Lebanon (لبنان — Lubnān in Arabic or Liban in French), officially known as the Lebanese Republic (الجمهورية اللبنانية — al-Jumhūrīyah al-Lubnānīyah or République libanaise), is a sovereign state in Western Asia between latitudes 33° and 35° N and longitudes 35° and 37° E. Its land straddles the “northwest of the Arabian plate” and is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, while Cyprus is west across the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon’s location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity. At just 4,036 square miles (10,452 km²), it is the smallest recognized country on the entire mainland Asian continent. Lebanon has a coastline of 140 miles (225 km) on the Mediterranean Sea to the west. The border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights is disputed by Lebanon in a small area called Shebaa Farms.
The narrow and discontinuous coastal plain stretches from the Syrian border in the north where it widens to form the Akkar plain to Ras al-Naqoura at the border with Israel in the south. The fertile coastal plain is formed of marine sediments and river deposited alluvium alternating with sandy bays and rocky beaches. The Lebanon mountains rise steeply parallel to the Mediterranean coast and form a ridge of limestone and sandstone that runs for most of the country’s length. The mountain range varies in width between six miles (10 km) and 35 miles (56 km); it is carved by narrow and deep gorges. The Lebanon mountains peak at 10,131 feet (3,088 meters) above sea level in Qurnat as Sawda’ in North Lebanon and gradually slope to the south before rising again to a height of 8,842 feet (2,695 m) in Mount Sannine. The Beqaa valley sits between the Lebanon mountains in the west and the Anti-Lebanon range in the east; it’s a part of the Great Rift Valley system. The valley is 112 miles (180 km) long and six to 16 miles (10 to 26 km) wide. Its fertile soil is formed by alluvial deposits. The Anti-Lebanon range runs parallel to the Lebanon mountains, its highest peak is in Mount Hermon at 9,232 feet (2,814 m).
The mountains of Lebanon are drained by seasonal torrents and rivers foremost of which is the 90-mile (145 km) long Leontes that rises in the Beqaa Valley to the west of Baalbek and empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. Lebanon has 16 rivers all of which are non navigable; 13 rivers originate from Mount Lebanon and run through the steep gorges and into the Mediterranean Sea, the other three arise in the Beqaa Valley.
The earliest evidence of civilization in Lebanon dates back more than seven thousand years, predating recorded history. Lebanon was the home of the Canaanites/Phoenicians and their kingdoms, a maritime culture that flourished for over a thousand years (c. 1550–539 BC). In 64 BC, the region came under the rule of the Roman Empire, and eventually became one of the Empire’s leading centers of Christianity. In the Mount Lebanon range a monastic tradition known as the Maronite Church was established. As the Arab Muslims conquered the region, the Maronites held onto their religion and identity. However, a new religious group, the Druze, established themselves in Mount Lebanon as well, generating a religious divide that has lasted for centuries. During the Crusades, the Maronites re-established contact with the Roman Catholic Church and asserted their communion with Rome. The ties they established with the Latins have influenced the region into the modern era.
The region eventually was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918. Following the collapse of the empire after World War I, the five provinces that constitute modern Lebanon came under the French Mandate of Lebanon. The French expanded the borders of the Mount Lebanon Governorate, which was mostly populated by Maronites and Druze, to include more Muslims. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, establishing confessionalism, a unique, Consociationalism-type of political system with a power-sharing mechanism based on religious communities. Bechara El Khoury, President of Lebanon during the independence, Riad El-Solh, first Lebanese prime minister and Emir Majid Arslan II, first Lebanese minister of defence, are considered the founders of the modern Republic of Lebanon and are national heroes for having led the country’s independence. Foreign troops withdrew completely from Lebanon on December 31, 1946. Lebanon has been a member of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie since 1973.
Despite its small size, the country has developed a well-known culture and has been highly influential in the Arab world. Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the country experienced a period of relative calm and renowned prosperity, driven by tourism, agriculture, commerce, and banking. Because of its financial power and diversity in its heyday, Lebanon was referred to as the “Switzerland of the East” during the 1960s, and its capital, Beirut, attracted so many tourists that it was known as “the Paris of the Middle East”. At the end of the war, there were extensive efforts to revive the economy and rebuild national infrastructure. In spite of these troubles, Lebanon has the highest Human Development Index and GDP per capita in the Arab world, to the exclusion of the oil-rich economies of the Persian Gulf.
The name of Mount Lebanon originates from the Phoenician root lbn meaning “white,” apparently from its snow-capped peaks. Occurrences of the name have been found in different Middle Bronze Age texts from the library of Ebla, and three of the twelve tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh. The name is recorded in Ancient Egyptian as Rmnn, where R stood for Canaanite L. The name occurs nearly 70 times in the Hebrew Bible, as לְבָנוֹן.
Lebanon as the name of an administrative unit (as opposed to the mountain range) was introduced with the Ottoman reforms of 1861, as the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate (متصرفية جبل لبنان in Arabic or Cebel-i Lübnan Mutasarrıflığı in Turkish), continued in the name of the State of Greater Lebanon (دولة لبنان الكبير — Dawlat Lubnān al-Kabīr or État du Grand Liban in French) in 1920, and eventually in the name of the sovereign Republic of Lebanon (الجمهورية اللبنانية — al-Jumhūrīyah al-Lubnānīyah) upon its independence in 1943.
Evidence of an early settlement in Lebanon was found in Byblos, which is considered to be one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. The evidence dates back to earlier than 5000 BC. Archaeologists discovered remnants of prehistoric huts with crushed limestone floors, primitive weapons, and burial jars left by the Neolithic and Chalcolithic fishing communities who lived on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea over 7,000 years ago.
Lebanon was a part of northern Canaan, and consequently became the homeland of Canaanite descendants — the Phoenicians, a seafaring people that spread across the Mediterranean before the rise of Cyrus the Great. Their most famous colonies were Carthage in what is present-day Tunisia and Cádiz in present-day Spain. The Canaanite-Phoenicians are also known as the inventors of the alphabet, among many other things. The area of present-day Lebanon and the wider Eastern Mediterranean were subjugated by Cyrus in 539 BCE. The Persians forced some of its population to migrate to Carthage, which remained a powerful nation until the Second Punic War. After two centuries of Persian rule, Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great attacked and burned Tyre, the most prominent Phoenician city. He conquered what is now Lebanon and other nearby regions of the Eastern Mediterranean in 332 BCE.
The region that is now Lebanon, as with the rest of Syria and much of Anatolia, became a major center of Christianity in the Roman Empire during the early spread of the religion. During the late 4th and early 5th century, a hermit named Maron established a monastic tradition, focused on the importance of monotheism and asceticism, near the Mediterranean mountain range known as Mount Lebanon. The monks who followed Maron spread his teachings among Lebanese in the region. These Christians came to be known as Maronites and moved into mountains to avoid religious persecution by Roman authorities. During the frequent Roman-Persian Wars that lasted for many centuries, the Sassanid Persians occupied what is now Lebanon from 619 till 629.
During the 7th century the Muslim Arabs conquered Syria establishing a new regime to replace the Byzantines. Though Islam and the Arabic language were officially dominant under this new regime, the general populace still took time to convert from Christianity and the Syriac language. The Maronite community in particular managed to maintain a large degree of autonomy despite the succession of rulers over Lebanon and Syria.
During the 11th century the Druze faith emerged from a branch of Shia Islam. The new faith gained followers in the southern portion of Mount Lebanon. The northern portion of Mount Lebanon was ruled by Druze feudal families to the early 14th century which was then brought to an end by the Mamluk invasion. The Maronite population increased gradually in Northern Mount Lebanon and the Druze have remained in Southern Mount Lebanon until the modern era. In the south of Lebanon (Jabal Amel), Baalbek and the Beqaa Valley was ruled by Shia feudal families under the Mamluks and the Ottoman Empire. Major cities on the coast, Acre, Beirut, and others, were directly administered by the Muslim Caliphs and the people became more fully absorbed by the Arab culture.
Following the fall of Roman Anatolia to the Muslim Turks, the Byzantines put out a call to the Pope in Rome for assistance in the 11th century. The result was a series of wars known as the Crusades launched by the Franks in Western Europe to reclaim the former Byzantine Christian territories in the Eastern Mediterranean, especially Syria and Palestine (the Levant). The First Crusade succeeded in temporarily establishing the Kingdom of Jerusalem and the County of Tripoli as Roman Catholic Christian states along the coast. These crusader states made a lasting impact on the region, though their control was limited, and the region returned to full Muslim control after two centuries following the conquest by the Mamluks.
One of the most lasting effects of the Crusades in this region was the contact between the Franks (i.e. the French) and the Maronites. Unlike most other Christian communities in the Eastern Mediterranean, who swore allegiance to Constantinople or other local patriarchs, the Maronites proclaimed allegiance to the Pope in Rome. As such the Franks saw them as Roman Catholic brethren. These initial contacts led to centuries of support for the Maronites from France and Italy, even after the fall of the Crusader states in the region.
During this period, Lebanon was divided into several provinces: Northern and Southern Mount Lebanon, Tripoli, Baalbek and Beqaa Valley and Jabal Amel. In southern Mount Lebanon in 1590, Fakhr-al-Din II became the successor to Korkmaz. He soon established his authority as paramount prince of the Druze in the Shouf area of Mount Lebanon. Eventually, Fakhr-al-Din II was appointed Sanjakbey (Governor) of several Ottoman sub-provinces, with responsibility for tax-gathering. He extended his control over a substantial part of Mount Lebanon and its coastal area, even building a fort as far inland as Palmyra. This over-reaching eventually became too much for Ottoman Sultan Murad IV, who sent a punitive expedition to capture him in 1633. He was taken to Istanbul, kept in prison for two years and then executed along with one of his sons in April 1635. Surviving members of Fakhr al-Din’s family ruled a reduced area under closer Ottoman control until the end of the 17th century.
On the death of the last Maan emir, various members of the Shihab clan ruled Mount Lebanon until 1830. Approximately 10,000 Christians were killed by the Druzes during inter-communal violence in 1860. Shortly afterwards, the Emirate of Mount Lebanon, which lasted about 400 years, was replaced by the Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate, as a result of a European-Ottoman treaty called the Règlement Organique. The Baalbek and Beqaa Valley and Jabal Amel was ruled intermittently by various Shia feudal families, especially the Al Ali Alsagheer in Jabal Amel that remained in power until 1865 when Ottomans took direct ruling of the region. Youssef Bey Karam, a Lebanese nationalist played an influential role in Lebanon’s independence during this era.
In 1920, following World War I, the area of the Mutasarrifate, plus some surrounding areas which were predominantly Shia and Sunni, became a part of the state of Greater Lebanon under the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon. Around 100,000 people in Beirut and Mount Lebanon died of starvation during World War I. In the first half of 1920, Lebanese territory was claimed as part of the Arab Kingdom of Syria, but shortly the Franco-Syrian War resulted in Arab defeat and capitulation of the Hashemites.
On September 1, 1920, France reestablished Greater Lebanon after the Moutasarrifiya rule removed several regions belonging to the Principality of Lebanon and gave them to Syria. Lebanon was a largely Christian country (mainly Maronite territory with some Greek Orthodox enclaves) but it also included areas containing many Muslims and Druze. On September 1, 1926, France formed the Lebanese Republic. A constitution was adopted on May 25, 1926 establishing a democratic republic with a parliamentary system of government.
Lebanon gained a measure of independence while France was occupied by Germany. General Henri Dentz, the Vichy High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon, played a major role in the independence of the nation. The Vichy authorities in 1941 allowed Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against British forces. The United Kingdom, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebanon.
After the fighting ended in Lebanon, General Charles de Gaulle visited the area. Under political pressure from both inside and outside Lebanon, de Gaulle recognized the independence of Lebanon. On November 26, 1941, General Georges Catroux announced that Lebanon would become independent under the authority of the Free French government. Elections were held in 1943 and on November 8, 1943, the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the mandate. The French reacted by imprisoning the new government. In the face of international pressure, the French released the government officials on November 22. The allies occupied the region until the end of World War II.
Following the end of World War II in Europe, the French mandate may be said to have been terminated without any formal action on the part of the League of Nations or its successor the United Nations. The mandate was ended by the declaration of the mandatory power, and of the new states themselves, of their independence, followed by a process of piecemeal unconditional recognition by other powers, culminating in formal admission to the United Nations. Article 78 of the UN Charter ended the status of tutelage for any member state: “The trusteeship system shall not apply to territories which have become Members of the United Nations, relationship among which shall be based on respect for the principle of sovereign equality.” So when the UN officially came into existence on October 24, 1945, after ratification of the United Nations Charter by the five permanent members, as both Syria and Lebanon were founding member states, the French mandate for both was legally terminated on that date and full independence attained. The last French troops withdrew in December 1946.
Lebanon’s unwritten National Pact of 1943 required that its president be Maronite Christian, its speaker of the parliament to be a Shiite Muslim, its prime minister be Sunni Muslim, and the Deputy Speaker of Parliament and the Deputy Prime Minister be Greek Orthodox.
Lebanon’s history since independence has been marked by alternating periods of political stability and turmoil interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut’s position as a regional center for finance and trade.
In May 1948, Lebanon supported neighburing Arab countries in a war against Israel. While some irregular forces crossed the border and carried out minor skirmishes against Israel, it was without the support of the Lebanese government, and Lebanese troops did not officially invade. Lebanon agreed to support the forces with covering artillery fire, armored cars, volunteers and logistical support. On June 5-6, 1948, the Lebanese army — led by the then Minister of National Defense, Emir Majid Arslan — captured Al-Malkiyya. This was Lebanon’s only success in the war.
One hundred thousand Palestinians fled to Lebanon because of the war. Israel did not permit their return after the cease-fire. Today, more than 400,000 refugees remain in Lebanon, about half in camps.
In 1958, during the last months of President Camille Chamoun’s term, an insurrection broke out, instigated by Lebanese Muslims who wanted to make Lebanon a member of the United Arab Republic. Chamoun requested assistance, and 5,000 United States Marines were briefly dispatched to Beirut on July 15. After the crisis, a new government was formed, led by the popular former general Fuad Chehab.
With the defeat of the PLO in Jordan, many Palestinian militants relocated to Lebanon, increasing their armed campaign against Israel. The relocation of Palestinian bases also led to increasing sectarian tensions between Palestinians versus the Maronites and other Lebanese factions.
In 1975, following increasing sectarian tensions, a full-scale civil war broke out in Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War pitted a coalition of Christian groups against the joint forces of the PLO, left-wing Druze and Muslim militias. In June 1976 Lebanese President Elias Sarkis asked for the Syrian Army to intervene on the side of the Christians and help restore peace. In October 1976 the Arab League agreed to establish a predominantly Syrian Arab Deterrent Force, which was charged with restoring calm.
In 1982, the PLO attacks from Lebanon on Israel led to an Israeli invasion. A multinational force of American, French and Italian contingents (joined in 1983 by a British contingent) were deployed in Beirut after the Israeli siege of the city, to supervise the evacuation of the PLO. It returned in September 1982 after the assassination of Bashir Gemayel and subsequent fighting, during which a number of massacres were committed, such as in Damour, in Sabra and Shatila, and in several refugee camps. The multinational force was withdrawn in the spring of 1984, following a devastating bombing attack during the previous year.
In September 1988, the Parliament failed to elect a successor to President Gemayel as a result of differences between the Christians, Muslims, and Syrians. The Arab League Summit of May 1989 led to the formation of a Saudi-Moroccan-Algerian committee to solve the crisis. On September 16, 1989, the committee issued a peace plan which was accepted by all. A ceasefire was established, the ports and airports were re-opened and refugees began to return.
In the same month, the Lebanese Parliament agreed to the Taif Agreement, which included an outline timetable for Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon and a formula for the de-confessionalization of the Lebanese political system. The war ended at the end of 1990 after sixteen years, resulting in massive loss of human life and property, while devastating the country’s economy. It is estimated that 150,000 people were killed and another 200,000 wounded. Nearly a million civilians were displaced by the war, and some never returned. Parts of Lebanon were left in ruins. The Taif Agreement has still not been implemented in full and Lebanon’s political system continues to be divided along sectarian lines.
The internal political situation in Lebanon significantly changed in the early 2000s. After the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the death of Hafez Al-Assad in 2000, the Syrian military presence faced criticism and resistance from the Lebanese population.
On February 14, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb explosion. Leaders of the March 14 Alliance accused Syria of the attack, while the March 8 Alliance and Syrian officials claimed that the Mossad was behind the assassination. The Hariri assassination marked the beginning of a series of assassinations that resulted in the death of many prominent Lebanese figures.
The assassination triggered the Cedar Revolution, a series of demonstrations which demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the establishment of an international commission to investigate the assassination. Under pressure from the West, Syria began withdrawing, and by April 26, 2005, all Syrian soldiers had returned to Syria.
The UNSC Resolution 1595 called for an investigation into the assassination. The UN International Independent Investigation Commission published its preliminary findings on October 20, 2005, in the Mehlis report, which cited indications that the assassination was organized by Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services.
On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah launched a series of rocket attacks and raids into Israeli territory, where they killed three Israeli soldiers and captured a further two. Israel responded with airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon, and a ground invasion of southern Lebanon, resulting in the 2006 Lebanon War. The conflict was officially ended by the UNSC Resolution 1701 on August 14, 2006, which ordered a ceasefire. Some 1,191 Lebanese and 160 Israelis were killed in the conflict. Beirut’s southern suburb was heavily damaged by Israeli airstrikes.
In 2007, the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp became the center of the 2007 Lebanon conflict between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam. At least 169 soldiers, 287 insurgents and 47 civilians were killed in the battle. Funds for the reconstruction of the area have been slow to materialize.
Between 2006 and 2008, a series of protests led by groups opposed to the pro-Western Prime Minister Fouad Siniora demanded the creation of a national unity government, over which the mostly Shia opposition groups would have veto power. When Émile Lahoud’s presidential term ended in October 2007, the opposition refused to vote for a successor unless a power-sharing deal was reached, leaving Lebanon without a president.
On May 9, 2008, Hezbollah and Amal forces, sparked by a government declaration that Hezbollah’s communications network was illegal, seized western Beirut, leading to the 2008 conflict in Lebanon. The Lebanese government denounced the violence as a coup attempt. At least 62 people died in the resulting clashes between pro-government and opposition militias. On May 21, 2008, the signing of the Doha Agreement ended the fighting. As part of the accord, which ended 18 months of political paralysis, Michel Suleiman became president and a national unity government was established, granting a veto to the opposition. The agreement was a victory for opposition forces, as the government caved in to all their main demands.
In early January 2011, the national unity government collapsed due to growing tensions stemming from the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which was expected to indict Hezbollah members for the Hariri assassination. The parliament elected Najib Mikati, the candidate for the Hezbollah-led March 8 Alliance, Prime Minister of Lebanon, making him responsible for forming a new government. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah insists that Israel was responsible for the assassination of Hariri. A report leaked by the Al-Akhbar newspaper in November 2010 stated that Hezbollah has drafted plans for a takeover of the country in the event that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issues an indictment against its members.
In 2012, the Syrian civil war threatened to spill over in Lebanon, causing more incidents of sectarian violence and armed clashes between Sunnis and Alawites in Tripoli. As of August 6, 2013, more than 677,702 Syrian refugees were in Lebanon. As the number of Syrian refugees increased, the Lebanese Forces Party, the Kataeb Party, and the Free Patriotic Movement feared the country’s sectarian based political system is being undermined.
Scott #115 was issued as part of a set of 21 definitives between 1930 and 1935 (Scott #114-134). The 25-centime yellow brown stamp was printed by lithography. It features Cedrus libani, commonly known as the Cedar of Lebanon, a species of cedar tree native to the mountains of the Eastern Mediterranean basin. It is an evergreen conifer that can reach 40 meters in height. Cedrus libani is the national emblem of Lebanon and is displayed on the flag of Lebanon and the nation’s coat of arms. It is also the logo of Middle East Airlines (MEA), which is Lebanon’s national carrier. Beyond that, it is also the main symbol of Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” of 2005, along with many Lebanese political parties and movements, such as the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces, the National Liberal Party, and the Future Movement. Finally, Lebanon is sometimes metonymically referred to as the Land of the Cedars. The tree is widely used as an ornamental tree in parks and gardens.
When I was about eight years old, we lived near a park in in Wilson County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States, known as Cedars of Lebanon State Park. It consists of 900 acres (364 hectares) situated amidst the 9,420-acre (3,810 ha) Cedars of Lebanon State Forest. The park and forest are approximately 10 miles (16 km) south of Lebanon, Tennessee. The forest is known for its cedar glades, a unique type of ecosystem that has adapted to the thin (or nonexistent) soil layers that often occur in the eastern Central Basin. These glades are typically flanked by thick stands of red cedar, a type of juniper tree that can survive in soil layers too thin to support most large wooded plants. The presence of the red cedar in the basin reminded the region’s early Euro-American settlers of the Lebanese cedar forests of Biblical fame.
The earliest Euro-American settlers arrived in Wilson County in the late 1790s. The city of Lebanon, established in 1802, was named after the abundance of red cedar in the area. The settlers believed (mistakenly) that the red cedar stands were similar to the cedar forests of ancient Lebanon, which were harvested by Phoenician city-states and used in the construction of the Temple of Solomon. The first Wilson County courthouse and many other early structures in the county were constructed using red cedar logs.
For much of the 19th century, the barren glades were largely devoid of human habitation, with the exception of a few small farms. In an 1879 essay on the history of Wilson County, James Drake described the various soil types in the county, which included a “dark soil, peculiar to the cedar flats, the least desirable of any we have, and subject to drought, being usually near the rock.” The town of Gladeville was established in 1852 just west of the modern state forest boundaries and grew into a sizeable hamlet until the outbreak of the American Civil War.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the high demand for lumber led to the harvesting of most of the forests in the Central Basin. Red cedar in particular was popular for use in the making of furniture, fence rails, and pencils. In the cedar flats of Wilson County, small farmers were struggling with depletion of the already-thin soil layer caused by poor farming tactics. In 1935, as part of the New Deal, the federal government initiated a plan to resettle farmers living in badly eroded lands to allow the devastated forests to recover. As part of the Lebanon Cedar Forest Project, the federal Resettlement Administration helped move the farmers in the cedar flats to new locations, and the Works Project Administration constructed forestry and recreational facilities and planted thousands of red cedar seedlings. The work was supervised by the United States Forestry Service. “Lebanon Cedar Forest” officially opened in 1937, with local newspaper editor Dixon Merritt presiding over the opening ceremony. Although the land was managed by the Tennessee Department of Conservation, the federal government retained ownership until 1955.
Botanists began noting the ecological importance of the cedar glades as early as 1901, when German-born doctor Augustin Gattinger mentioned the glades in his book The Flora of Tennessee and the Philosophy of Botany. Research conducted by Elsie Quarterman of Vanderbilt University led to the forest’s designation as a national natural landmark in 1973. In 1995, Cedar Lodge and several other structures built by the WPA in the 1930s and 1940s were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.