Facts and Figures on Lebanon

6/19/2005 8:22:26 AM
Lebanon

A look at Lebanon, which is holding its last round of parliament elections Sunday:

THE LAND — Lebanon lies in the eastern Mediterranean and covers about 4,033 square miles, smaller than Connecticut. From a narrow coastal strip, the land rises steeply to the Mount Lebanon range whose highest peak reaches 10,131 feet.

THE PEOPLE — Muslims make up at least 60 percent of the estimated 3.5 million population. The rest are Christians. There are 18 religious sects. The biggest is the Shiite Muslims who number about 1.2 million. Lebanon also hosts about 400,000 Palestinian refugees.

THE HISTORY — Some Lebanese claim descent from the ancient Phoenicians. But Assyrians, Persians, Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders, Mamelukes, Arabs and Ottoman Turks all ruled what is now Lebanon. The Lebanese lived under French rule after World War I, then gained independence in 1943. Christians dominated, but Muslim demands for reform helped trigger the 1975-90 civil war that killed 150,000. A 1989 Arab-brokered agreement ended the war. Israel withdrew in 2000. Syrian troops who came in near the start of the civil war finished their pullout on April 26, 2005.

THE POLITICS — Lebanon's political system reflects the country's sectarian makeup. The presidency goes to a Maronite Catholic. The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim. A Shiite Muslim gets the job of parliament speaker. The Cabinet and the parliament's 128 seats are divided equally between Christians and Muslims. Parliament is elected by the people and the prime minister is appointed by the president. The president is elected for a six-year term by parliament.

THE ECONOMY — Lebanon has few natural resources so, for centuries, the people have specialized in commerce. Before the civil war, Lebanon was the commercial center of the Middle East and its currency was one of the strongest in the region. It was also a major tourist center. The war gutted the economy and destroyed much of the infrastructure. Postwar reconstruction rebuilt central Beirut but plunged the country into $30 billion in debt.