Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

History of Lebanon

History of Lebanon
A picture taken on November 1, 2015 shows a view of Beirut’s Grand Serail (the headquarters of Lebanon’s prime minister) and what used to be the city’s market as it was taken in a postcard published by late Armenian photographers Sarrafian Brothers and posted on May 23, 1919. The Sarrafian Brothers Company was based in Beirut and was the main publisher of postcards in the Near East in the begging of the 20th century. AFP PHOTO/PATRICK BAZ (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)


“All of them means all of them”, was the slogan of the protesting Lebanese on the 17th of October, 2019. A slogan that shook the pillars of the “Confessionalism” Lebanese political regime. This political system was founded since the Taif agreements (1989) that ended a 15 years-long civil war. Protests against corruption and mismanagement led to the resignation of the prime minister Saad Hariri, the “Future Movement” leader and the hand of the Sunni Muslims in Lebanon. As a result, Hassan Diab was appointed head of a new government that was described as a “new patch on a weary dress”.

In this section, we will dive into Lebanon’s history from its present to its past, attempting to get through the conclusive events which laid out this country’s present and identity from a historian’s perspective.

The Second Republic (2019-1989)

After the Lebanese civil war and the constitutional reforms of November 1989, the second republic era began, headed by the Maronite Christian president “René Moawad”. However, Moawad was assassinated a few days after being appointed in one of the Syrian controlled areas.

The political disputes intensified during the reign of his successor “Elias Hrawi”, especially with the government of “Omar Karami”. This government was formed under a Syrian sponsorship and was opposed by the pro-Iranian Hezbollah.
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Sectarianism and the Civil War (1989-1970)

Due to “Back September” clashes in 1970 with the Jordanian army, Palestine Liberation Organization moved its headquarters from Amman to Beirut. The stance of the Lebanese political groups varied towards the Palestinian Fedayeen’s operations against Israel. That political contrast quickly escalated into a sectarian division fed by territorial forces. The Lebanese president at that time Suleiman Frangieh couldn’t contain the escalation.
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In the spring of 1975, Palestinians attacked one of the churches. The regulatory forces of the Lebanese Phalanges Party (Kataeb) – led by the Maronite Pierre Gemayel – responded with an assault on a Palestinian bus. This further intensified the sectarian division, and military militias were formed for each religious sect. Consequently, a civil war started, causing the death of people merely for belonging to a sect. This situation was named as “Murder based on Identity”. The civil war lasted for 15 years, including an Israeli siege on Beirut in 1982 summer. The siege went on for 3 months and ended with Sabra and Shatila massacre.
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Lebanon didn’t go unscathed from the aftermath of June’s war in 1967 between the Arabs and Israel. Israel occupied Shebaa Farms which are adjacent to the Syrian borders. In addition, more Palestinian refugees fled to Lebanon, settling in the south of the country and close to the Israeli borders. The Lebanese armed forces proved to be unable to control the camps.
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Between the First Republic and the French Mandate (1970-1920)

After the presidential term of the second president “Camille Chamoun” (1952 – 1958), the term of President Fuad Chehab (1958-1964) witnessed several unprecedented social and economic reforms. These reforms including establishing the Central Bank of Lebanon and attempting to decrease the intense income disparities. In addition, Chehab developed the rural areas and founded social security institutions. However, he was not able to change the laws that sanctified sectarianism.
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Lebanon had announced its independence from France in 1946. Due to a general strike that paralyzed the country, the first president “Bechara Al-Khoury” were forced to resign in 1952. The Israeli Declaration of Independence (Nakba) in 1948 and the Arab-Israeli War later resulted in more than 100,000 Palestinian refugees flowing into Lebanon. This changed the political and the demographic map of the whole region.

During the French Mandate, Greater Lebanon comprised of the coastal areas. Although this changed the demographic composition, Christian sects stayed generally in favor. A constitution for the country was drafted and completed in 1926. It stated that presidency is allocated to a Maronite Christians. While the speaker of the parliament must be a Shia Muslim, the prime minister has to be a Sunni Muslim. The minister of defense has to be a Druze.
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Between the 19th century’s tranquility and the Mamluks (1900-1282)

Tranquility and prosperity prevailed in Mount Lebanon until the 19th century. This mount was a haven for different religious and ethnic minorities that fled persecution. These minorities have had to coexist one way or another.

The Mamluks were defeated by the Ottoman Empire in 1516, paving the way for 3 centuries of relative harmony between different religious sects.

Since the Mamluks were Sunnis, they were wary of the Christians -especially the Maronites- and the Shia who inhabited those areas. However, Mamluks enjoyed a good relationship with the Catholic Christians of Venice and allowed the Christian sects to live peacefully in Lebanon.
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Lebanon: Home of the Religious Diversity

Over history, Lebanon was featured by religious diversity: Jews, several Christian sects and Muslims lived there. Although the coastal cities converted into Islam at advent of this religion, they remained home for the Greeks and the Armenians. Ali’s followers -Shia- settled in the south of Lebanon and on the mountains. One of Shia branches that spread in Lebanon and Syria was the Ismailies who came from Egypt to Lebanon during the Fatimid dynasty era. This migration happened during the 9th and 10th centuries. The Druze -who comprise a main part of the Lebanon social fabric- is a dissident branch from the Ismaili sect, whose roots go back to Egypt as well.

The coastal region of present-day Lebanon corresponds to an important part of ancient Canaan, which extended from Ugarit (now Ras Shamra) in northern Syria, along the coast and the valley of the river Orontes, down Acre. The Cities located on the currently Lebanese coast, such as Tripoli, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon, and Tyre were famous Phoenician cities, and each of them was an independent city.
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