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Beirut

BEIRUT

the capital of lebanon.

Beirut, on the coast of the Mediterranean, is Lebanon's center of government and finance. It has been part of various empires through history, and its archaeological treasures attest to the multiplicity of its historic occupiers and rulers. The city has undergone substantial changes in its appearance, as devastating earthquakes have hit the city several times in the last two millennia. There are no reliable demographic statistics on the current inhabitants of Beirut. The city has over 1 million inhabitants, and Greater Beirut has around 1.5 million. The city has existed since the time of the Canaanites. The origin of its name is unknown, although it is often said to be Ba'l Brit, one of the deities of the Canaan-ites. A variation of the name in Hebrew, Syriac, and Phoenician means "a well," referring to its rich water sources. The city's name was given to a vilayet during the Ottoman Empire and was in a jurisdiction separate from Mount Lebanon.

The association of Beirut and Lebanon is a twentieth-century phenomenon. When the French formed Greater Lebanon in 1920, Beirut, along with other districts, was joined with the area of Mount Lebanon to compose a new political entity. Beirut was added for economic reasons: Mount Lebanon needed access to the sea, and the port of Beirut had had a crucial economic regional role since the nineteenth century. The people of Beirut at the time had a different demographic composition than Mount Lebanon, which was predominantly Druze and Maronite (Christian).

Beirut gradually grew in size and political significance. The centers of administration and government were located there, as were educational institutions such as the American University of Beirut and the Jesuit Saint Joseph University, both of which were founded in the nineteenth century. The centrality of Beirut increasingly marginalized other regions, including Mount Lebanon. This led to massive waves of migration into the city by people seeking education and jobs. This population movement changed the demographics of the city, which had been mainly Sunni and non-Maronite Christian: Maronites were increasingly present in the city, and Shiʿa began settling in large numbers as early as the 1950s.

Beirut was enlarged in the 1950s and 1960s as a result of the inflow of former rural residents who could not afford to live within the city boundaries. The "suburbs" of Beirut (as they came to be called) grew to include more than half a million migrants. Hundreds of thousands of Shiʿa fleeing southern Lebanon, the center of the confrontation between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel, resided in East Beirut and South Beirut, in what was later called the "poverty belt." Factories in East Beirut attracted Lebanese looking for work. During the period of prosperity and glamour before the Lebanese Civil War of 1958, Beirut was actually two cities: the old Beirut, where the rich and the middle class lived and prospered, and the old suq (market) attracted shoppers from around the region; and the suburbs, where poor Lebanese (mostly Shiʿa, Armenians, Palestinians, and poor Christians) lived. The poor Lebanese came into contact with Palestinians in refugee camps in and around the city. This contact revolutionized the political situation in Lebanon for much of the 1960s and 1970s. The presence of a large student population in the capital helped the efforts of the PLO and its Lebanese allies who wanted to draw attention to the plight of the South and the poor in general.


The primacy of Beirut was shattered by the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990. The city that had symbolized prosperity and ostentation came to symbolize bloodshed and cruelty. The war began in Beirut, in the Maronite suburb of Ayn al-Rummana, where a bus carrying Palestinians was ambushed in April 1975 by gunmen belonging to the Phalange Party. The war sharpened sectarian divisions in the capital and produced the Green Line, a street that separated East Beirut (predominantly Christian) from West Beirut (predominantly Muslim, although it continued to house a substantial Christian population). The length of the war brought some degree of "sectarian purity" to the two sections, although Lebanese belonging to the "wrong sect" continued to liveat their perilin their customary dwelling places. Attempts at "sectarian cleansing" were relatively successful in East Beirut, when forces loyal to the Phalange Party evicted hundreds of thousands of Shiʿa and Palestinians from their homes. Refugee camps located in East Beirut were razed and demolished. There was no eviction of Christians from West Beirut, although some voluntarily left due to hightened sectarian tensions and the rise of Islamic fundamentalist parties in the 1980s.

In the course of the civil war, the downtown area (where the parliament and the financial district were located) was completely destroyed. Looting of shops in 1975 and 1976 forced businesses to relocate into sectarian enclaves. Local militiamen controlled the downtown area through much of the war. Although those Lebanese who could afford to emigrate did so, the city did not suffer from underpopulation because many were still coming to the capital seeking jobs and education: The instability of southern Lebanon continued to send waves of migrants into the southern suburbs of Beirut.


The end of the civil war was supposed to bring an end to the division of Beirut. Reference to the Green Line is now politically unacceptable. The government of Rafiq al-Hariri has emphasized and showcased its reconstructed downtown Beirut, although critics complain about the purely commercial nature of the enterprise. Concerned economists warn that the reconstruction plans have only reinforced the service-sector bias of the prewar economy, which, according to critics, was responsible for the social injustices that were manifested in the civil war. War damage was repaired with great success, and new residential and office buildings have have been constructed, although only the rich can afford to occupy them: Residential apartments can sell for $1 million. The newly completed downtown area of Beirut attracts tourists and visitors from around the region, and some from Europe. The reconstruction plans undertaken by the government of Hariri have been largely responsible for the ballooning of the foreign debt of Lebanon, now exceeding $30 billion. Most of the downtown enterprises are restaurants and cafes; the office buildings have not yet been occupied.

see also american university of beirut (aub); green line; hariri, rafiq bahaʾuddin al-; lebanese civil war (1958); lebanese civil war (19751990); lebanon; lebanon, mount; palestine liberation organization (plo); pha-lange.


Bibliography

Fisk, Robert. Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press/Nation Books, 2002.

Friedman, Robert. From Beirut to Jerusalem. London: Collins, 1990.

Gavin, Angus, and Maluf, Ramaz. Beirut Reborn: The Restoration and Development of the Central Districts. London: Academy Editions, 1996.

Makdisi, Jean Said. Beirut Fragments: A War Memoir. New York: Persea Books, 1990.


As'ad AbuKhalil

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"Beirut." Encyclopedia of the Modern Middle East and North Africa. . Encyclopedia.com. 29 May. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Beirut

Beirut (bārōōt´), Arab. Bayrut, Fr. Beyrouth, city (1996 est. pop. 1,200,000), W Lebanon, capital of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean Sea, at the foot of the Lebanon Mts. Beirut is an important port and financial center with food processing industries. Tourism is also significant. The American Univ. of Beirut (1866) and Lebanese Univ. (1951) are located in the city.

Beirut was originally a Phoenician city and in ancient times was called Berytus. After 1500 BC it became known as a trade center. Beirut was prominent under the Seleucids but became more important under the Romans, when it was not only a commercial town—with a large trade in wine and linens—but also a colony with some territory. In the 3d cent. AD, Beirut had a famous school of Roman law. The city declined after an earthquake in 551. Beirut was captured by the Arabs in 635. The Crusaders under Baldwin I took the city in 1110, and it was part of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem until 1291, despite a siege by Saladin and the Egyptians in 1182. After 1517 the Druze controlled the city under the Ottoman Empire.

In the 19th cent. Beirut was one of the centers of the revolt of Muhammad Ali of Egypt against the Ottoman Turks. Ibrahim Pasha took it for the Egyptians (1830), but in 1840 the French and British bombarded and captured the city, reestablishing Ottoman rule. It was taken (1918) by French troops in World War I. Beirut became the capital of Lebanon in 1920 under the French mandate. The French rapidly developed the city, despite the domestic tensions that arose between the Muslim and Christian populations.

After World War II and the creation of Israel in 1948, thousands of Palestinian refugees entered Lebanon, many settling in Beirut. Violence erupted in 1958, and fierce fighting began again in 1975 and 1976 when the civil war broke out. Beirut was divided into territories run by many separate, religious-based militias. West Beirut was devastated in 1982 by Israeli forces fighting Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) units based there. A multinational peacekeeping force was established after some 1,000 Palestinians were massacred by Israel's Lebanese Christian allies. In Apr., 1983, a terrorist bombing partially destroyed the U.S. embassy in Beirut, killing 50 people. In October, 260 U.S. Marines and 60 French soldiers were killed in Beirut when a truck filled with explosives was driven into their military compound. U.S. and French forces were withdrawn in 1984. Throughout the 1980s the city was a base for a number of militant extremist groups.

In 1990 Christian and Muslim militias withdrew, ending the division of Beirut and returning it to the control of the national government. However, Beirut's economy and infrastructure had been destroyed by the years of fighting. In the early 1990s Lebanese billionaire Rafiq Hariri, who became Lebanon's prime minister, launched a multibillion dollar effort, through the company Solidere, to rebuild central Beirut as a symbol of the nation's postwar aspirations. Although there has been much rebuilding, Beirut has not fully recovered its prewar prosperity.

See L. Fawaz, Merchants and Migrants in Nineteenth Century Beirut (1983); F. Debbas, Beirut, Our Memory (1986); F. Ajami, Beirut: City of Regrets (1988).

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Beirut

Beirut (Bayrut) Capital and chief port of Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast at the foot of the Lebanon Mountains. The city was taken by the Arabs in ad 635. In 1110 it was captured by Christian crusaders, and it remained part of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem until 1291. In 1516, under Druse control, Beirut became part of the Ottoman Empire. During the 19th century, it was the centre of Muhammad Ali's revolt against the Ottoman Empire. In 1830 Beirut was captured by Egyptians, but in 1840 British and French forces restored Ottoman control. In 1920 it became capital of Lebanon under French mandate. With the creation of Israel, thousands of Arabs sought refuge in Beirut. During the 1950s and 1960s, Beirut was a popular tourist destination. In 1976, civil war broke out and Beirut rapidly fractured along religious lines. In 1982, Israel devastated West Beirut in the war against the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Three years later, Israel began a phased withdrawal. In 1987, Syrian troops entered Beirut as part of an Arab peacekeeping force. In 1990, Syrian troops dismantled the ‘Green Line’ separating Muslim West from Christian East Beirut, and reopened the Beirut-Damascus highway. By 1991, all militias withdrew from the city and restoration work began. The infrastructure, economy, and culture of Beirut suffered terribly during the civil war and only small-scale industries remain. Pop. (2002 est.) 1,147,800.

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Beirut

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