Lebanon lies on the East side of the Mediterranean Sea, embedded between Syria and Israel. The Mount Lebanon range, from which the nation’s name is derived, diagonally divides the country into two from North East to South West. Amongst this rugged terrain, soft rock has given way to centuries of rain erosion, forming deep clefts in which various guerilla groups have occupied as natural fortresses. On either side of the mountains, fertile flatlands and springs provide water for cultivation. In the far East, conditions are much drier.
Lebanon is well known for its cuisine comprising of unleavened bread, mezze mixed plates, lentils, chickpeas, sesame seeds, tahini, pine nuts, rose water and mint. In the cities, families are generally small and children often grow up to succeed their parent’s business whilst in rural areas families generally have more children to help with labour intensive farm work (Junior Wordmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures, 1999).
At first glance, Lebanon appears to be considerably mono-ethnic as 95% are Arab, 4% are Armenian and all other ethnicities comprise just 1% of the population. However, Christian Lebanese (approx. 41%) often prefer to identify themselves as Phoenicians, descendants of ancient Canaanites, rather than being classified as Arab. 18 different religious sects are officially recognised and 4 languages are widely spoken – Arabic (official), French, English and Armenian.
In 1920, the French demarcated a section of their mandate territory as the region of Lebanon. When this area was granted independence in 1943, the country was officially titled the ‘Lebanese Republic’ and experienced mixed periods of political turmoil and financial prosperity owing to its regional ascendancy in commerce and trade. Fifteen years of civil war between 1975 and 1990 took a heavy toll on national solidarity and in 2006 warfare reignited, this time between the Hizballah militia and Israel. To this day, Lebanon’s borders with neighbouring Syria and Israel have not been settled.
As Lebanon’s demography is distinctly diverse, political unity has been difficult to achieve (UNDP, 2012). As part of an agreement stemming back to the French mandate, it was decided that the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the president of the National Assembly a Shia Muslim (Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations, 2007).
Despite a strong free-market tradition and government-supported foreign investment, investors are often deterred by taxes, corruption, inadequate legislation and delays.
Following the civil war, the government accumulated a heavy debt burden by borrowing from domestic banks to rebuild dilapidated infrastructure. There is still a need to invest in electricity, water and transportation however this has been constrained by government expenditure on debt servicing and public servant wages. The economy’s strongest growth sectors are service-based, particularly in banking and tourism (CIA World Fact Book, 2016).
- Refugee intake - Recent growth has been slowed by the unsustainable flow of Syrian refugees who have significantly inflated the Lebanese workforce but aggravated local unemployment rates in doing so. Combined with added strain on housing, resources and public infrastructure, these factors have caused internal tensions which threaten social cohesion.
- Food security – Due to the mounting pressure on finite food stocks, international humanitarian assistance has stepped in to fill the gap between supply and demand. To avert malnutrition amongst both Syrians and Lebanese, general food distributions, school lunchtime meals and supplementary feeding programs for nursing mothers and infants are currently in operation.
- Female empowerment – Gender inequality is a pertinent barrier to social development as females considerably lag behind males in terms of professional and educational opportunities. There is a 4.2% discrepancy between literacy rates and a 1.4% discrepancy between secondary school completion. At the parliamentary level, just 3.1% of seats are held by women.
CIA WorldFact Book - https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/in.html
Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations - http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Lebanon.aspx
Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures - http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Lebanese.aspx