A very small country in a complicated region, bordered by Syria to the North and the East and by Palestine to the South, Lebanon suffers from the regional political instability but also from the foreign interference, leading to the country’s current disability to act as a unique actor on both the national and the international levels. A look to the country’s contemporary history, as I’ll try to expose in this essay, shows that this situation is far from being recent.
Having the oldest inhabited city (Byblos) and the biggest Roman temple (Jupiter in Baalbek) in the world, Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries. However, a small part of the country (which was part of many districts back then) known as Mount-Lebanon had during the nineteenth century an autonomous status. The genesis of the contemporary Lebanon took place during this century, with the emergence of Sectarianism as a culture but also as a practice, due to the French and British interference on sectarian basis and the Ottoman policies with the modernization process. After many clashes between Druze and Maronite (two sects) between 1840 and 1860, a particular regime was created by the Ottoman authorities and the European Powers, based on sectarian representation. Political sectarianism was born.
During World War I, while promising the Arabs their independence, France and Great-Britain were negotiating through the Sykes-Picot agreements in order to share the region. With the end of the world, the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the Versailles Treaty, Lebanon and Syria were placed under the French mandate. On the 1st of September 1920 and after many clashes with the Syrian nationalists, France created Lebanon to break the nationalism. Six years later, and under the French control, the Constitution was promulgated, recognizing, through the article 95, political sectarianism as an official practice. During the French “occupation” of Lebanon, the country fought hard for its independence and on the 22nd of November 1943, France recognized the independence of the Republic of Lebanon.
Between 1943 and 1975, Lebanon was living its golden age. It was considered as Switzerland of the Near East and Beirut, its capital, was compared to Paris. However, in 1975, political sectarianism showed its weakness. On April 13th 1975, a day not to forget in the Lebanese memory, a civil war started, opposing Muslims against Christians, with the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon playing a huge role during the war which lasted 15 years and destroyed the country. During this time, Israel benefited from the situation and invaded the country twice, in 1978 to occupy southern Lebanon and in 1982 to occupy Beirut in order to sign a peace treaty with Lebanon (by eliminating those who are against this project and by choosing a Lebanese president in favor of such a treaty). Although the Israeli presence in Beirut didn’t last, Israel didn’t withdraw from the south until 2000, nine years after the end of the civil war which resulted in the Syrian disguised occupation of Lebanon until 2005.
Today, we can see the regional impact on Lebanon, especially when it comes to the Syrian crisis. The many interferences and disguised occupation of the country (creating therefore political blocs and dividing the country) led to the current instability and to the weakening of a country whose history and civilization are too rich to let it down!
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