Lebanon Modern History

By | January 31, 2023

Lebanon is a country located in Western Asia. With the capital city of Beirut, Lebanon has a population of 6,825,456 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. 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.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: 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 often bloody. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Lebanon.

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 phalangist militia.

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 Palestinian workers.

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 River.

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 Tunisia.

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.

Double governments

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.

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.

Hariri reigns

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 Hezbollah.

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 Hezbollah.

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 Beirut.

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 8 movement.

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.

Israeli invasion

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 independent state.

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 country.

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.

Arabic spring

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 protest movement.

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 second time.

Lebanon Modern History