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Lebanon Population - History

Lebanon Population - History


The population of Lebanon comprises Christians and Muslims. No official census has been taken since 1932, reflecting the political sensitivity in Lebanon over confessional (religious) balance. The U.S. Government estimate is that more than half of the resident population is Muslim (Shi'a, Sunni and Druze), and the rest is Christian (predominantly Maronite, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, and Armenian). Shi'a Muslims make up the single largest sect. Claims since the early 1970s by Muslims that they are in the majority contributed to tensions preceding the 1975-76 civil strife and have been the basis of demands for a more powerful Muslim voice in the government.
3,925,502 (July 2007 est.)
Age structure:
0-14 years: 26.2% (male 525,199/female 504,240)
15-64 years: 66.7% (male 1,255,624/female 1,361,265)
65 years and over: 7.1% (male 125,904/female 153,270) (2007 est.)
Median age:
total: 28.3 years
male: 27.2 years
female: 29.5 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate:
1.198% (2007 est.)
Birth rate:
18.08 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate:
6.1 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate:
0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.042 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.922 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.821 male(s)/female
total population: 0.944 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 23.39 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 25.94 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 20.71 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 73.15 years
male: 70.67 years
female: 75.77 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate:
1.88 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
2,800 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
less than 200 (2003 est.)
noun: Lebanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Lebanese
Ethnic groups:
Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1%
note: many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendents of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians
Muslim 59.7% (Shi'a, Sunni, Druze, Isma'ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant), other 1.3%
note: 17 religious sects recognized
Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 87.4%
male: 93.1%
female: 82.2% (2003 est.)

Lebanon Population - History

Location: Located on the East coast of the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is at the meeting point of three continents: Europe , Asia and Africa . Lebanon has been the crossroad of many civilizations the traces of which can still be seen today. Its countryside is a place of rocks, cedar trees and magnificent ruins that look down from the mountains to the sea.

Area: 4000 sq m (10452 sq km)
Click here to see Lebanon compared to the size of your state.

Lebanese Flag: "The Lebanese flag is composed of red, white and red horizontal stripes, with a green cedar in the middle of the center white stripe" (Details)

Major Cities: Beirut (Capital 1.3 m), Tripoli, Sidon, Zahle, Tyre and Jounieh.

Climate: Lebanon enjoys an essential four season Mediterranean climate with rainy winters, moderate springs, warm summers and regular autumns, with an average of 300 sunny days a year.
The winter is mild on the coast and snowy in the mountains and the summer is hot on the coast but cooler in the mountains. Lebanon is the only country in the Middle East that doesn&rsquot have a desert.

3 million Lebanese live in Lebanon (Estimate 2001, last official census 1932)
15 million Lebanese and Lebanese decedents are estimated to be living around the globe
(Largest: Brazil 7 million, USA 3 million)

Ethnic Groups: Lebanon encompasses a great mix of cultures and ethnic groups which have been building up for more than 6000 years. Most of the Lebanese are descendants of the Phoenicians/Canaanites and/or West Aramaic (50-70%). The second largest ethnic group in Lebanon descends from Arabs (20-30%). Armenians, Greeks, Assyrians, Hebrews, Kurds, Persians and others form about (10-20%).

Religions: There is no state religion in Lebanon . However, Lebanon officially recognizes 17 religious sects of Christianity, Islam and Judaism. The estimate of religion distribution in Lebanon now is about 1% minorities, 40% Christians and about 60% Muslims .

Languages: Lebanese (Spoken), Arabic (Formal), French, English and Armenian

Education: About 60% of the schools in Lebanon use French as their basic language of education, about 20% use English, while 20% use both French and English as basic languages for education. Arabic language and Literature are taught in all schools, and the Arabic language is used in some schools for Philosophy, History and Sociology material.

Although a tiny country Lebanon is well known for its American and European colleges and universities. The best-known American-system educational institutions are the American University of Beirut (AUB), Lebanese American University (LAU), Notre Dame University (NDU) and Balamand University . The best-known French-system schools are University of Saint Joseph (USJ) and University of the Holy Spirit (USEK, Kaslik). The (National) Lebanese University is centered in Beirut and also has four branches in the remaining districts of Lebanon .

Lebanese cuisine: The cuisine of Lebanon is the epitome of the Mediterranean diet. It includes an abundance of fruits, vegetables, starches, fresh fish and seafood. The enduring tradition of the Lebanese is starters Mezza also known as hors d'oeuvres. Traditionally, the Lebanese food is served with Arak a clear licorice flavored liqueur made locally from grapes. When ice water is added to the Arak, the color turns into a cloudy white concoction and is the perfect addition to any Lebanese meal. The Lebanese have spread their cuisine to all parts of the world. It has become well known in fine restaurants in London , Paris , New York and Sidney serve tabboule, kibbee, hummus and baba&rsquogannouj.

Government: By constitutional law, Lebanon is still one of the very few democracies in the entire Middle East with a constitution agreed upon in 1926. However, Lebanon lost its major features of democracy and human rights during 29 years of Syrian occupation (1976-2005)

: +02:00 GMT, +07:00 US EST

Holidays: In addition to national holidays, Lebanon recognizes all Christian and Muslim holidays (This schedule is subject to the government administrative decisions every year).

New Year 1 day St. Maroun's Day 9th February
Labor Day 1st May Martyr's Day 6th May
Ascension 15th August All Saints Day 1st November
Independence Day 22nd November Christmas Day 25th Dec & 6th Jan
Holy Friday (Eastern) 1 day Easter (Eastern) 1 day
Holy Friday (Western) 1 day Easter (Western) 1 day
Eid Al-Fiter 3 days Ashoura 1 day
Eid Al-Adha 3 days Mawled Nabawi 1 day
Islamic New Year 1 day Al-Isra' Wal-Mi'raj 1 day

National Register of Historic Places – Listings

Grist Mill Bridge and Mill (1948)

[Little River Road across the Little River] The Grist Mill Bridge is about 3 miles south of East Lebanon on the Little River Road. The Bridge is a stone and timber structure just east of the 1774 Old Grist Mill. It is composed of laid rubblestone rising approximately thirteen feet above normal stream water levels.

By the late 20th century many bridges have been altered, destroyed, or replaced. This record makes the survival of a structure such as the Grist Mill Bridge very significant. Not only have the rubblestone elements remained intact, but the wooden deck is clearly in keeping with traditional materials and configuration.

Grist Mill Bridge (1924)

Early records show, both in drawings and photos, that the bridge has changed little at least during the past 66 years. The precise history of this structure, as noted above, is difficult to ascertain. In 1792 reference is made to Joseph Hardison’s Bridge in town records. Hardison was the original owner of the adjacent grist mill built about 1774. The reference to a bridge makes it clear that the site was probably used as a crossing by then. There is, however, no proof that the bridge of 1792 (or the one referenced in an 1822 deed) is the current one.

The earliest photographic evidence is from the 1924 State survey of bridges which clearly shows the existing stonework. A review of town reports uncovered no reference to any major work on the structure outside of a deck replacement in 1885. The mill and its remnant dam are located some 100 feet to the west of the bridge at a somewhat lower elevation. Both structures (bridge and dam) and the mill foundation share the same type of rubble stone construction with wooden upper portions. This compatibility in materials is matched by an equally important historic relationship in scale. The resultant visual qualities of the site, viewed from both bridge approaches or from above or below the structure, are truly unique.

Grist Mill Bridge (1989)

The existing configuration of the bridge dates from the early 1950’s, when the present design replaced a simpler structure using round logs for stringers, a plank deck, and guardrails of triangular supports linked by a wooden rail. In 1993, a major renovation replaced the timber superstructure in-kind and restored the stone pier and abutments.* [Kirk F. Mohney photos, 1989]

Lebanon History

Much of Lebanon has a natural definition consisting of two distinct northern New England towns nestled in valleys rich in natural and human history. This landscape provides a clearly-definable “sense of place.”

The Mascoma and Connecticut Rivers meander through or alongside the City with quiet waters and stretches of turbulent waters. The Mascoma River serves a dual role of linking the eastern and the western ends of the City and of partitioning the north from the south. The Connecticut River serves as a landmark that defines the City limits on the west and ties the northwest section of Lebanon with the southwest corner.

Lebanon is characterized by ridgelines surrounding the bottomlands of these rivers. In the Mascoma basin, Crafts Hill, Quarry Hill, Signal Hill, and Mount Tug form the northern rim, while Bass Hill, Storrs Hill, and Farnum Hill define the southern boundary of the valley. Mount Finish, Bald Hill, Crafts Hill, and Colburn Hill define the eastern rim of the Connecticut River Valley. These prominences trend on a north/south axis and give Lebanon’s terrain a strong, undulating form. These major ridgelines and especially certain prominences such as Storrs/Farnum Hill, Mount Support, Mount Tug, and Signal Hill lend natural definition to the City.

In this natural setting Lebanon took form resulting in its present cultural landscape. The City’s early use of land resembed the historic European development pattern that is, a dense urban center surrounded by agricultural uses and forested open spaces. Two such urban centers now exist, one in central Lebanon and the other located in western Lebanon. It is within these areas that the commercial, civic, and dense residential land uses emerged and continue to function.

Lebanon was one of sixteen towns on the Connecticut River to receive a charter from Benning Wentworth, Governor of New Hampshire in 1761. In that year, four men settled on the bank of the Connecticut River near what is now Wilder Dam the first family arrived the following year.

The settlers constructed a sawmill on the Mascoma River in the western end of town in 1763 and a bridge in 1767. Early settlers built cabins on the intervales. The oldest surviving house in Lebanon today, the old Hall place on South Main Street in West Lebanon, was built in 1766. The first schoolhouse, a log structure built in 1768 on the King’s Highway in West Lebanon, west of the present airport, was also the town’s first public building. Four years later the first meetinghouse was built on Seminary Hill in West Lebanon, destined to stand only ten years before being moved to a new location on Farnum Hill.

From a town with 162 inhabitants in 1767, Lebanon grew to 1,579 inhabitants by 1800. A blend of agriculture and industry has characterized Lebanon since its incorporation. The town’s early development was based on subsistence farming with industries producing lumber, flour, and cloth. The initial pattern of settlement was southward along the Connecticut River, but gradually moved from the River into Farnum and Storrs Hills.

During the period between 1800 and 1830, subsistence farming was transformed to commercial farming as transportation along the Connecticut River was supplemented by the completion of the Fourth New Hampshire Turnpike, linking Lebanon to the seacoast, and by the incorporation of the Croydon Turnpike in 1804, allowing fast transport of food products. The convergence of the rivers and these turnpikes in Lebanon along with the White River Turnpike and the Hanover Branch Turnpike supported a number of inns and public houses in town along these well-travelled routes and provided an excellent location for industrial development.

Spurred by the 1828 tariff which protected domestic wool, sheep raising dominated agricultural activity in Lebanon until about 1845. Grazing and other farming activities reduced the town’s woodland to less than 20% of the area of the town as compared to 80% in 1800. By 1850, a marked shift in population, characterized by rapid growth of the urban population and slow decline in the rural areas, was apparent in Lebanon as well as most of New England.

Unable to compete with the western wool industry, the town’s agricultural emphasis subsequently focused on dairy herds rather than sheep. Two creameries were established in Lebanon in the 1880s. Dairy farming continued to be the chief agricultural pursuit through the 20th century. With the reduction in pasture land due to dairying, Lebanon began to return to its predominantly wooded state.

Beginning about 1800, business activity in Lebanon shifted from the Connecticut River to Payne’s Mills, known later as Lebanon City, located at the outlet of Mascoma Lake in East Lebanon. Initial development here, along Hibbard and Great Brooks, was prompted by the construction of a dam, sawmill, and gristmill in 1778. The establishment of a textile mill, wool carding establishment, slate quarry, and furniture factory increased the village’s importance until a fire in 1840 destroyed most of the mills. They were never rebuilt, returning East Lebanon, as it is known today, to its rural character.

Another nucleus of population began to grow in what is now Lebanon Center following the construction of the Town Meetinghouse in 1792. The first industry here was a gristmill, followed by fulling and linseed oil mills. Not until the middle of the century were the assets of the Mascoma River utilized and urbanization begun. The demise of East Lebanon, the superiority of the water provided by the Mascoma River, and the availability of railroad transportation all encouraged the growth of Lebanon Center.

With the exception of a decrease during the 1830s, Lebanon maintained slow but steady population growth between 1800 and 1860. The decade between 1860 and 1870 resulted in a 26% increase in Lebanon’s population, reaching 3,094 in 1870. During this period large numbers of French-speaking Canadians immigrated to Lebanon to work in the mills.

Also significant was an 1866 town resolution which extended a hearty invitation to manufacturing capital two important Lebanon firms – Carter and Churchill and H.W. Carter and Sons – were founded during this period.

The industrial development of Lebanon Center after 1848 was characterized by three basic industries centering around iron, wood, and wool. By 1887, iron factories had been reduced to specialization in fewer items, since Lebanon could not compete with other manufacturing areas with ready sources of iron and coal.

A major fire in 1887, which destroyed some 80 buildings on 12 acres in Central Lebanon, was largely responsible for completing the evolution from furniture factories to woolen mills. Nearly the entire manufacturing community was destroyed. Many residences, tenement houses, commercial buildings, and enterprises, including the furniture businesses, never resumed operations. Growth of the woolen mills was further advanced by labor advantages stemming from the untapped labor supply of women, the superiority of the soft water of the Mascoma River for bleaching and dying, and the increased capacity of the dams upstream.

The concentration or variety of industry was never to match earlier levels after the fire. Smaller shops and mills gave way to larger operations. Despite the effects of the fire, Lebanon population between 1880 and 1890 increased by 12.2%. Rapid growth of other industries lessened the impact of the disaster which had left some 600 people unemployed. The 1890’s saw an additional 24% increase in growth, bringing the population to 4,965 persons in 1900.

Private water and telephone services were introduced in 1883 with electricity following in 1890. This period of growth was also characterized by a building boom, evidenced in commercial structures such as the National Bank and the Whipple Block in Lebanon Center, as well as many existing residences.

Despite difficult times during the Depression, the woolen industry maintained an important role in Lebanon’s economy through the 1940s and 1950s until the closing of the Mascoma Mills in 1953. The arrival of the E. Cummings Tannery in the late 1930s which located on the site of what was once Lebanon’s largest mill, insured that downtown Lebanon would remain an industrial center. The Tannery closed in 1980 and was razed the following year.

Major transportation developments including the completion of Lebanon Airport in 1942, the construction of Interstate 89 through town to connect with Interstate 91 across the river, and the abandonment of the railroad have made it possible for industries to establish in outlying areas instead of at sources of power and rail transportation which once dictated the location of industries.

A new charter establishing the city of Lebanon with a mayor-council form of government was approved by the State Legislature and adopted by the voters in 1957.

Lebanon’s second major fire, in June 1964, destroyed 20 downtown buildings and caused an estimated $3 million worth of damage in much the same location as the fire of 1887. Destroyed were most of the city’s late 19th century mill and commercial structures, replaced several years later by a pedestrian mall, new traffic patterns, and newly built streets and bridges.

Lebanon’s railroad era was brought to a close with the end of passenger service in the 1960s and the subsequent abandonment of the freight lines in the 1980s. Additional development of roads resulted in changes in population distribution. Many areas formerly considered rural are now becoming desirable locations for residential housing subdivisions. West Lebanon, whose growth was influenced by its railroad station and river crossing to Vermont, has grown into an urban center in its own right and beginning in the 1960s became a regional shopping center. Lebanon has maintained steady population growth in the 20th century.

While the 1960-70 decade saw the smallest population gain in Lebanon’s history (4.6%), the ensuing decade of the 70s saw the rate jump to 14.5%. The development of Lebanon’s own commercial base, as well as the expansion of Dartmouth College and Mary Hitchcock Medical Center in Hanover and the V.A. Hospital in White River Junction, fueled the major portion of this increase.

Development in the 1980s included additional growth along Route 12A and a number of housing projects. The decade of the eighties concluded with the City approving the relocation of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center to Lebanon. DHMC opened in 1991 and is now the major employer in the City.

Beirut has a subtropical climate that is cool and temperate in winter and hot and humid in summer. In January, the coolest month, the average afternoon maximum temperature is 62 °F (17 °C), and the nighttime low is 51 °F (11 °C). Comparable maximum and minimum temperatures in July are 87 and 73 °F (31 and 23 °C). The rainy season extends from mid-autumn to early spring, and the average annual rainfall is 36 inches (914 mm).

Under the Ottoman vilāyet administration and the French mandate, the growth of Beirut was planned, but after independence in 1943 it was as haphazard as it was rapid. It is estimated that the population of the city increased 10-fold between the early 1930s and early 1970s, and the city’s area grew to three times the size it had been in 1900. By the 1950s few traces of the old city were left, and most of those were destroyed in the 1975–90 civil war.

Street plans and block arrangements in the city and its suburbs are not consistent or uniform. In most quarters, modern high-rise buildings, walk-up apartments, slum tenements, modern villas, and traditional two-story houses with red-tiled roofs—all in varying states of repair—stand side by side. After 1975 countless houses and apartments, particularly in West Beirut, were forcibly occupied by refugees and squatters from rural areas, especially from the Shiʿi areas of southern Lebanon.

The downtown area of central Beirut (the old city) was destroyed during the civil war, becoming a belt of squatter-occupied ruins between East and West Beirut. Because of the sporadic fighting that occurred between rival factions, central Beirut could not be reconstructed during the war, and all business moved out of the area to establish new premises in the Christian and Muslim sides of the city. When the war ended in 1990, strong divisions arose between official and popular opinion over plans for reconstructing the old city. Standing property rights, which were largely in the hands of Sunni Muslim and Christian landowners, clashed with the then de facto situation that most of the resident squatters in the area were Shiʿi Muslims. Progress in the direction of reconstruction in the 1990s was thus slow-coming. A combination of payoffs and eminent domain cleared the way for the rapid development of the Beirut Central District (BCD) in the first decade of the 21st century. Investment slowed in the 2010s, however, amid instability in the region.

Progression of the war

The beginning of the civil war is typically dated to April 13, 1975, when the Phalangists attacked a bus taking Palestinians to a refugee camp at Tall al-Zaʿtar, Lebanon. The attack escalated an intermittent cycle of violence into a more general battle between the Phalangists and the LNM, whose coalition of Lebanese leftists and Muslims supported the PLO’s cause.

In the months that followed, the general destruction of the central market area of Beirut was marked by the emergence of a “green line” between Muslim West Beirut and Christian East Beirut, which persisted until the end of the civil war in 1990, with each side under the control of its respective militias.

As Franjieh’s term came to an end, and with Lebanon’s army splintered, he asked Syria to intervene to prevent the country from disintegrating into multiple states. Despite its earlier support for the PLO in the south, Syria launched a large-scale intervention to redress the emerging imbalance of power in favour of the Christians in the north. Syria’s intervention sparked a more active Israeli involvement as well, in which Israel armed and financed Christian militias in the south of the country, whom Israelis looked upon as their main ally in their fight against the PLO. With Palestinian forces continuing to conduct cross-border raids into Israel, Israel launched a major reprisal attack in March 1978, sending troops into the south of Lebanon as far as the Līṭānī River. The resulting conflict led to the establishment of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)—a peacekeeping force meant to secure Israeli withdrawal and support the return of Lebanese authority in the south—as well as to the creation of the South Lebanese Army (SLA)—a militia led by Saʿd Haddad and armed and financed by Israel to function as a proxy militia under Lebanese Christian command.

The most significant Israeli intervention during the course of the Lebanese Civil War, however, was the invasion that began on June 6, 1982. Although the stated goal of Israel was only to secure the territory north of its border with Lebanon so as to stop PLO raids, Israeli forces quickly progressed as far as Beirut’s suburbs and laid siege to the capital, particularly to West Beirut. The invasion resulted in the eventual removal of PLO militia from Lebanon under the supervision of a multinational peacekeeping force, the transfer of the PLO headquarters to Tunis, Tunisia, and the temporary withdrawal of Syrian forces back to al-Biqāʿ. Galvanized by the Israeli invasion, a number of Shiʿi groups subsequently emerged, including Hezbollah.

In August 1982 Bashir Gemayel, the young Phalangist leader who had managed to unify the Maronite militias into the Lebanese Forces (LF), was elected to the presidency. In mid-September, however, three weeks after his election, Gemayel was assassinated in a bombing at the Phalangist headquarters. Two days later Christian militiamen under the command of Elie Hobeika, permitted entry to the area by Israeli forces, retaliated by killing hundreds of people (estimates range from several hundred to several thousand) in the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. The election of Bashir’s brother, Amin Gemayel, to the presidency in late September 1982 failed to temper the mounting violence as battles between the Christians and the Druze broke out in the Druze stronghold of the Shūf Mountains, resulting in numerous Christian fatalities. The Western peacekeeping forces that had been dispatched to Lebanon in 1982 likewise suffered heavy casualties, among them the destruction of the U.S. embassy by a car bomb in April 1983 and the suicide attacks on the U.S. and French troops of the multinational force stationed in Lebanon in October, which hastened their withdrawal from Lebanon early the following year (see 1983 Beirut barracks bombings). By mid-1985 most of the Israeli troops had also withdrawn, leaving in their wake the proxy SLA in control of a buffer zone north of the international border.

Fueled by continuing foreign patronage, Lebanese society between 1985 and 1989 descended into a militia economy. While Lebanon faced high unemployment, flight of capital and skilled labour, and scarcity of goods and services, militias now provided wages and rationed goods to their fighters and commanded access to goods, services, and wealth in part through smuggling, extortion, and the arms and drug trades. This period of disintegration was crystallized with the decline of many of the country’s remaining institutions, and in 1987 the collapse of the Lebanese pound—which had demonstrated a surprising resiliency throughout the first 10 years of the war—led to a period of profound economic hardship and inflation. Furthermore, when Gemayel’s term ended on September 22, 1988, parliament could not agree on the selection of a new president. As a result, Gemayel named Gen. Michel Aoun, a Maronite and head of what was left of the Lebanese Army, as acting prime minister moments before his own term expired, despite the continuing claim to that office by the incumbent, Salim al-Hoss. Lebanon thus had no president but two prime ministers, and two separate governments emerged in competition for legitimacy. In late November 1988 General Aoun was dismissed as commander in chief of the armed forces because of the continued loyalty of large portions of the military, however, Aoun was able to retain a de facto leadership. In February 1989 Aoun launched an offensive against the rival LF, and in March he declared a “war of liberation” in an attempt to expel the Syrian influence. In September 1989, following months of intense violence, Aoun accepted a cease-fire brokered by a tripartite committee made up of the leaders of Algeria, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia.

History of Lebanon

The evidence of tools found in caves along the coast of what is now Lebanon shows that the area was inhabited from the Paleolithic Period (Old Stone Age) through the Neolithic Period (New Stone Age). Village life followed the domestication of plants and animals (the Neolithic Revolution, after about 10,000 bce ), with Byblos (modern Jubayl) apparently taking the lead. At this site also appear the first traces in Lebanon of pottery and metallurgy (first copper, then bronze, an alloy of tin and copper) by the 4th millennium bce . The Phoenicians, indistinguishable from the Canaanites of Palestine, probably arrived in the land that became Phoenicia (a Greek term applied to the coast of Lebanon) about 3000 bce . Herodotus and other Classical writers preserve a tradition that they came from the coast of the Erythraean Sea (i.e., the Persian Gulf), but in fact nothing certain is known of their original homeland.

Except at Byblos, no excavations have produced any information concerning the 3rd millennium in Phoenicia before the advent of the Phoenicians. At Byblos the first urban settlement is dated about 3050–2850 bce . Commercial and religious connections with Egypt, probably by sea, are attested from the Egyptian 4th dynasty (c. 2575–c. 2465 bce ). The earliest artistic representations of Phoenicians are found at Memphis, in a damaged relief of Pharaoh Sahure of the 5th dynasty (mid-25th to early 24th century bce ). This shows the arrival of an Asiatic princess to be the pharaoh’s bride her escort is a fleet of seagoing ships, probably of the type known to the Egyptians as “Byblos ships,” manned by crews of Asiatics, evidently Phoenicians.

Byblos was destroyed by fire about 2150 bce , probably by the invading Amorites. The Amorites rebuilt on the site, and a period of close contact with Egypt was begun. Costly gifts were given by the pharaohs to those Phoenician and Syrian princes, such as the rulers of Ugarit and Katna, who were loyal to Egypt. Whether this attests to Egypt’s political dominion over Phoenicia at this time or simply to strong diplomatic and commercial relations is not entirely clear.

In the 18th century bce new invaders, the Hyksos, destroyed Amorite rule in Byblos and, passing on to Egypt, brought the Middle Kingdom to an end (c. 1630 bce ). Little is known about the Hyksos’ origin, but they seem to have been ethnically mixed, including a considerable Semitic element, since the Phoenician deities El, Baal, and Anath figured in their pantheon. The rule of the Hyksos in Egypt was brief and their cultural achievement slight, but in this period the links with Phoenicia and Syria were strengthened by the presence of Hyksos aristocracies throughout the region. Pharaoh Ahmose I expelled the Hyksos about 1539 bce and instituted the New Kingdom policy of conquest in Palestine and Syria. In his annals, Ahmose records capturing oxen from the Fenkhw, a term here perhaps referring to the Phoenicians. In the annals of the greatest Egyptian conqueror, Thutmose III (reigned c. 1479–26 bce ), the coastal plain of Lebanon, called Djahy, is described as rich with fruit, wine, and grain. Of particular importance to the New Kingdom pharaohs was the timber, notably cedar, of the Lebanese forests. A temple relief at Karnak depicts the chiefs of Lebanon felling cedars for the Egyptian officers of Seti I (c. 1300 bce ).

Fuller information about the state of Phoenicia in the 14th century bce comes from the Amarna letters, diplomatic texts belonging to the Egyptian foreign office, written in cuneiform and found at Tell el-Amarna in Middle Egypt. These archives reveal that the land of Retenu (Syria-Palestine) was divided into three administrative districts, each under an Egyptian governor. The northernmost district ( Amurru) included the coastal region from Ugarit to Byblos, the central district ( Upi) included the southern Al-Biqāʿ valley and Anti-Lebanon Mountains, and the third district ( Canaan) included all of Palestine from the Egyptian border to Byblos. Also among the letters are many documents addressed by the subject princes of Phoenicia and their Egyptian governors to the pharaoh. It was a time of much political unrest. The Hittites from central Anatolia were invading Syria nomads from the desert supported the invasion, and many of the local chiefs were ready to seize the opportunity to throw off the yoke of Egypt. The tablets that reveal this state of affairs are written in the Akkadian language and cuneiform script of Babylonia and thus show the extent to which Babylonian culture had penetrated Palestine and Phoenicia at the same time, they illustrate the closeness of the relations between the Canaanite towns (i.e., those in Palestine) and the dominant power of Egypt.

After the reign of Akhenaton (Amenhotep IV reigned 1353–36 bce ), that power collapsed altogether, but his successors attempted to recover it, and Ramses II (1279–13 bce ) reconquered Phoenicia as far as the Al-Kalb River. In the reign of Ramses III (1187–56 bce ), many great changes began to occur as a result of the invasion of Syria by peoples from Asia Minor and Europe. The successors of Ramses III lost their hold over Canaan the 21st dynasty no longer intervened in the affairs of Syria. In The Story of Wen-Amon, a tale of an Egyptian religious functionary sent to Byblos to secure cedar about 1100 bce , the episode of the functionary’s inhospitable reception shows the extent of the decline of Egypt’s authority in Phoenicia at this time. Sheshonk ( Shishak) I, the founder of the 22nd dynasty, endeavoured about 928 bce to assert the ancient supremacy of Egypt. His successes, however, were not lasting, and, as is clear from the Old Testament, the power of Egypt thereafter became ineffective.

The Geography of Lebanon

Total Size: 10,400 square km

Size Comparison: about 0.7 times the size of Connecticut

Geographical Coordinates: 33 50 N, 35 50 E

World Region or Continent: Middle East

General Terrain: narrow coastal plain El Beqaa (Bekaa Valley) separates Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains

Geographical Low Point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m

Geographical High Point: Qurnat as Sawda' 3,088 m

Climate: Mediterranean mild to cool, wet winters with hot, dry summers Lebanon mountains experience heavy winter snows

Major cities: BEIRUT (capital) 1.909 million (2009), Tripoli, Sidon

100 Years of Greater Lebanon

The disastrous explosion in Beirut has prompted calls for French intervention in Lebanon. But the history of France’s involvement in the region has been driven by the creation of proxy elites and the pursuit of its own interests.

Proclamation of Greater Lebanon in Beirut, c.1920.

A petition circulated online in the aftermath of the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut on 4 August and French President Emmanuel Macron’s mobbed walkabout in the predominantly Christian, middle-class Gemmayzeh district of the city two days later. Attracting more than 60,000 signatures, the petition called for Lebanon to be placed ‘under French Mandate for the next ten years’, condemning ‘Lebanon’s officials’ and ‘failing system, corruption, terrorism and militia’. It asserted that a French Mandate would establish ‘a clean and durable governance’.

Subsequently picked up in the French right-wing press, the petition’s call for temporary French rule pursued a broader logic that ran through the majority of Western commentary on the explosion: Lebanon had to be fixed from the outside. Foreign aid and international support were deemed crucial to a recovery from the blast, but they should be aggressively conditional, imposing ‘reforms’ on Lebanon and supporting protestors’ demands for a wholesale removal of the country’s corrupt oligarchy. The crisis in Lebanon, this suggested, could only be resolved by external intervention – and France’s history of involvement in Lebanon appeared to make it a naturally prominent player in any such intervention.

As we pass the centenary of the formal creation of ‘Greater Lebanon’ in its current incarnation, formed by the French Army General Henri Gouraud on 1 September 1920, history can help us understand the deeper origins of the current crisis, the origins of modern Lebanon in foreign intervention and the reasons France occupies a role in its politics.

Population map of Syria and Lebanon, c.1935.

The French ‘Mandate’ to which the petition harked back was a form of colonial rule that lasted from the close of the First World War to the middle of the Second World War (Lebanon became formally independent in 1943). The ‘Mandate period’ saw the creation of both modern Lebanon and, crucially, Syria, from the territory of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.

The Mandate was held by France under the legal and diplomatic aegis of the League of Nations, an international institution that in the 1920s was dominated by Britain and France. In keeping with the racialised paternalism characteristic of the League’s approach to colonial empire, the Mandate system took its name from a term in private law describing the temporary guardianship of a child. As Article 22 of the League’s founding Covenant euphemistically described the arrangement: ‘tutelage … should be entrusted to advanced nations who by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position can best undertake this responsibility’.

The decisive French ‘experience’ that enabled them to acquire the role of ‘Mandatory’ was their victory in the First World War and the ensuing negotiations with the British – both an ally and a rival ­– to divide up Ottoman Palestine and Syria. French claims did not come out of the blue in 1918. Instead, they built on decades of intervention and influence in the Ottoman Empire where, from the mid-19th century, French capitalists had expanded their interests in tandem with burgeoning Catholic missionary and educational institutions. If Greater Lebanon was a French colonial creation in 1920, it had deep roots in the late Ottoman world.

In the second half of the 19th century, as European empires expanded frenetically and Beirut grew in population and economic importance, France increasingly positioned itself as a ‘protector’ of Arab Christian groups, intervening enthusiastically – notably in 1860 – to protect them during conflicts. Central to this were the Maronites, a community of Christians affiliated to the Catholic church, who lived predominantly in the highlands of Mount Lebanon. One important result of this trend was the British and French-mediated creation of an Ottoman autonomous administrative district (mutasarrifiyya) of Mount Lebanon during the 1860s. The Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifiyya was Maronite-dominated (though it also had a large Druze Muslim population) and was distinct from (though adjacent to and deeply connected with) the city of Beirut and the Ottoman province of the same name.

French postcard showing four Christian men from Mount Lebanon, late 1800s.

Ottoman Lebanon was therefore smaller geographically than the Greater Lebanon we know today, but the French consolidated their influence in the larger region by cultivating its Christian population and their political aspirations as a group within a territorial enclave. As the historian Ussama Makdisi has shown, a key aspect of this play of influence was the spread and institutionalisation of a novel idea: that the Ottoman population should be understood as a set of religiously defined ‘sects’.

This insidious concept, which seeded modern ‘sectarian’ politics in the region, was, however, just one tributary of a much larger, dynamic river of intellectual and political reformism in Ottoman Syria during the years around 1900. By the eve of the First World War, activists and thinkers across Ottoman Lebanon and Syria, reacting against or working with European influences and powerful Ottoman modernising efforts, had developed a diverse mixture of agendas, including Syrian or Lebanese nationalism, reformist-Ottomanism and Pan-Arabism. Some of these were premised on foreign support, many of them were liberal and democratic. Plans for Greater Lebanon were just one of these projects.

When French and British troops occupied a devastated, starving, inflation-ridden Beirut in 1918, the French authorities could look to an existing client group of mainly Christian ‘Lebanese’ (they also called themselves ‘Lebanonians’ in some instances, for instance in their large American diaspora). This group had existing connections to French interests and a maturing national programme, which existed in tension with plans for a Syrian nation-state. Importantly, though, that programme was defined as much by economic need as by historical or ideological reasoning. As the historian Carol Hakim has shown, the project of ‘Greater Lebanon’ rested on the precedent of the mutasarrifiyya and also on a claim to a continuous Lebanese past dating back to the ancient Phoenicians – a helpfully cosmopolitan and entrepreneurial crew of precursors for a commercially dynamic region. But the war and its accompanying famine had brutally reinforced the Maronites’ sense that Lebanon was dependent on food imports from Syria and vulnerable to incorporation into a larger Syrian state, one potentially careless of Christian prerogatives. The French stoked these worries, for example, by mistranslating the first article of the progressive, short-lived Syrian constitution of 1920 as ‘Islam is the religion of the state’ rather than the reality: ‘Islam is the religion of the King’. The solution to this problem was Greater Lebanon.

Map of Mount Lebanon, c.1900.

Instead of risking the return of famine and economic insecurity through the isolation of a small Lebanon, or else risking political incorporation into Muslim-Arab Syria, Maronites and French officials hoped that a French-sponsored Greater Lebanon would overcome the crisis. Incorporating the largely Sunni Muslim lands of the Bekaa Valley to the east of Mount Lebanon and adding further new territory along the coast to the north and in the Shia majority south, outside of the mutasarrifiyya’s old borders, Greater Lebanon had a colonial flavour. This was because it was enabled by French military power and because of the vanguard role it gave to the Maronite Christian elite in Beirut, who freely compared themselves to the Piedmontese of Italy’s unification and who often looked down on the largely Muslim rural and small-town classes on the periphery of the new state. Last month’s petition to Macron is nostalgic for such an arrangement.

France faced immediate and massive opposition to its rule in Syria, where it subdivided the country and aimed to create a system of ‘minority’ groups through whom to violently divide and rule. But even in Greater Lebanon, France, cash-strapped by the war, failed to commit adequate resources to deliver on the dreams of 1920. As the historian Elizabeth F. Thompson has shown, in the following decade, as the Lebanese Republic was established in 1926 and a parliament elected in 1929, the French increasingly resorted to authoritarian proxy-rule. French High-Commissioners, hamstrung by austerity in Paris, disproportionately favoured their Christian clients and, more generally, empowered wealthy, patriarchal elites, endorsing their skilled appropriation of sectarian political logic to divide access to power and resources. The result, long before the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and 80s, was to limit the political potential of genuinely national ideas of citizenship. It is these ideas which the protesters in Lebanon are currently trying to resurrect, encapsulated by the call to expel the elite: ‘all of them means all of them’.

They face a steep challenge. By the time Sunni Muslim and Christian elites from Beirut’s oligarchic ruling class came together in 1943 to forge a National Pact, Lebanon’s political-economic course was in some respects set. French financial, commercial and cultural interests would continue to be interlaced with the Maronite community in particular. More generally, access to political and economic power was organised around sectarian identities, even during the laissez-faire boom years of 1940-75, when a cloud of money partially obscured the political realities. Even the later rise of Shia political power, through the Iranian-backed Hezbollah, would create a new sectarian player rather than destabilising the underlying system. The arrival of further external players, from Syria, the US, Israel and Iran built on the French template.

Beirut, late 19th century, by Félix Bonfils.

Emmanuel Macron was back in Beirut on 1 September 2020 to mark the centenary of Gouraud’s creation of Greater Lebanon. Keen to get away from domestic controversies and play to the residual Catholic and Gaullist sentiments of the French electorate, he alluded selectively to France’s long history of involvement in the region, much as French officials did a century ago. His calls for unity made much of France’s humanitarian commitment to the Lebanese people and he again insisted (while supporting a new Lebanese prime minister who used to advise a former Lebanese prime minister) that the Lebanese elite must attend to popular demands for ‘reform’ by revising the existing political structure.

Any such changes will need to overcome deeply entrenched structures dating back to the French Mandate period itself. If, as the Lebanese Druze sectarian chief Walid Jumblatt has claimed, the present moment in Lebanon is most analogous to ‘the end of World War One, a time of looming famine and dreadful Spanish Flu [when] we were buying grain from Syria and locusts were plaguing the land’, then it is to be hoped that a century later, France will not, as it did then, sabotage democratic hopes in favour of proxy elites and its own interests.

Simon Jackson is Lecturer in Modern Middle Eastern History at the University of Birmingham.

Population of Cities in Lebanon (2021)

Located at the intersection of the Mediterranean west and Arabian east, Lebanon's culture has been shaped by its diverse influences, and has been referred to as the 'Switzerland of the East' and the 'Paris of the Middle East'. Beirut is Lebanon's capital and largest city, as well as its political and economic center. Unusually, no official population census has been carried out in Lebanon since 1932, but most recent estimates suggest that the population of Beirut is between around 940,000 and 1.3 million, with as many as 2.2 million in the greater metropolitan area. Beirut is one of the oldest cities in the world, and has been inhabited for more than five thousand years.

The northern city of Tripoli is the second-largest city in Lebanon, with an approximate population of 730,000. Tripoli overlooks the Mediterranean Sea, and the Palm Islands – the only islands in Lebanon and a protected area for rare turtles, seals and birds – lie off the coast of the city. The mountainous city of Zahlé is the third-largest in the country. It is known for its moderate and pleasant climate and beautiful scenery, and is home to a predominantly Greek Catholic population of 120,000 residents knowns as Zahlawis.

Lebanon has 2 cities with more than a million people, 4 cities with between 100,000 and 1 million people, and 8 cities with between 10,000 and 100,000 people. The largest city in Lebanon is Beirut, with a population of 1,916,100 people.

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