The area of Lebanon has always been famed for its commercial skill and success. In Biblical times the cities of Tyre and Sidon were known all over the world for their trading and economic power. Even up until the civil war that started in 1975 Lebanon was known as the major trade and financial center for all the Middle East. But now Lebanon is desperately trying to recover from 16 years of civil war. The country has made great gains in rebuilding over the past few years and it is now a relatively safe place to live. Although problems with basic infrastructure and government services persist, much of the civil war damange has been repaired throughout the country and many foreign investores have returned. In general people here enjoy significantly more freedoms than in any other country of the Arab world. It is also, being much more religiously diverse, the only Arab country that does not have Islam as the state religion.
Approximately 87% of the people live in Urban areas - 60% live in Beirut. French and American influence have given the main cities of Lebanon a cosmopolitan feel. But outside the cities the people retain many of the old customs and traditions. Life revolves around the family and people are very friendly and hospitable.
Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate - hot and dry summers and cool, rainy winters. Humidity is high along the coast in summer and daytime temperatures average 30°C (86°F) with night temperatures not much lower. The winter is mild on the coast and snowy in the mountains, while the summer is hot on the coast and mild on the mountains. It is possible during the spring months to ski in the mountains and swim on the coast in the same day! Winter daytime temperatures average 15°C. In the mountains summer daytime temperatures average 26°C and the nights are pleasantly cool.
Arabic is the official language. But French and English are widely spoken.
The 1975-1991 Civil War
Lebanon, once known as a model ecumenical society, was a major trade and financial center. All that would change however as the Muslim population continued to grow and feel excluded from government. Lebanon had not participated militarily in any of the Arab-Israeli wars, but was drawn into the conflict as more and more Palestinian Muslim refugees flooded into the country and made it a base of operation for attacks against Israel. In time the Palestinian guerrilla movements were stronger than even the Lebanese army. All these events brought the country into a civil war that would last from 1975-1991. The Muslim coalition allied with Palestinian troops fought against Christian militias in an effort to get more power. The Syrian army came in to try to bring peace in 1976 but it did not last. The Palestinians seized south Lebanon, but Israel then invaded and occupied Palestinian sections. Through the next years Muslim, Druze and Christian militia continued to fight and take hostages. The Syrian army often intervened - working for their own ends among the different factions. Israel continued to invade and bomb in retaliation to Palestinian terrorist attacks. It was not until 1991 that the Syrian army imposed a measure of peace, but the country was left in ruins with over 100,000 dead and its economic infrastructure seriously damaged. In 1991 all militias were disbanded except for the Hizbullah (which Israel continues to see as a threat). It was not until the year 2000 that Israel finally pulled out of positions it held. Syrian troops are still deployed in the country and have a great deal of control. It is estimated that during the war about 900,000 people were displaced from their homes and 250,000 emigrated permanentely to other countries.
Government and Economy
Government powers are allocated along religious lines. The president must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the president of the National Assembly a Shi'a Muslim. Under the constitutional reforms set by a peace accord in 1990, many of the powers of the Christian president were shifted to a half-Christian, half-Muslim cabinet, and the Muslim prime minister was to countersign presidential decrees. Lebanon has long been known for it laizse-faire capitalism. Its once strong economy was severely hurt by the war, but it has grown much stronger in the last decade. Lebanon has a high proportion of skilled labor compared with many other Arab countries.
There is no state religion. However, politics are based on the principle of religious representation, which has been applied to every conceivable aspect of public life.
Muslims make up about 60% of the population (Sunni Muslims 24% and Shi'a 36%). 30% of the population is Christian, of which the Maronites are the largest group. The second largest group is the Greek Orthodox Church. There are no legal barriers to proselytizing.
The Druze make up about 7% of the population (see also further article on this site). The Druze are a Muslim sect that live primarily in Lebanon, southern Syria, and northern Israel. While the Druze are not regarded by other Muslims as being Muslim, they do regard themselves to be carrying the true essence of Islam. The basis of their religion is the belief that at various times God has been divinely incarnated in a living person. The last and final incarnation was al-Hakim, the sixth Fatimid caliph. The Druze tend to be secretive about the tenets of their religion.
- Pray for the country, its political and religious leaders, as they seek to rebuild the country. Pray for peace to reign here so that Lebanon can be a place where the gospel can be preached and taught. Pray for the followers of Jesus to model the way of Jesus as it practically demonstrates God's love in both word and deed.
- Pray that religious freedom will continue. It is the only Arab country where one is free to change one's religion. Pray that Muslims here will hear about the Kingdom of God and come to worship Jesus. Though it is legal for them to do so, the social consequences of conversion are still immense.
- The population of followers of Jesus has decreased from 62% of the population in 1970 to 30% today. Like other Arab nations, the community in Lebanon struggles as many of its leaders and young people emmigrate to the West. Pray for the Kingdome schools in the country as they train up professional and lay leaders. Lebanon has long been a key center to the whole of the Middle East. Pray for the Lebanese to be revived in its vision for other Arab nations.