of eligible voters in some Christian locales was extremely low, with many voters not participating in the elections because they objected to voting in the presence of non-Lebanese forces. There also were widespread reports of irregularities. The electoral rolls were themselves in many instances unreliable because of the destruction of records and the use of forged identification papers. As a consequence, the results do not reflect the full spectrum of Lebanese politics.

Elements of the 1992 electoral law, which paved the way for elections, represented a departure from stipulations of the Taif agreement, expanding the number of parliamentary seats from 108 to 128 and employing a temporary districting arrangement designed to favor certain sects and political interests. According to the Taif agreement, the Syrian and Lebanese Governments were to agree in September 1992 to the redeployment of Syrian troops from greater Beirut. That date passed without an agreement. In early November 1992, Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri formed a new cabinet, retaining for himself the finance portfolio.

The formation of the Hariri Government was widely seen as a sign that the Government of Lebanon would seriously grapple with reconstructing the Lebanese state and revivingthe economy.

source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1994

  • Brief History

  • Main Country Page

  • Vital Statistics

  • Embassy Info

  • home vital stats history listings embassy listings guide books faq

    home history stats embassies

    Half.com - The Smartest Place to Buy and Sell