POPULATION: 3,971,941 (2008 estimate)
LANGUAGE: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
RELIGION: Muslim 59.7%, Christian 39%, other 1.3%
Lebanon is a small country on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout its history, Lebanon has been the stage for conflicts between city-states, world powers, and local tribespeople. Located in what is known as the Fertile Crescent (a curved band of green, fertile lands along the eastern Mediterranean coast, bordered by the Arabian and African deserts) and at the juncture of three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—Lebanon is a valuable and highly desired territory.
Historically, Lebanon has been known as the home of the Phoenicians. The Phoenicians were Semitic traders whose maritime culture flourished in the Fertile Crescent for more than 2,000 years (c.2700-450 bc). Lebanon's mountains also served as a refuge for Christians during the early years of Christianity. During the Crusades, Christian warriors established strongholds in the mountains. One area, known as Mount Lebanon, continued to be a Maronite Christian enclave within the Ottoman Empire, which ruled much of the Middle East from the 16th century until the end of World War I.
After World War I, Britain and France divided the Middle East between them. Mount Lebanon and several surrounding areas became known as Greater Lebanon and was organized as a French protectorate. The rest of the Fertile Crescent became known as Syria and fell under British control. Although Lebanon became a republic in 1926, French troops remained in the country until 1946. At the time, Christians made up a slight majority of the population, but other religious groups also had a strong presence. In an effort to make sure that all of the major religious groups had representation, a power-sharing arrangement was established for the Lebanese government. The president was to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the president of parliament a Shia Muslim. All religious groups were to receive representation in the National Assembly according to their numbers. In many ways, this power-sharing arrangement created the tensions that culminated in the long and brutal civil war that Lebanon endured from 1975 to 1990.
Tensions between religious groups began in 1932 when Christians refused to acknowledge the results of a census that showed Christians holding a majority but significant numbers of Muslim Lebanese. Then, Palestinians who were pushed out of present-day Israel with the formation of the Jewish state in 1948 began settling in Lebanon. By 1967, more than 500,000 Palestinians lived in the country. Many Muslim and Christian Lebanese protested the arrival of Palestinians and accused Israel of trying to displace the native Lebanese populations with Palestinians who had long lived in Israel.
Civil war erupted in 1975, and Syrian troops entered Lebanon in 1976, largely to protect Christian interests. A cease-fire that year maintained partial peace until 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied the area south of Beirut. During a siege of Beirut, a multinational peacekeeping force (MNF) evacuated members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from the city. The MNF remained in Lebanon until 1984. Then, civil war broke out again, and continued until 1990. Elections were put on hold, although a Maronite leader, Michel Aoun, took control of the government in 1988 and dissolved the parliament. Muslim groups aligned against Aoun, defeated his troops in 1990, and forced him into exile in Paris, where he remained until 2005.
Aoun's departure from Lebanon allowed for a peace treaty to be signed. The Taif Accord reorganized Lebanon's goverment so that representation in the parliament was divided equally between Christians and Muslims. It also left intact the dictate that the president of Lebanon be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of parliament a Shi'ah Muslim. Fighting ceased in 1990. At that point, it was estimated that 100,000 Lebanese had been killed, 100,000 were permanently maimed, and nearly 1 million had been forced to leave their homes to settle abroad.
Efforts to rebuild Lebanon's economy and restore political stability to the country have preoccupied the country through the 1990s and the early years of the 21st century. Syria formally withdrew its troops in 2005 and Israel pulled out in 2006. Lebanon, however, remains vulnerable to attack from both countries, as of 2008. It also has been a target of violence by militant groups fighting for Palestinian rights.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
Lebanon is a tiny country, with an area of only a little more than 10,400 sq km (4,000 sq mi)—about the size of the state of Connecticut. It lies on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea, north of Israel, south of Turkey, south and west of Syria, and southeast of Cyprus. Although it is only about 200 km (124 mi) from north to south and averages only 50 km (30 mi) east to west, Lebanon has two mountain ranges (Mount Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon), a coastal strip, an inland plain, dozens of rivers (the two major ones being the al-Assi and the al-Litani), and four lakes. Lebanon was famous in previous times for its cedars, but due to centuries of cutting and herds of goats eating the seedlings, less than 5% of its land contains the trees. Those that remain are now protected.
The rainy season lasts from mid-November through March, with very heavy rains at times causing flooding due to poor drainage. Summers on the coast are hot and humid; the mountains are somewhat cooler and breezier. Plant and animal life is quite varied because of the diverse terrain. Because Lebanon is located at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and Africa, it is home to species from all three zones. The most important cultivated crops are citrus fruits, apples, grapes, potatoes, sugar cane, tomatoes, wheat, vegetables, tobacco, oats, and olives. The biggest cash crop in the Beqa'a valley is hashish, which is illegal.
The human population of Lebanon is as varied as its terrain. So many different peoples have lived in and traveled through the land of Lebanon over its turbulent history that the current population contains quite a mix of cultures. In 2008, the population of Lebanon was just under 4 million. Most Lebanese (95%) are Arab, and about 58% of the population consists of Muslims of various sects. The rest are Christian, also of various sects. The vast majority (85%) of Lebanese are urban dwellers, with about one-third of the population living in the Beirut area. Beirut has a population of approximately 1.5 million. The three next largest cities are Tripoli (population 210,000), Zahle (60,000), and Sidon (50,000). The Bekaa Valley still contains many rural villages.
The first language spoken in the area that is now Lebanon was Canaanite. Since then, the common languages have been, in succession, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Arabic, and French during the French mandate years. Upon independence, Arabic became the official language, but many Lebanese also speak English, and some still consider French to be the more "sophisticated" language. Armenians who live in Lebanon speak Arabic as well as Armenian and Turkish. It is not uncommon for Lebanese to speak three or more languages fluently.
"Hello" in Arabic is "marhaba" or "ahlan," to which one replies, "marhabtayn" or "ahlayn." Other common greetings are "As-salam alaykum" ("Peace be with you"), with the reply of "Walaykum as-salam" ("and to you peace"). "Ma'assalama" means "Goodbye." "Thank you" is "Shukran," and "You're welcome" is "Afwan." "Yes" is "na'am" and "no" is "la'a." The numbers one to ten in Arabic are: wahad, itnin, talata, arba'a, khamsa, sitta, saba'a, tamania, tisa'a, and ashara.
One of the most popular characters in Arab folklore is Jeha the Fool, who figures in many stories, from teaching tales to purely humorous anecdotes. Also popular are the real-life lovers, Ablah and Antar. Antar was a 6th century Arab who was born a slave but became a heroic warrior. He was also a poet (poetry is considered the highest art in Arab culture). Antar fell in love with Ablah, the daughter of the chief, and she fell in love with him; but, of course, a slave could not marry the chief's daughter. Eventually, after many tragic and star-crossed struggles, Antar was given his freedom, and he and Ablah married.
Other Lebanese folktales that Westerners usually do not associate with Lebanon are the story of the Greek hero Adonis and the Christian legend of Saint George and the Dragon. In Greek mythology, Adonis was a handsome young man loved by Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. Adonis was later killed by a wild boar. The story of Adonis takes place at Byblos, in Lebanon. Also Saint George, who later became the patron saint of England, lived in Lebanon and fought the famous sea-dragon at the mouth of a river near Beirut. Most likely, the Christian Crusaders brought Saint George's tale back with them to the West.
The Lebanese are very fond of proverbs and can quote one for almost any situation. Proverbs usually teach a lesson or give a nugget of wisdom in just a few words, such as, "Better blind eyes than a closed mind," and "The one who took the donkey up to the roof should be the one who brings it down."
The original inhabitants of the land now called Lebanon were worshipers of the fertility goddess known as Asherah, Astarte, or Anat. Christianity arrived during the Byzantine Roman era (ad 4–636), and its followers in Lebanon have since become divided into a variety of sects including Maronite, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant. The Islamic revolution of the 7th century ad took hold in the land of Lebanon as in other Arab countries. Muslims are now divided into Sunnis, several types of Shi'ites (including Ismaeli), and Sufis (Muslim mystics). Other religious sects in Lebanon include the Alawis and Druze, as well as the Baha'is. A total of 17 religious sects are recognized in Lebanon today.
The Lebanese government practices a system called "confessionalism" in which it keeps a record of every citizen's religious affiliation. A person may belong to any religion, but each person must belong to one. No Lebanese can be religiously unaffiliated. As of 2008, about six out of 10 Lebanese were Muslim, and about three out of 10 were Christian. Because seats in the government are based on religious representation, the number of followers each faith commands is of significance. When the 1932 census was taken, Christians were in the majority, so they were given greater representation (and, therefore, authority) in the government. Now that it is becoming apparent that Muslims are the majority, they are demanding more representation. In 1995, Lebanon conducted its first census in more than 20 years.
The Lebanese love a good party, so they all celebrate all of the holy days—both Christian (including Greek Orthodox who have different dates for the festivals than other Christians) and Muslim—plus a couple of secular public holidays. Islam uses a lunar calendar, so Muslim holidays occur on a different date of the Gregorian calendar each year. The major Muslim holidays are Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim year, during which Muhammad received his first revelations, celebrated by complete fasting from dawn until dusk each day of the entire month; Ayd Al-Fitr, the end of Ramadan, a three-day festival; Ayd Al-Adha, a feast at the end of the Hadj (the pilgrimage month to Mecca); the First of Muharram, the Muslim New Year; Ashura, a Shi'ite commemoration and day of mourning; and the prophet Muhammad's birthday.
The Christian holiday of Easter is also movable. Being calculated on a lunar basis, it always occurs sometime during March or early April. Two Easters are celebrated in Lebanon: the Greek Orthodox date and the date for the rest of the Christian population. Other Christian holidays are: New Year's Day (January 1); St. Maroun's Day (the patron saint of Maronite Christians, February 9); the Day of the Ascension (May 15); the Feast of the Assumption (August 15); and Christmas and Boxing Day (December 25 and 26). Three secular public holidays in Lebanon are: Labor Day (May 1); Martyr's Day, which honors patriots killed by the Turks during World War I (May 6); and Independence Day (November 22).
The Christian New Year's Day (January 1) is celebrated in Beirut by shooting tracer bullets out over the Mediterranean Sea. Since tracer bullets are multicolored, they look like fireworks but are much louder. It is also customary to go "strolling" along the coast road in one's car after midnight on New Year's. Such "strolling" is a Lebanese tradition for almost any festival.
Both Muslim and Christian children play a game with colored (hard-boiled) eggs at Easter time. One child taps the tip of his or her egg against the tip of another child's egg. One shell will crack; the other will not. The child whose egg stays intact while cracking everyone else's eggs wins the game. The children then eat their eggs. On Lebanese television, films that re-enact the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus are played throughout Easter weekend, interspersed with live coverage (by satellite) of the Pope's festivities in Rome.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Most Lebanese mark major life events, such as birth, marriage, and death, within the Islamic or Christian religious traditions. Regardless of religion, Lebanese parents celebrate the birth of a child by cooking meghli (a spiced rice pudding, topped with nuts and coconut). The family serves the sweet dish to visitors who come to the household to congratulate the family. At birth, it is common to bring gifts of clothing and gold for the new baby. Boys born to Muslim and Druze families are circumcised at the hospital just after the birth. Christian babies are dressed in white and baptized. A major event for a Christian child (usually before age nine) is First Communion.
Lebanese in cities typically date, but families in rural areas continue to arrange marriages. Lebanese men place a great deal of importance on being financially independent and often wait until their late twenties or early thirties to marry. Women, however, marry in their early twenties. Christian weddings generally take place in churches and Muslims are wed before a cleric and two witnesses. Lebanese of all faiths celebrate weddings with a first dance between the bride and groom, a belly dancing performance, and a dinner buffet. The bride and groom, however, cut the wedding cake and have a toast before the meal.
Funeral rituals for the deceased vary by religion. Muslims typically bury the deceased before sunset on the day that the person has died. Christians often wait several days. Followers of both religions set aside the fortieth day after the death for prayer and an offering of condolences to the family of the deceased.
Most Lebanese people are very hospitable, generous, and polite, although Arab politeness sometimes means saying what one thinks the other person wants to hear. Most Lebanese will greet each other with handshakes and will inquire about a person's family and health. Formal titles, such as "Dr." or "professor" are used when appropriate.
The Lebanese lifestyle is relaxed, but by no means lazy. The Lebanese are typically entrepreneurs; men and women have a "get ahead" attitude and lots of ambition to go with it. Opinions are strongly held and fiercely defended with vigorous gestures in heated discussions. At the market, the same vigor is used to haggle prices, something the average Lebanese is quite good at. The same attitude prevails on the road, where there are few (if any) traffic signals or stop signs, and drivers simply "get ahead" as they need to. Fortunately, the Lebanese do not generally drive at high speeds, so few accidents occur. Pedestrians also cross the road whenever and wherever they choose, leaving it to drivers to stop for them.
Traditional Arab hospitality reigns in Lebanon, where hosts provide feasts for their guests and then smoke the nargile after dinner. The nargile is a pipe in which Persian tobacco called tumbak is filtered through water before being inhaled, like a hookah or "hubble-bubble" pipe. Smoking from a nargile varies as a fad, but smoking in general remains a strong constant. Visits are not planned in advance but rather happen spontaneously, usually between the hours of 4:00 and 8:00 pm. An Arab will never ask personal questions, as that is considered rude. However, exactly what is considered personal in Lebanese culture varies somewhat from in Western culture. For example, asking how much rent someone pays is not normally considered a personal question but asking about a marital dispute is. A person is expected to say what he or she wishes without being asked. Lebanese are very affectionate with friends and family, touching each other often, holding hands, and men even kiss each other on the cheeks.
Lebanon has been rebuilding its economic infrastructure by borrowing heavily from banks. The rebuilding effort has drawn many Lebanese to cities such as Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon, where educational and employment opportunities abound. Most of those who live in cities reside in apartments in concrete buildings. Free standing houses are rare. Electricity remains unreliable, and water often is scarce. Many families have access to water for only a few hours per day, so they pump enough for their daily needs into rooftop storage tanks. Although most Lebanese have migrated to cities, the people remain proud of their village heritage. Some families still own a dwelling in their ancestral village and will use it for vacationing and other activities. Rural homes generally are much larger than the urban apartments, with rooms for hosting guests, living areas, and bedrooms.
Even though Lebanon is covered by an extensive system of roadways, most of which are in fair condition, traffic is highly congested in major cities and along popular travel routes (such as the coast road or roads heading to mountain resorts on weekends). Buses and taxis are the primary means of public transport. Lebanon's rail system became unusable during the war and still has not been rebuilt.
Health care in Lebanon is modern and fairly accessible. Although public facilities exist, those who can afford to pay for higher quality care in private clinics generally do so. Malaria is prevalent but native Lebanese have generally built up a resistance to it, so it is not a serious problem for them; only visitors have difficulty with it. In addition, water shortages often mean that not all water is drinkable. As a result, most families have two water systems. One contains water that has been chlorinated and is safe to drink, and the other contains untreated water. The average life expectancy for Lebanese men is 71 years, which has increased from 65 years in the mid-1990s; for Lebanese women, the average life expectancy is 76 years, compared with 70 years in the mid-1990s.
Strong family ties are the rule in Lebanon. Most businesses are family-owned and run, and the revenue sent back by family members working abroad has kept the Lebanese economy afloat during the difficult war years. That revenue reached $5.5 billion in 2007 and has increased steadily each year, according to the World Bank. City dwellers in Lebanon have a fairly Western lifestyle, although with a very high cost of living. Most city families are small, averaging two children each. Children are cherished in Arab families and are treated well. Most children live with their parents until they get married, and it is not unusual for more than one generation to live in the same household. Cousins are considered to be as close as brothers and sisters, and children grow up understanding that if they do not show respect for their elders, they will be disciplined.
Mothers play an important role in caring for home and family. Although many women work outside of the home, that work often is done out of necessity rather than choice. Lebanon also contains many class distinctions, which limit opportunities for advancement to the wealthier. In the past, Maronite Christians were the most privileged class, but other Christian and Muslim groups have gained more economic power and social status in recent years.
Rural families generally live on small family farms and have many more children—usually between 10 and 15—to provide help with the farm work. Farmhouses are made of stone or concrete with tile floors, have only a few necessary pieces of furniture and use a small wood-burning or kerosene stove for heat in the winter. Most rural houses have running water. The social center of rural life is the foorn, the village bakery where the women bake their loaves of bread. Women on the farms have a very busy life; they do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry (in old-fashioned washtubs, with no electric dryers), plus they work in the fields when needed. Men work in the fields.
Western-style fashions are popular in Lebanon's cities. Urban women are very fashion-conscious and want to wear the latest styles from the West. More traditional clothes are still worn in some villages. Women wear long dresses for and men wear black pants and jackets. Men's pants are full and baggy from the waist to the knee and tightly fitted from the knee to the ankle. Their jackets have fancy, brightly colored, embroidered trim. Traditionally, Lebanese men wore a short, rounded, cone-shaped brown felt hat, which some older rural men continue to wear. Most modern Lebanese men, however, have traded it in for a keffiya, the common Arab headscarf.
Lunch is the big meal in Lebanon, and almost everything is eaten with bread. Two types of unleavened Lebanese bread are khub, which resembles pita bread, and marqouq, which is paper thin. Lebanese do not eat fish and dairy in the same meal, and restaurants do not serve sweets. The usual dessert in a Lebanese restaurant is fawakeh, a huge bowl of whatever fresh fruit is in season. Mezze are widespread in the Middle East, including Lebanon; the closest Western equivalent is appetizers, though this hardly does them justice. Often a whole meal is made of mezze, which really just means any food served in small portions. Dinners are not served in set courses as in the West, but rather are put out all at once on the table for people to pick and choose from as they wish. Kibbeh (or kibbe) is the "national dish" of Lebanon—a concoction made of either lamb or beef and cracked wheat (bulghur, or birghol), of which there are as many variations as there are Lebanese cooks.
Lebanese pantries generally stock allspice, anise, Arabic coffee, cracked wheat, chickpeas, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, various dried beans, grape leaves (which are served stuffed with various things, such as rice or meat), laban (homemade yogurt), lentils, mint, nutmeg, olive oil, orange blossom water, oregano, parsley, pine nuts, pistachios, ghee (clarified butter), rice, rose water, sesame seeds, and tahini (sesame paste). These are the most common ingredients in Lebanese cooking.
Wine has been made in Lebanon for thousands of years. A unique Lebanese alcoholic creation is arak, a colorless, 100%-alcohol beverage flavored with anise. (Anise seed is used quite a bit in Lebanese cooking; it has a licorice-like flavor.) Arak turns white when diluted with water, which is how it is served; the Lebanese call it "lion's milk." The other popular beverages are coffee served very thick, tea with lots of sugar and no milk, and local spring water from the mountains, which the Lebanese drink from special spouted decanters (pouring it into their mouths from a short distance away—a skill which must be developed).
Lebanon's educational system is still undergoing reconstruction following the civil war. Education is highly valued in Lebanon, so parents send their children to private schools when they can afford to do so. Schools usually teach a combination of Lebanese, French, and U.S. curricula, and all children are required to attend at least eight years of school. Lebanon's literacy rate was 87.4% in 2003, a significant improvement from 75% in the mid-1990s. Children are strongly encouraged to prepare for college, and Lebanon has six major universities and several technical institutions.
Lebanon was known as a center for Arabic culture before the civil war. The country is slowly regaining that reputation. Each year, international artists gather at the Baalbek International Festival (popularized by the Lebanese superstar Fairuz), at the ruins of Roman temples in the Bekaa Valley.
Lebanon also has long been known for its high-quality book publishing, and a flourishing film industry produces high-quality films. There is some serious dramatic theater, but most of the energy in the last two to three decades has gone into a folk art and music and dance revival that began in the late 1960s. The national folk dance of Lebanon is the debki, a line dance in which people hold hands and step and stamp to the beat of a small drum called a derbekki. Classical belly dancing also plays an important role at weddings, and instrumental music is experiencing a revival. Lebanese craftsmen also are known for their glassmaking, weaving, pottery, embroidery, and brass and copper work. Many authors write in French, English, and Arabic, and celebrate a coming together of cultures through a form of poetry known as zajal, in which several poets sing in an improvised dialogue.
Lebanon traditionally has had a higher proportion of skilled labor than other Arab countries, but the civil war caused many of those skilled workers to seek better opportunities abroad. Those who have remained in the country often have difficulty finding work that is equal to their skills. The Lebanese economy relies on services, but agriculture and industry are important contributors, as well.
Many educated Lebanese do not take their government seriously. Government workers, as a result, tend to keep erratic hours. Remittances from Lebanese abroad contribute substantially to the economy, but the country's long-term progress depends on whether it is able to attain long-term political stability. Post-war rebuilding also has widened the economic divide between Lebanon's rich and poor. A strong middle class has yet to emerge.
Sports are taken very seriously by the Lebanese. The war made it difficult to pursue organized or professional sports in recent years, but soccer, basketball, and volleyball are popular. Horseback riding was popular before the war closed the clubs, and horse-racing still occurs in the Beirut hippodrome. Cross-country running, particularly in the mountains, and the martial arts are widely practiced. Skiing, rock-climbing, and caving are also enjoyed in the mountains. Many Lebanese go swimming and fishing in the lakes, rivers, or visit beaches along the Mediterranean coast.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Lebanon has numerous television stations, and television is a more common media source than newspapers. Some of the television stations devote their time completely to Christian programming, while others emphasize Muslim programming or offer a mix. Lebanese cinemas tend to show violent and/or sexy American and European films, although Lebanon itself also has a vital filmmaking industry. Dramatic theater, particularly comedies that poke fun at government leaders and Lebanese society is popular, as are nightclubs and pubs. At home, besides watching television, Lebanese enjoy playing board games (especially Monopoly), chess, checkers, card games, and backgammon, which is called tawleh (translating literally as "table"). The national pastime in Lebanon, however, is talking.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Traditional Lebanese crafts include basketry, carpet-weaving, ceramics and pottery, copper and metalworking, embroidery, glass-blowing, and gold- and silver-smithing. Lebanon is also known for its finely crafted church bells. Wine-making can also be considered an art, dating back for thousands of years in Lebanon.
Lebanon's civil war caused widespread destruction and a huge social upheaval. It will take several decades for the country to recover from its effects. At least 120,000 people were killed and 300,000 wounded in the fighting, most of them civilians. Another 800,000 or so left the country, mostly the wealthy and well-educated. As many as 1,200,000 Lebanese—almost half the population—had to move from their homes and neighborhoods during the war. Those who remain face a future of high unemployment and a widening gap between the very rich and the poor.
Unrest in the Middle East continues to leave Lebanon vulnerable to attack, even with the end of the civil war. A 2006 eruption of violence between Israeli troops and Hizbullah militants in Lebanon offers ample evidence of the outside threats that face Lebanon. Although most Lebanese Christians and Muslims maintain cordial relations with each other, some hostility from the war still lingers. Each religion maintains a separate court system under Lebanese law to handle matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance, and marriage between persons of different religions is strictly forbidden.
Lebanon also faces the question of how to handle Palestinian refugees who fled Israel in 1967. Several hundred thousand refugees still reside in decaying and overcrowded camps in Lebanon, and many of them have lived without adequate healthcare, education, housing, or opportunities for employment for their entire lives. The Lebanese government restricts Palestinians from seeking economic and social aid. In addition to the long-time Palestinian refugee community, Lebanon now faces growing numbers of Iraqis fleeing their war-torn country.
Lebanese laws and court systems do little to help women. As a result, women face widespread discrimination in both public and private life. Lebanese laws allow for each religion to have a separate court system to handle matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Frequently, the religious customs fail to protect women from domestic violence. The human rights organization Amnesty International reported in its 2008 Human Rights Watch report that female domestic workers who had migrated from other countries also face violence in Lebanese households. At least six female migrant workers died in 2007 under suspicious circumstances, according to Amnesty International.
Amnesty International. Amnesty International Report 2008: State of the World's Human Rights. http://thereport.amnesty.org/eng/Homepage (October 26, 2008).
Aziz, Barbara Nimri. "Life Links Arab Muslims and Christians." In National Catholic Reporter 31, no. 31 (2 June 1995): 14.
Keen, Lynda. Guide to Lebanon. Old Saybrook, CT: The Globe Pequot Press, 1995.
Lebanon. CultureGrams: World Edition. Ann Arbor, Mich.: ProQuest LLC, 2008.
"Lebanon's remittance inflow reaches $5.5 billion in 2007," The Daily Star, August 22, 2008, http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=3&article_id=95259 (October 26, 2008).
Marston, Elsa. Lebanon: New Light in an Ancient Land. New York: Dillon Press, 1994.
St. Elias Church Ladies Guild. Cuisine of the Fertile Crescent. Leawood, KS: Circulation Service, 1993.
—revised by H. Gupta-Carlson
POPULATION: 3.1 million
LANGUAGE: Arabic (official); English; French
RELIGION: Islam; Christianity; Druze; Alawi; Baha'i
1 • INTRODUCTION
Lebanon is a small, war-torn country on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Located on fertile territory at the crossroads of three continents—Africa, Asia, and Europe—it is a valuable and highly desired territory. Throughout its history, it has been the stage for conflicts between local tribes-people and world powers. After being ruled by the Ottoman Empire and by the French, Lebanon gained full independence in 1943.
The presence of Palestinian refugees and guerrilla bases, and tensions between Christians and Muslims, have led to continuing political instability and warfare in recent decades. However, the Lebanese people have continued to survive in the face of repeated disruptions of their economy and day-to-day life. From 1975 until 1991, civil war ruined Lebanon. Since the early 1990s, the government has gradually regained power but there are still incidents of political violence, especially in the south near Israel.
2 • LOCATION
Lebanon is a tiny country. Its area is only a little more than 4,000 square miles (10,400 square kilometers)—about the size of the state of Connecticut. Lebanon has two mountain ranges, a coastal strip, and an inland plain. In former times it was famous for its cedars. However, due to centuries of deforestation, very few cedars are left. Those that remain are now protected.
The population of Lebanon is as varied as its terrain. The official population of Lebanon, excluding Palestinian refugees, is about 3.1 million. Most Lebanese are Arabs.
3 • LANGUAGE
Arabic is the official language of Lebanon, but many Lebanese also speak English. For some, the French language still has the greatest prestige.
"Hello" in Arabic is marhaba or ahlan, to which one replies, marhabtayn or ahlayn. Other common greetings are as-salam alaykum ("peace be with you"), with the reply of walaykum as-salam ("and to you peace"). Ma'assalama means "goodbye." "Thank you" is shukran, and "you're welcome" is afwan. "Yes" is na'am and "no" is la'a. The numbers one to ten in Arabic are: wahad, itnin, talata, arba'a, khamsa, sitta, saba'a, tamania, tisa'a, and ashara.
4 • FOLKLORE
One of the most popular characters in Arab folklore is Jeha the Fool. He figures in many stories, from teaching tales to purely humorous anecdotes. Also popular are the real-life lovers, Ablah and Antar. Antar was a sixth-century Arab who was born a slave but became a heroic warrior and a poet. Antar and Ablah, the chief's daughter, fell in love. But of course a slave could not marry the chief's daughter. Eventually, after many tragic struggles, Antar was given his freedom, and he and Ablah married.
The story of the Greek hero Adonis takes place at Byblos, in Lebanon. Also, Saint George, who later became the patron saint of England, lived in Lebanon. He fought the famous sea-dragon at the mouth of a river near Beirut. Most likely, the Christian Crusaders took Saint George's tale back with them to the West.
The Lebanese are very fond of proverbs and can quote one for almost any situation. Examples include "Better blind eyes than a closed mind," and "The one who took the donkey up to the roof should be the one who brings it down."
5 • RELIGION
Christianity arrived in Lebanon during the Byzantine Roman era (AD 4–636). Its followers have since divided into a variety of sects including Maronite, Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, and Protestant. Islam was introduced in the seventh century ad. Muslims are now divided into Sunnis, several types of Shi'ites (including Ismaeli), and Sufis (Muslim mystics).
The Lebanese government keeps a record of every citizen's religious affiliation. A person may belong to any religion, but each person must belong to one. It is estimated that a little more than half of the Lebanese population is Muslim. The rest are mostly Christian. Seats in the government are based on religious representation.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
The Lebanese celebrate both the Christian and Muslim holy days, plus a couple of secular public holidays. The major Muslim holidays are Ramadan, celebrated by complete fasting from dawn until dusk for an entire month; Eid al-Fitr, a three-day festival at the end of Ramadan; Eid al-Adha, a feast at the end of the hajj (the pilgrimage month to Mecca); the First of Muharram, the Muslim New Year; Ashura, a Shi'ite commemoration and day of mourning; and the Prophet Muhammad's birthday.
Two Easters are celebrated in Lebanon (both in late March or early April)—the Greek Orthodox date, and the date for the rest of the Christian population. Other Christian holidays include New Year's Day (January 1); St. Maroun's Day (the patron saint of Maronite Christians, February 9); the Day of the Ascension (May 15); the Feast of the Assumption (August 15); and Christmas and Boxing Day (December 25 and 26).
The Christian New Year's Day (January 1) is celebrated in Beirut by shooting tracer bullets out over the Mediterranean Sea. It is also customary to go "strolling" along the coast road in one's car after midnight on New Year's. Such "strolling" is a Lebanese tradition for almost any festival.
Both Muslim and Christian children play a game with colored (hard-boiled) eggs at Easter time. One child taps the tip of his or her egg against the tip of another child's egg. The child whose egg stays intact while cracking everyone else's eggs wins the game. The children then eat their eggs.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Most Lebanese mark major life events, such as birth, marriage, and death, within the Islamic or Christian religious traditions.
8 • RELATIONSHIPS
The Lebanese lifestyle is relaxed, but by no means lazy. Opinions are strongly held and fiercely defended with vigorous gestures in heated discussions. At the market, the same vigor is used to haggle prices, something the average Lebanese is quite good at doing. A favorite Lebanese pastime is to sit and discuss politics or other hot topics—loudly. The same attitude prevails on the road, where there are few (if any) traffic signals or stop signs, and drivers simply "get ahead" as they need to. Pedestrians also cross the road whenever and wherever they choose, leaving it to drivers to stop for them.
- 2 cups cracked wheat (bulgur)
- 4 cups cold water
- 2 pounds lean ground beef or lamb
- 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- ½ teaspoon allspice (optional)
- ¼ cup melted butter
- Place cracked wheat in a large mixing bowl and cover with the cold water. Let stand 5 minutes, and then drain. Press on grains to remove water.
- Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
- Process in batches in a food processor fitted with the chopping blade.
- Butter a 9x12-inch baking pan. Spread the mixture into the pan, smoothing the top with wet hands. Cut into 2-inch squares.
- Pour melted butter over the top. Bake at 375°f for 50 minutes. Serve with pita bread.
Adapted from Salloum, Mary. A Taste of Lebanon. New York: Interlink Books, 1988, p. 102.
Traditional Arab hospitality reigns in Lebanon. Hosts provide feasts for their guests, then smoke the nargile (a water pipe) after dinner. Visits are usually not planned in advance. Lebanese are very affectionate with friends and family. They touch each other often, hold hands, and men may kiss each other on the cheeks. An Arab will never ask personal questions, as that is considered rude.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Until recently, Lebanon was a war-torn nation. Much of the capital city of Beirut was in ruins. So was a great deal of the rest of the country. Rebuilding is now under way in order to address a lack of housing, as well as unreliable gas and water supplies.
In rural areas, farmhouses are made of stone or concrete with tile floors. They have only a few necessary pieces of furniture. A small wood-burning or kerosene stove is used for heat in the winter. Most rural houses have running water.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Most city families are small, averaging two children each. Children usually live with their parents until they get married. Most businesses are family-owned and -run. The revenue sent back by family members working abroad has kept the Lebanese economy afloat during the recent, difficult war years.
Rural families generally live on small farms. They have many children to provide help with the farmwork—often as many as ten or fifteen. Women on the farms have a very busy life. They do all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry (in old-fashioned washtubs, with no electric dryers). They also work in the fields when needed.
11 • CLOTHING
Western-style fashions are popular in Lebanon's cities. Urban women are very fashion-conscious. More-traditional clothes are still worn in some villages. These include long dresses for women, and black pants and jackets for men. Men's pants are full and baggy from the waist to the knee, then tightly fitted from the knee to the ankle. Their jackets have fancy, brightly colored, embroidered trim. Some older rural men continue to wear the traditional short, cone-shaped, brown felt hat. Most modern Lebanese men, however, have traded it in for a keffiya, the common Arab head scarf
12 • FOOD
Lunch is the big meal in Lebanon. Almost everything is eaten with bread. Two types of unleavened Lebanese bread are khub, which resembles pita bread, and marqouq, which is paper-thin. Lebanese do not eat fish and dairy in the same meal. Mezze are popular in Lebanon, as elsewhere in the Middle East. Similar to appetizers, mezze basically consist of any food served in small portions. An entire meal can consist solely of mezze. The Lebanese national dish is kibbeh (or kibbe), made of either lamb or beef and cracked wheat (bulghur, or birghol ).
Common ingredients in Lebanese cooking include laban (similar to yogurt), rice, lentils, grape leaves (which are served with various stuffings, such as rice or meat), pine nuts, rose water, sesame seeds, chickpeas, tahini (sesame paste), and mint.
Wine has been made in Lebanon for thousands of years. A unique Lebanese alcoholic creation is arak, a colorless, 100-percent-alcohol beverage flavored with anise. Other popular beverages are coffee served very thick, tea with lots of sugar and no milk, and locally bottled spring water from the mountains.
13 • EDUCATION.
Education is highly valued in Lebanon. There are five years of required education, with an attendance rate of over 90 percent. A major problem in Lebanon is a lack of standard education across the nation. Many Lebanese send their children to private schools. Each school emphasizes a different type of learning, so children receive vastly different educations.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Lebanon has long been known for its high-quality book publishing. A flourishing film industry produces high-quality films. A revival of folk art, music, and dance began in the late 1960s. The national folk dance of Lebanon is the debki, a line dance. People hold hands and step and stomp to the beat of a small drum called a derbekki. Belly dancing is also popular.
15 • EMPLOYMENT
Lebanon has a high proportion of skilled labor among its labor force. However, there is a shortage of jobs for them. Many work outside the country or are unemployed. Business dealings are based on friendship. A great deal of "wining and dining" is done to establish connections before any business is conducted.
16 • SPORTS
Soccer, basketball, and volleyball are popular. Cross-country running, particularly in the mountains, and the martial arts are widely practiced. Skiing, rock-climbing, and cave exploration are also enjoyed in the mountains. Many Lebanese go swimming and fishing in the lakes, rivers, or Mediterranean Sea. In the city, pigeon-shooting is a favorite sport.
17 • RECREATION
The Lebanese love television. There are over fifty television stations in Lebanon, all of them commercial. Lebanese cinemas tend to show violent, sexy American and European films. Live theater is popular, as are nightclubs and pubs. At home, besides watching television, Lebanese enjoy playing board games (especially Monopoly), chess, checkers, card games, and backgammon. The Lebanese enjoyment of good conversation is so great that talking could even be called the national pastime.
The social center of rural life is the foorn, the village bakery where women bake their loaves of bread.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Traditional Lebanese crafts include basketry, carpet weaving, ceramics and pottery, copper-and metalworking, embroidery, glass-blowing, and gold-and silversmithing. Lebanon is also known for its finely crafted church bells. Wine making can also be considered an art, one that dates back thousands of years.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Warfare has caused widespread destruction throughout the country. At least 120,000 people were killed in the recent civil war and 300,000 were wounded, most of them civilians. Another 800,000 or so left the country, mostly the wealthy and well-educated. As many as 1,200,000 Lebanese—almost half the population—had to move from their homes and neighborhoods during the war.
The "Green Line" dividing Muslim Beirut and Christian Beirut is now the center of major urban reconstruction.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
Bleaney, C. H. Lebanon. Santa Barbara, Calif.: Clio Press, 1991.
Eshel, Isaac. Lebanon in Pictures. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner Publications Co., 1988.
Foster, Leila Merrell. Enchantment of the World: Lebanon. Chicago, Ill.: Children's Press, 1992.
Marston, Elsa. Lebanon: New Light in an Ancient Land. New York: Dillon Press, 1994.
ArabNet. [Online] Available http://www.arab.net/lebanon/lebanon_contents.html, 1998.
Embassy of Lebanon, Washington, D.C. [Online] Available http://www.erols.com/lebanon/, 1998.
World Travel Guide, Lebanon. [Online] Available http://www.wtgonline.com/country/lb/gen.html, 1998.