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An ethnically homogeneous country which for centuries has suffered from divisions and enmity between its various religious groups.

Before independence (1918–43)

A part of the Ottoman Empire since 1516, it came under French control in 1918, and was declared a French League of Nations Mandate on 1 September 1920. This Mandate entailed a large increase in the country's territory to its present size, which brought the number of Muslims to near parity with that of the Maronite Christians who dominated the country's political and economic establishment. Its constitution of 1926, which shaped its political system for the rest of the century, was based on that of the French Third Republic. Political representation was awarded by religious group, to each according to its size. In the Chamber of Deputies, Maronite Christians were to be represented relative to Muslims at a ratio of six to five. The main offices of state were also reserved for different religions and sects, so that the President was to be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, the Speaker a Shi'ite Muslim.

National compromise (1943–1960s)

Released into independence in 1943, the new state still had an extremely underdeveloped sense of nationhood. By this time the Maronites, who had benefited considerably from French administration, looked to Western culture, while Muslims felt more Syrian than Lebanese. Upon independence, it was agreed that the current political system should be maintained, while each group should refrain from extremism, i.e. the Maronites accepted that Lebanon was an Arab country, while Muslims turned their attention away from other Arab states. In the next decades this compromise was challenged by four basic factors, two of them internal, two of them external.

 First, demographic change eroded the Maronites' popular majority, since they had lower birth rates and higher emigration rates than their Muslim counterparts. Thus, by 1986, around 41 per cent of the population were Shi'ite Muslims, 27 per cent Sunni Muslims, 7 per cent Druze, and only 16 per cent Maronite Christian. To growing Muslim resentment, the political system did not adjust to these shifting balances in the relative size of the religious groups. Secondly, the divisions among the sects were intensified by economic differences. The Christians formed not only the political but also the economic elite, especially in Beirut, whereas the Shi'ite Muslims formed the majority of the poorest sections of the population. Economic progress after 1945 increased these differences, and thus heightened general resentment against the Christian population.

 Thirdly, Muslim Arab consciousness was intensified by the growth of pan-Arabism, fostered by Nasser in particular. Fourthly, perhaps the most crucial factor was the influx of refugees from Palestine since 1947 and the establishment of Israel. The problem was compounded by the arrival of refugees after the Six Day War. In Palestinian refugee camps, authority was exercised by the PLO, which became a state within a state against whom the Lebanese authorities were powerless, as the PLO was supported by the Muslim part of the population. Following the PLO's expulsion from Jordan by Hussein, the Lebanon became the headquarters of the PLO, which used the country as a base for military raids on Israel.


Subjects: History by Period.

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