Lebanon, a civilisation more than 7000 years old, has been ruled by Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, and French, developing a unique culture influential in the region. In the 1960s known as a financial capital, its civil war (1975-90) ushered in instability and terrorism.
Beirut’s multicultural history can be seen at the al-Omari Grand Mosque, converted from a Byzantine church and built over Roman baths. Today Lebanon is 54% Muslim, 40% Christian – and 5.6% Druze, an esoteric tradition indigenous to the region.
The Ottoman influence can still be seen in Lebanon, under its rule for more than 400 years. Today, Lebanon and Turkey have a cool yet civil relationship, despite controversies regarding Israel, Iran, and Armenia.
Lebanon’s civil war included PLO attacks on Israel, an Israeli siege of Beirut, Syrian involvement, and occupation by a US/France/Italian force. As recently as 2005, a former prime minister was assassinated; another war occurred in 2006, with a series of conflicts through 2008 – and a collapse of government in 2011.
In the capital city of Lebanon, Beirut, associated with instability and destruction for decades, one can still see post-war ruins – in the midst of a strongly redeveloped city and high-end luxury. Lebanon has struggled to rebuild and regain a sense of stability, including a recent economic peak – now again in decline.
Beirut’s American University, founded in 1866, was ranked #1 in the region in 2018. An estimated 2/3 of all students attend private schools, and deficits in the public system have been noted by a recent Minister of Education. Literacy is 93.9% — ranking at 65th globally – and their once stellar reputation for academics is floundering.
The ongoing presence of Hezbollah, accompanied by a failing economy and flailing government, have brought about an increased unrest in the society. Recent demonstrations by protest groups, countered by acts of police brutality, indicate an overall insecurity among the country’s inhabitants.
The people of Lebanon are resolute; their complex and stoic culture, built over thousands of years and despite multiple occupations, has carried them through the exceedingly difficult past 5 decades. Recent suppression of free speech and activism, however, are worrisome.