At the beginning of Lebanon's independent
history, the balance of power established in the
National Pact seemed to work, but there were
contradictions between different groups beneath the
surface. The Christians sought closer ties to France and
the United States, while the Muslims felt more connected
to the Arab world.
First President Bishara Khouri (1943–1952) tried to
pursue a neutral policy. His successor, Camille Chamoun
(1952–1958), on the other hand, ran a Western-friendly
line, which teased Muslim opinion just as pan-Arabism
grew strongly under the leadership of Egyptian President
Gamal Abdel Nasser. In 1957, when the United States
offered the Arab countries military guarantees against
the overthrow of communist activity, all Arab countries
rejected no except Lebanon.
The conflict between Chamoun and the Pan-Arab
opposition grew when Syria in 1958 entered into union
with Egypt. Tensions escalated when the monarchy in Iraq
was overthrown by radical militants. Sunni Muslims began
to revolt in Lebanon as well, and Chamoun called in US
troops. Soldiers from the United States never had to
intervene because the riots erupted, but the incident
became a burden for Chamoun who had to resign.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Lebanon. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
After the Arab-Israeli War 1967 and "Black September"
1970 - when Jordan expelled Palestinian guerrillas from
the country - armed Palestinians arrived in the refugee
camps in Lebanon. It worsened the conflict in Lebanon.
The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) developed
into an increasingly powerful organization and came to
act as a "state in the state". From bases in southern
Lebanon, guerrillas attacked Israel, whose revenge was
Christian groups demanded that the attacks on Israel
cease. Maronite Pierre Gemayel formed the so-called
phalangist militia that planned to forcibly remove the
Palestinians from the country. The Muslims looked at the
development with concern and began to form their own
groups. Shia Muslims founded the Amal movement, which
quickly became Lebanon's largest armed group.
The Civil War
In the early 1970s, two main opponents could be
distinguished. On the one hand stood the Left Alliance
National Movement with Muslim-dominated leftist groups,
Palestinians and Druse; they wanted to change the
political system so that Muslims would have more
influence. The prevailing system gave Christians more
seats in parliament than the Muslims (see
Political system). On the other side was the
Christian right-wing Alliance of the Lebanese Front who
wanted to preserve the old order and cultivate ties with
the West. The forces of the Lebanese Front consisted of
private militias created by the influential families of
Gemayel, Chamoun and Franjieh. The core was the
In 1975, the excitement was so great that it would be
enough to spark a civil war. It came in April when the
Falangist leader Pierre Gemayel and a church were shot.
Subsequently, phalangists massacred a bus load of
Thus the civil war broke out. A dozen militia groups
took control of their home areas and attacked opponents.
The army was divided and its soldiers joined the
militia. Civilian Lebanese were murdered or chased away
from their homes. Soon a border went straight through
Beirut, between the western part held by the Muslims and
eastern Beirut controlled by the Christians.
Syria had long supported a number of Muslim groups,
but when the left bloc appeared to be victorious in
1976, Lebanon's Christian president requested help from
the Damascus government, which went in with soldiers to
rescue the phalangists. It was in Syria's interest to
prevent any Lebanese group from becoming too dominant.
Later in the year, Syrians became the main party in a
peace force formed by the Arab League.
From 1976, Israel also sought to gain a foothold in
Lebanon by providing assistance to Maronite villages
north of the border. Eventually, an Israeli puppet state
emerged in the south during a Greek-Catholic army major,
Saad Haddad, who built up the militia South Lebanese
Army (SLA) to fight the Palestinians. Following a PLO
attack in northern Israel that demanded many casualties,
Israel's armed forces entered Lebanon in March 1978 and
occupied almost the entire area south of the Litany
The Israeli march was condemned in many countries and
the UN Security Council passed a resolution urging
Israel to leave Lebanon immediately. At the same time,
the UN force Unifil was formed, which would maintain
peace. During the retreat, Israel handed over a
"security zone" just north of the border to SLA.
Massacre in refugee camps
After a relatively calm period of time, Israeli
Defense Minister Ariel Sharon in June 1982 put his plans
into effect to crush the PLO guerrillas in Lebanon. The
Israeli army quickly entered southern Lebanon, continued
north and launched a siege on Beirut. Parts of southern
and western Beirut were severely damaged during 70 days
by intensive artillery and aerial fire. Following US
mediation, Syria's military returned to the Bekaa Valley
and northern Lebanon. The PLO, including leader Yasir
Arafat, moved north to Tripoli and later evacuated to
Presidential elections were held during Beirut's
siege and Bashir Gemayel from the Israeli-backed
philanthropists prevailed. He was assassinated just days
after his entry into September, and the following day,
the Israeli military entered part of western Beirut.
Israel allowed the phalangist militia to enter the
refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, where they murdered
800-1000 civilian Palestinians. An international force,
including the United States Navy Corps, was sent to
Beirut, and US-backed President Amin Gemayel, who
succeeded his murdered brother, called on Israel to
withdraw its forces.
Israeli invasion and the US presence in Lebanon
became the breeding ground for radical Shi'ite Islamism,
and suicide bombings became a weapon of the "holy war"
directed at Israel and its friends among the western
countries. In 1983, the US embassy in Beirut (63 dead)
and US Marines and French forces (298 dead, including
241 Marine Corps) were detonated.
Syria, which has had forces in the country since
1976, refused to obey US demands for retreat, but Israel
gradually withdrew to the zone farthest south in
1983-85. The conflicts between the Lebanese groups grew
deeper. Earlier, the old right and left blocks had
split; the alliances shifted and a former friend became
an enemy. The Shamilis Amal fought against Palestinian
groups with whom they had previously collaborated. Amal,
who has gained a strong position in western Beirut, was
attacked by drusters, Sunni leftist groups and later
also by Shiite rival Hezbollah. The Syrian army returned
to Beirut to try to create peace.
Parliament could not agree on who would succeed
President Amin Gemayel in the fall of 1988. The result
was total fragmentation. A Muslim government was
established in western Beirut and a Christian in the
east. No president could be appointed. New battles broke
out. Christian commander Michel Aoun's forces launched a
"liberation war" against Syrians and groups supporting
Syria sought support from other Arab states to reach
a solution. In 1989, a meeting was started in the city
of Ta'if, Saudi Arabia, with all political groups except
the Maronites who stood on Aoun's side. A consensus was
reached on national reconciliation and that the
constitution would be amended to give Muslims greater
political representation (see Political system).
The civil war ended in September 1990 when Aoun's
last stronghold in Beirut fell. Against the promise that
leaders would not be punished for "political crimes"
during the war, all militia was disarmed in 1991, with
the exception of Hezbollah, which was holding back
against Israeli troops in southern Lebanon. Syria once
again strengthened its position through a cooperation
agreement with Lebanon confirming Syria's role as
overseer of the Ta'if agreement and as Lebanon's
security guarantor. The agreement allowed Syria and its
friends in Lebanon to rule over the appointment of both
president and government. Israel reacted violently to
the agreement and assured it was not going to leave the
zone in the south.
Lebanon's parliamentary elections in 1992 and 1996
were boycotted by most Christian leaders in protest of
Syria's control over the country. The majority of those
elected to Parliament were Syria-friendly.
The businessman Rafiq al-Hariri, who had begun the
reconstruction of central Beirut, was prime minister
from 1992 to 1998. Syria-backed army chief Emile Lahoud
was elected president in the fall of 1998. Hariri felt
that the new president was trying to strengthen his
power in violation of the Ta'if agreement and resigned.
Government-controlled media began to throw Hariri.
The unrest in southern Lebanon continued, but at the
end of 1999, Israel announced that its military would
fully withdraw within six months. Hezbollah seized the
opportunity and carried out attacks against both
retiring Israelis and the SLA militia. Many SLA members
fled to Israel and SLA's posts were handed over to
After Israel's departure, demands from Christians,
Druze and several Sunni Muslims grew that Syria's army
should also be taken home.
Rafiq al-Hariri returned as prime minister since his
supporters had great successes in the 2000 parliamentary
elections. His relationship with President Lahoud
remained tense. Lahoud stopped all Hariri's proposals
for political reform. In 2004, President Lahoud
announced that he wanted to run for re-election, despite
contravening the Constitution. But Syria backed Lahoud
and called leading politicians, including Hariri, to
Damascus. Hariri was forced to extend Lahoud's mandate
until 2007, but his resistance made him appear
unreliable in Syria's eyes. The circle around Lahoud
spread rumors that Hariri was thinking of disarming
Hariri is murdered
Continued disagreement over Syria crippled the
government's work. In the fall of 2004, Hariri resigned
and was replaced by Omar Karami who formed a pro-Syrian
government. Hariri was then seen as a possible leader of
the opposition, but on February 14, 2005, Hariri and
another twenty people were killed by a car bomb in
The opposition immediately accused Syria and its own
pro-Syrian government of being behind the attack.
Beirut's streets were filled with protesters demanding
Syria withdraw its forces from the country. During a
large demonstration, Prime Minister Karami announced
that the government and the security service chiefs
would step down "for the good of the nation". In March
2005, Syrian President Assad promised to withdraw his
troops, in a first step to the Bekaa Valley.
The development worried Syrian-friendly Lebanese. On
March 8, Hezbollah organized a demonstration in support
of Syria with half a million participants. A week later,
on March 14, the anti-Syrian opposition gathered a
million protesters at the Martyr Square in Beirut. Syria
gave in to the pressure and took home its last forces
from Lebanon in April.
The opposition wins the election
The anti-Syrian opposition, mainly Sunni Muslims but
also Christians, formed after the March 14 alliance
demonstration. A leading force in the alliance was the
Future Movement, led by Rafiq al-Hariri's son Saad. At
the same time, Hezbollah and Amal formed the pro- March
Hariri's alliance won elections held in 2005. Fuad
Siniora, former finance minister and close associate of
Rafiq al-Hariri, was elected new prime minister.
Siniora became the first prime minister since the
Civil War and did not have to follow orders from
Damascus. He formed a government dominated by the March
14 alliance, but a third of the ministers were counted
as Syria friends. For the first time, Hezbollah was part
of the government.
An expert group that, on the UN mission, began
investigating the assassination of Hariri demanded that
four generals in Lebanon's security service be arrested
and the regime in Syria designated as involved. The
conclusions were criticized by Syria's allies Hezbollah
and Amal, who claimed that it was Israel who carried out
the murders to split Lebanon and Syria. After dozens of
bomb attacks and the assassination of Syrian critics,
the Lebanese government asked the UN Security Council to
form an international court to investigate the
assassination of Hariri and subsequent attacks.
Hezbollah and Amal protested.
In July 2006, Hezbollah raided Israel, killing eight
Israeli soldiers and kidnapping two. Israel reacted
strongly, bombing bridges and roads all over Lebanon,
residential areas in southern Beirut, and launched a
blockade against the country's ports. Hezbollah
responded with rockets to cities in northern Israel.
Despite Israel joining in with ground forces and
carrying out intense bombings, Hezbollah's rockets
across the border could not be stopped. After five weeks
of war, nearly 1,200 civilian Lebanese had lost their
lives. Over 500 Hezbollah men were also killed, while
nearly one million Lebanese were forced to flee their
homes. Israel, for its part, suffered huge losses
measured by Israeli measures - more than 160 casualties,
of which just over 40 civilians. For Hezbollah, the war
meant strengthening the position of the movement.
One week before Parliament elected new president in
2007, another politician was assassinated in the seventh
assassination of leading anti-Syrian Lebanese. The
attack increased the divide and the two camps could not
agree on any candidate.
A political stalemate ensued while new attempts to
elect a president were postponed. Several bomb attacks
shook the country. The crisis escalated in 2008, when
outright fighting erupted between Hezbollah and Sunni
Muslims, among others. The conflict was only resolved
after the government and opposition agreed at a meeting
in Qatar on a new electoral law and on forming a
unifying government. This enabled Parliament to elect a
president - after 19 postponements - and the post went
to Army Chief Michel Suleiman.
The parties agreed on a unifying government. The
Prime Minister again became Fuad Siniora, supported by
Saad al-Hariris Future Alliance, which received 16
ministerial posts. The pro-Syrian opposition received
eleven items. Three ministers were appointed by the
president. The government declared that a disarmament to
Hezbollah was not relevant and the organization had the
right to continue to try to liberate the territories
that remained under occupation of Israel, that is, the
disputed area of the Sheba farms in the southeast, at
the border between Lebanon and Israel.
Syria recognizes Lebanon
In 2008, a historic agreement was entered into with
Syria to establish diplomatic relations. A few months
later, Syria formally recognized Lebanon as an
The March 14 alliance won the parliamentary elections
held in 2009 and Saad al-Hariri was named prime
minister. His alliance received 15 out of 30 ministerial
posts while the March 8 movement received 10. Two of
them went to Hezbollah. The remaining five ministers
were appointed by the president.
Now came a period of rapprochement between Saudi
Arabia, which supported the March 14 alliance, and
Syria. It paved the way for some stability in Lebanon
and improved relations between Hariri and the Syrian
regime. In 2009, Hariri went to Damascus on an official
visit. He later even apologized for Syria being accused
of lying behind the murder of his father.
In the government there were different views on the
UN tribunal that investigated the assassination of Rafiq
al-Hariri. Hezbollah, who understood that the tribunal
intended to charge the movement for the murder, demanded
that the tribunal's work be boycotted. Hariri said no
and the attrition led Hezbollah's ministers to resign in
2011. Thus, the government fell and Hariri left the
With the support of the drusts, Hezbollah launched
the businessman Najib Mikati as new prime minister.
Mikati's government was dominated by representatives of
the March 8 movement, while the March 14 alliance stood
outside. In spite of Hezbollah's opposition to the UN
tribunal, Mikati made it clear that he intended to
cooperate with the court when it handed a charge against
four influential Hezbollah members in 2011. Mikati
solved the dilemma by promising to arrest the suspects
without living up to the promise.
The revolt that swept across the Middle East in
spring 2011 never gained a foothold in Lebanon. For a
few weeks, demonstrations were held demanding that the
distribution of power between different groups be
scrapped, but the protests ebbed. The strong loyalty
within each group thwarted the formation of a national
As the civil war in Syria escalated and began to
spill over the border with Lebanon, the clashes between
groups supporting the Syrian government and others
supporting rebels increased. The deteriorating security
situation was one of the reasons why there was a
government crisis again in 2013. It resulted in the
election of Tammam Salam as new head of government.
After ten months of negotiations, in February 2014,
Salam was able to present a unity government with as
many ministers from the March 8 movement as from the
March 14 alliance. The election scheduled for 2013 had
been postponed to November 2014. At the end of 2016,
Saad al-Hariri became prime minister again, for the