How do you live in Lebanon today? The current situation after the wars
We have written many times about the current situation in Lebanon and how life is lived today in the Land of the Cedars. We have done so especially since the tragic explosion of August 4, 2020 , the sad anniversary of which will be celebrated in a few days. A devastating event, which exacerbated the terrible economic crisis in Lebanon, which began in 2019 and is still ongoing. Today 80% of the population lives below the poverty line, there is no electricity and gasoline and no medicines.
But what is happening in Lebanon, and how did it get to this point?
Before October 2019, in fact, the country was experiencing a moment of great prosperity since 1990, the year of the end of the Lebanese civil war. Given that among the reasons that led to the current crisis there are some traceable to the wars in Lebanon, we thought it would be useful to retrace the history of the country, understand the importance of its position and discover all the elements that can help us to have a more complete picture.
Lebanon is located in theeastern part of the Mediterranean Sea, it is a land with a thousand-year history, a fascinating culture and a strategic geographical position. The current borders were drawn at the end of the twentieth century, following the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire and the collapse of the colonial empire French. There have also been some adjustments due to some disputes with neighbouring countries, Israel to the south and Syria to the north and east. To the west it faces the Mediterranean Sea, which gives it direct access to trade and sea routes, favoring trade and the development of vital ports such as Beirut, and facilitating trade with other nations and regions.
The country has a small geographical extension, but its central location in the Middle East is one of the main reasons for its economic development and the richness and uniqueness of its human, cultural and religious fabric. At the same time, however, it is also a major source of challenges and instability, as Lebanon is often involved in regional and geopolitical tensions. The capital is Beirut, a city also known as the Swiss of the Middle East because until the crisis of 2019 it was a very important center of banking services and financial investments. This is also an important fact to remember among the reasons for the current crisis. In fact, the economy in Lebanon was mainly based on investment and foreign trade, as well as tourism.
Religion and culture
Religion in Lebanon is a fundamental component of its social, cultural and, unlike other countries in the Middle East, also political. In fact, the country’s political system is based on a confessional balance, with proportional representation of the various religious communities in the main governing bodies . This aspect is unique in the Middle Eastern context, but it is also the main reason for instability and crisis, as it was in the 15 years of civil war, so in the current economic crisis.
Islam is the predominant religion (almost 60%), with the majority of Muslims following Sunni Islam. There is also an important number of Shiite, Druze and Alawite Muslims. Shiites are concentrated mainly in the south of the country, while Druze are mainly found in mountainous regions. Christianity also has a long history in Lebanon and is an important part of its identity. There are several Christian denominations present, including the Maronites (the largest Christian community in the country), Melkite Greek Catholics, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox , and other Christian churches.
Brief history of Lebanon before the civil war
The territory of Lebanon was inhabited since prehistoric times, but the first to leave an imprint were the Phoenicians, a people of skilled merchants and navigators, who from the second millennium BC founded some important city states such as Byblos, Tyre and Sidon. These cities together with the majestic Cedars and vineyards of the Bekaa Valley are still some of Lebanon’s top attractions. With the conquest by the Roman Empire, Lebanon was included in the province of Syria. The region prospered thanks to agriculture, trade and the production of fine wines. Subsequently, it came under the rule of the Byzantine Empire. In the seventh century AD, the Arab Empire conquered the country, bringing Islam to the area. Over the centuries, Lebanon was ruled by various empires and dynasties, including the Ottomans who remained until the end of World War I.
In 1916, with the Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and the United Kingdom, it was assigned to France as a mandate, along with Syria. The French term lasted from 1920 to 1943. During this period, France exercised administrative and political control over the country, influencing its political, economic and social structure. This is why even today in Lebanon, in addition to Arabic, French is spoken above all. However, the mandate was characterized by periods of tension and dissent among the Lebanese population, who sought to preserve their cultural identity and aspiration for independence.
Independence that was recognized on November 22, 1943 and that opened a new chapter of great prosperity so that Lebanon became perhaps the main financial center of the Arab world between the 50s and 60s. At the same time, however, there was a great internal instability destined to degenerate into the Lebanese civil war, one of the bloodiest and most intricate wars in the area.
The main reasons for the war in Lebanon
In the previous paragraphs we have tried to highlight some of the main causes that led to the Lebanese civil war. We would like to emphasize them because they are the same ones that are partly found in the current economic crisis. Let’s try to resume them briefly:
- First of all, let us remember that, given the coexistence of different religions, the Lebanese political system was based on a confessional balance, with shares of power assigned to different religious communities. This system, although designed to ensure the peaceful coexistence of different faiths, has also created political inequalities and tensions between communities. In addition to this, we must add an economic imbalance and growing social inequality that have often resulted in violent armed clashes and reprisals.
- Secondly, there is the involvement of international foreign forces in the conflict that has heightened tensions and made Lebanon a battleground for regional and geopolitical interests. Neighboring countries such as Syria and Israel have played significant roles in supporting different factions within the country, but also Iran, Saudi Arabia, France and the United States.
- Then there is a third element which we have not yet mentioned, but which has been and is causing great instability: the presence of a large number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The Lebanese Civil War: 1975–1990
Now let’s see what were some stages of the Lebanese civil war, we highlight the most significant:
- April 13, 1975: Civil war begins with an armed conflict between Christian militias, the “Lebanese phalanxes” and the PLO, the Palestine Liberation Organization, following an attack on a Christian bus in Beirut. From that moment on, a period of violent clashes and reprisals began.
- 1976: Syria sends troops to northern Lebanon to intervene in the conflict, beginning the involvement of foreign forces in the country.
- 1978: Israel invades southern Lebanon, seeking to end Palestinian militant operations in the area. The Israeli invasion will lead to an Israeli military presence in southern Lebanon for many years.
- 1982: Israel invades Lebanon again, this time as far as Beirut. During the invasion, Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel is assassinated. From this year there is also the first significant military involvement of a third force inside Lebanon: Hezbollah, the Shiite resistance force born in the 80s with the support of Iran to counter the invasion of Israel.
- 1983: Two major bombings hit multinational peacekeeper barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. soldiers and 58 French soldiers. In response to these attacks, the United States and France withdrew their troops from Lebanon.
- 1989: The Taif Agreement is negotiated in Saudi Arabia and formally ends the civil war. The agreement redefines the political balance in the country, distributing power among different religious communities.
- October 13, 1990: After 15 years of conflict, the last Syrian troops leave Beirut, marking the end of the Syrian military occupation, although the final withdrawal of the Syrian army will take place only in 2005.
- November 22, 1990: General Michel Aoun, the last Christian leader to oppose the Taif Agreement, surrenders to Syrian forces, ending a final phase of fighting.
These dates represent some of the key moments of the Lebanese civil war, but the conflict has been marked by numerous events, clashes and complex negotiations over its 15-year course. The civil war in Lebanon has had a significant impact on Lebanese society, leaving deep and lasting wounds and profoundly marking the country’s history.
After the war in Lebanon: prosperity and collapse
The end of the civil war effectively allowed a period of recovery and prosperity, even if tensions have not been lacking since 1990. The fragile confessional political system has held up over the years and, although with slowdowns of various kinds due to disagreement between the three main political-religious factions, Christian, Sunni and Shiite, there have been developments that have allowed the growth of tourism and trade.
It should be noted, however, that the growth of Lebanon’s economy has always been based mainly on foreign investment. There have been no particular developments in local industry, which has made the country always dependent on foreign countries. This, along with the fragile system of governance and Syria’s 2011 civil war , are among the main reasons for Lebanon’s crisis, which has been called the worst crisis in 150 years.
We have also talked a lot about this topic, we only mention the fact that due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, the number of refugees in the country has grown significantly to almost one million people. This is an impressive number, especially when you consider that the total population of Lebanon is 5.5 million people. Added to these are the Palestinians who have been present in the country for a long time. Given that the majority of refugees are Sunni, immigration has contributed to increasing the imbalance between denominations. In fact, one of the reasons for the crisis was precisely the debate around the status to be granted to refugees. This debate involved other Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia, the main investor in Lebanon, and the consequent withdrawal of investments that guaranteed stability to the country. Then the covid-19 pandemic and the explosion at the port of Beirut gave the coup de grace to a devastated economy and an inefficient system of government.
That is why today, as the country capitulates to darkness, the men and women of Lebanon see no alternative but to leave the country. Meanwhile, the political class remains still, frozen in a corrupt system and blackmailed by dynamics of favors and balances for fear of falling into a new civil war.