Is Lebanon a country? Where exactly is Lebanon located? What type of government do they have? Here’s everything you need to know.
“You weren’t afraid to come to Lebanon?”, asked Aline Bou Abdallah, my tour guide to Tripoli and Qadisha Valley, in Lebanon’s fractured north. “Many tourists tell me they are afraid to come here because they say it’s dangerous.”
Sadly, it’s true. Back home in the United Kingdom, many simply assume that Lebanon is still in a constant state of conflict, that the Civil War never ended (it did end, in 1990, the same year I was born) and that there’s no reason to visit. Perhaps more surprisingly, many people back home aren’t even sure if Lebanon is a country.
Given the wars, invasions and political strife that has befallen the country in recent decades, perhaps it’s no surprise that geopolitical knowledge of Lebanon is often limited. Unless you’ve been here, it can be easy to dismiss Lebanon as being ruled by extremists like Hezbollah (it’s not). You might wonder if it’s under Israeli occupation (it’s not) or if it’s even a united, independent country, given the vast number of religious sects and political parties that operate here.
Give Lebanon a chance, though, and you’ll not only discover that yes, it is very much an independent country (albeit with a terrible, un-functioning government) and that yes, it is one of the most under-visited destinations in the world. If you’re brushing up on your geopolitics before you travel, then keep reading, as I answer the question, ‘Is Lebanon a country?’.
Table of Contents
Is Lebanon a country?
“Lebanon will be engulfed again in a huge power game that will last quite a long time. This is the tragic destiny of Lebanon.”Walid Kamal Jumblatt, Lebanese politician.
Yes, Lebanon is a sovereign nation in the Middle East. Bordered by Syria to the north and east, Israel to the south and the Mediterranean Sea to the west, its capital and largest city is Beirut. Other major cities include Tripoli, Sidon and Tyre.
With a total area of about 10,452 square kilometres, though, Lebanon is one of the smallest countries in the Middle East. Despite its small size, it boasts an impressive topographical diversity, with coastal plains, a mountain range, and fertile valleys.
Lebanon has a long history with cultural influences stretching back to the Phoenicians, Romans, Ottomans and French, among others. This rich history, cultural diversity and stunning natural beauty, from the Cedars of God forest to the Roman ruins of Baalbek, make it an intriguing destination.
Lebanon is, today, a parliamentary republic with its own constitution, is recognised globally and is a member of the United Nations and the Arab League, among other international bodies.
Lebanese society is characterized by its religious and ethnic diversity. The country has 18 officially recognized religious sects, including Maronite Christians, Greek Orthodox, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, and Druze, among others. This diversity is reflected in the country’s constitution, politics, culture and even in its cuisine.
The official language of Lebanon is Arabic, but you’ll also find a multilingual population fluent in French, English and sometimes Armenian. The Lebanese dialect of Arabic is unique, incorporating many loan words from its historical occupiers, including Aramaic, Greek, French, and Ottoman Turkish.
Lebanon’s economy has traditionally been characterised by a liberal economic policy, with a strong laissez-faire commercial tradition. The services sector is the most prominent, with banking and tourism being key industries. However, Lebanon has faced a severe economic crisis since 2019, causing significant hardship for its residents.
Read more: 23 Best Places to Visit in Lebanon
Where is Lebanon located?
“My Lebanon is a serene mountain sitting between the sea and the plains, like a poet between one eternity and another.”Khalil Gebran, Lebanese Poet.
Lebanon is located in the Middle East, a region primarily in Western Asia. Bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south, Lebanon opens westward with an extensive coastline along the Mediterranean Sea.
The country’s strategic location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland has significantly influenced its history and shaped its cultural identity.
Despite its small size, Lebanon offers a varied topography ranging from the coastal plains along the Mediterranean Sea, a parallel-running mountain range (Mount Lebanon), and the fertile Bekaa Valley.
Lebanon’s capital and largest city, Beirut, sits on the country’s western coast. Other notable cities include Tripoli in the north, Sidon to the south of Beirut, and Baalbek located inland in the Bekaa Valley.
The country’s unique position, bounded by mountains, desert hinterlands and the Mediterranean Sea, has played an instrumental role in making Lebanon a meeting place for various civilizations, a fact reflected in the nation’s rich cultural heritage.
Read more: 13 Things to Do in Batroun, Lebanon
Quick facts about Lebanon
Here are the most important facts to know about Lebanon:
- Official Name: Lebanese Republic
- Capital: Beirut
- Area: 10,452 square kilometres (4,036 square miles)
- Population: Approximately 6.8 million (as of 2021)
- Official Language: Arabic (French is also widely used)
- Currency: Lebanese Pound (LBP)
- Government: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic
- Religions: Diverse religious communities including Maronite Christians, Sunni Muslims, Shia Muslims, Druze, and others
- Climate: Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters
- Economy: Known for banking and finance; currently facing serious economic challenges
- Geography: Characterised by a narrow coastal plain, parallel mountain ranges, and a fertile Bekaa Valley
- UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Includes Baalbek, Byblos, Tyre and the Ouadi Qadisha (the Holy Valley) and the Forest of the Cedars of God
- Tourist Attractions: Famous for historical sites, cuisine, nightlife, and scenic beauty, including the Pigeon Rocks, Jeita Grotto, and Cedars of God
- Independence Day: November 22 (from France in 1943)
Read more: 10 Things to Do in Tyre (Sour), Lebanon
A brief history of Lebanon as a country
Lebanese history spans thousands of years and has seen the rise and fall of countless civilizations and empires, each leaving a distinctive mark on the country’s cultural fabric.
Around 3000 BC, the Phoenicians, renowned seafarers and traders, established city-states along the coast of present-day Lebanon, including Tyre, Sidon and Byblos. They developed an alphabet that greatly influenced the Greek and Latin alphabets and are considered pioneers of Mediterranean exploration and commerce.
The Phoenician city-states eventually fell under the control of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in the 6th century BC, and then the region successively passed into the hands of the Greeks, Seleucids and Romans. During Roman rule, Lebanon flourished and boasted some of the empire’s largest building projects, including the well-preserved temples at Baalbek.
Arab Muslims conquered Lebanon in the 7th century, introducing Islam and Arabic language and culture. Over the centuries, the region came under the rule of various Muslim dynasties, notably the Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids and Ottomans.
In the late 11th century, Lebanon became a battleground for Crusaders and Muslim forces, a period that left a significant impact on its demographic and cultural landscape. Druze and Maronite Christian communities began to take shape during the Crusades and Ottoman period, contributing to the religious diversity we see in Lebanon today.
The Ottoman Empire controlled Lebanon from the 16th century until World War I when the empire collapsed. Subsequently, the League of Nations mandated France to govern Lebanon. During this period, modern Lebanon’s boundaries were drawn, and its distinctive political system, which divides power among its religious communities, began to take shape.
Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943. However, the new nation struggled with sectarian tensions, which erupted into a devastating civil war from 1975 to 1990. The war left deep scars on Lebanese society and infrastructure, and its aftermath continues to influence the country’s political, economic, and social landscape.
In recent years, Lebanon has grappled with political instability, an economic crisis and the repercussions of regional conflicts. However, it remains a culturally rich, and resilient nation, known for its intellectual life, cuisine and stunning natural beauty. Despite challenges, Lebanon’s remarkable history of perseverance gives hope for its future.
Read more: 15 Things to Do in Byblos, Lebanon
What is the capital of Lebanon?
“A phoenix, Beirut seems to always pull itself out its ashes, reinvents itself, has been conquered numerous times in its 7,000-year history, yet it survives by both becoming whatever its conquerors wished it to be and retaining its idiosyncratic persona.”Rabih Alameddine, Author.
The capital of Lebanon is Beirut, located on the country’s Mediterranean coastline. Beirut is the largest city in Lebanon and serves as its administrative, cultural, financial and commercial hub.
Historically, Beirut has been inhabited for more than 7,000 years, making it one of the world’s oldest cities. This deep-rooted history is evident in its architecture and culture, which is a unique blend of Ottoman, French and modern influences.
Beirut was often referred to as the ‘Paris of the Middle East’, but the Lebanese Civil War destroyed much of its glamour and left the city as a byword for destruction. Despite this, it’s still renowned for its lively nightlife and world-class cuisine today.
Despite the challenges the city has faced, including civil war and economic crises and the recent Port Explosion in 2020, Beirut remains a symbol of resilience at the heart of Lebanon, and I hope its golden age will once again be revived.
Read more: 20 Best Things to Do in Beirut, Lebanon
How many religions are there in Lebanon?
Lebanon is a country of remarkable religious diversity, with 18 different religious sects or communities officially recognised. These include twelve Christian sects, four Muslim sects, the Druze sect and Judaism.
The Christian communities include Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and several others. Among the Muslim communities, the two largest sects are the Sunnis and Shias. The Druze, a monotheistic religious group originating in the 11th century, constitute a significant minority.
Religion plays a significant role in Lebanese society and politics, influencing everything from personal status laws to the allocation of political offices. In the Lebanese confessional system, political power is distributed among religious groups to maintain a balance.
Read more: 12 Things to Do in Tripoli, Lebanon
Is Lebanon a Muslim country?
Lebanon is a multi-religious country that does not have an official religion. It is unique in the Middle East for its relative religious diversity. The Lebanese constitution emphasizes the equality of all Lebanese citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, and guarantees freedom of belief.
The two largest Muslim sects are Sunni and Shia, and they together make up a significant portion of the population. However, there is also a substantial number of Christians, primarily Maronite Catholics, as well as Greek Orthodox Christians and other denominations.
The Lebanese political system, known as confessionalism, is designed to distribute power proportionally among the different religious communities, and high-ranking offices are reserved for members of specific religious groups.
Therefore, while a significant number of people in Lebanon are Muslims, it is not accurate to categorise Lebanon as a Muslim country in the way that other countries in the Middle East, like Saudi Arabia or Iran, might be classified.
Read more: 16 Things to Do in Saida (Sidon), Lebanon
Is Lebanon a Christian country?
Just as it is not accurate to label Lebanon a Muslim country, it is also not correct to describe it as a Christian country. The constitution of Lebanon emphasizes freedom of belief and equality of its citizens, irrespective of their religious affiliation.
While a significant portion of the Lebanese population is Christian, it is not a majority. The Christian communities in Lebanon are diverse and include several denominations such as Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic, and others. Maronite Christians are the largest Christian community in Lebanon and have a significant influence on the country’s culture and politics.
Lebanon’s political system, known as confessionalism, distributes power among the recognized religious communities. For example, the Lebanese President must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim, and the Speaker of Parliament a Shia Muslim. This system seeks to ensure representation for all major religious groups in the government.
Who are the Druze?
The Druze are a religious and ethnic minority found primarily in Lebanon, Syria, and Israel, with smaller communities in Jordan and other countries. Their faith emerged in the 10th century as an offshoot of Ismaili Shia Islam, but it has evolved to incorporate elements from various philosophical, Islamic and even Gnostic traditions.
The Druze faith is known for its secretive and esoteric nature. Religious texts are accessible only to a select group of religious leaders who are responsible for religious teaching and interpretation. The rest of the community follows the faith without access to its detailed theological underpinnings.
In terms of cultural practices, the Druze may differ significantly from their surrounding populations. They often live in close-knit communities and tend to marry within their faith. Although considered a part of the larger Arab culture, the Druze identity is strong and distinct.
The Druze have played significant roles in the politics and history of the regions where they reside, often actively participating in political life. In Lebanon, they are recognised as a distinct religious community and hold specific political positions.
Is Lebanon a democracy?
“The Lebanese people are fed up of the politicians in power. We want change but we are afraid that the people who dont want change will stir things up, and cause trouble if there is change.”Aline Bou Abdallah, Lebanese Tour Guide.
Yes, Lebanon is officially a democratic republic. Its political system is a special form of parliamentary democracy known as confessionalism, where high-ranking offices are proportionally reserved for representatives from specific religious communities. The President, for instance, must be a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shia Muslim.
Lebanon’s parliamentary elections allow citizens to vote for their representatives. However, the political system’s sectarian nature can contribute to divisions and sometimes instability, and power is often concentrated in the hands of a small number of influential families and figures.
The country has faced ongoing political and economic crises that have tested the strength of its democratic institutions. While Lebanon operates under democratic principles, the practical application of democracy in the country faces significant challenges due to sectarianism, corruption, and political instability.
Many of the people I spoke with during my travels here were simply disillusioned by the status quo. They, sadly, felt that even as a ‘democracy’, they had no power or influence to change things for the better in Lebanon.
What is Hezbollah?
Lebanon is synonymous with ‘Hezbollah’, a Shia Islamist political party and militant group based in whose name translates to ‘Party of God’.
Founded in the early 1980s during the Lebanese Civil War, it initially emerged as a resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. The group has strong ties to Iran and receives financial and military support from the country.
Hezbollah is a significant political actor within Lebanon, operating alongside the official Lebanese government and maintaining substantial influence within the country’s political landscape. It has representatives in Lebanon’s Parliament and has been part of several Lebanese governments.
Aside from its political and military activities, Hezbollah also operates an extensive network of social services, running hospitals, news services, and educational facilities, which has garnered it significant support among parts of the Lebanese population, especially within the Shia community.
However, Hezbollah’s armed wing has been involved in numerous military and terrorist activities both within Lebanon and internationally, leading several countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others, to designate it as a terrorist organization.
Hezbollah’s role in Lebanon and the broader region is highly controversial. While some see it as a legitimate resistance movement and a vital part of Lebanon’s political fabric, others view it as a destabilising force that threatens regional security.
Is Lebanon facing an economic crisis?
Lebanon is facing a severe and complex economic crisis, described by the World Bank as possibly one of the top three most severe financial crises globally since the mid-nineteenth century.
The country has been grappling with multiple challenges, including massive public debt, high unemployment rates, a banking crisis, rampant inflation and political instability. These issues have been exacerbated by the devastating explosion in Beirut’s port in August 2020 and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Consequently, a large proportion of the population has been pushed into poverty.
Despite its economic difficulties, Lebanon has a high literacy rate and a historically strong educational system. It has a vibrant culture and has been known for its intellectual life and entrepreneurship spirit. Lebanon also has significant diaspora populations that contribute to its economy through remittances.
Is Lebanon a safe country to visit?
“I’ve worked in tourism for 25 years, but I’ve never had a period of complete stability. I’ve never been fully booked.”
Aline Bou Abdallah, Lebanese Tour Guide.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) generally warns that the political situation in Lebanon can change rapidly, and advises against travelling to border areas with Syria and Israel.
The U.S. Department of State has typically issued a Level 3 Travel Advisory for Lebanon, advising U.S. citizens to reconsider travel to the country due to crime, terrorism, armed conflict and civil unrest. This advisory reflects the complex security environment in Lebanon, which is affected by regional conflicts, political instability, and economic difficulties.
In recent years, Lebanon has faced significant challenges, including an economic crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the aftermath of the massive explosion in Beirut’s port in August 2020. These factors have contributed to social unrest and a challenging security environment in some areas of the country.
However, this doesn’t mean that Lebanon is off the cards as a travel destination. Far from it, in fact. Tourist numbers are low, but that’s just the way I prefer to travel, and it really feels like a place where you are always off the beaten track. The Lebanese people were nothing but hospitable (I even met a few Hezbollah militants) and it’s a surprisingly easy place to travel around.
Sadly, government warnings and the perceived image of Lebanon as being in a perpetual state of conflict ensure that many tourists are wary of visiting. Take the leap, keep one eye on the news when you’re there and you might just find that Lebanon is the most interesting country you’ve ever visited.
FAQ: Is Lebanon a country?
Here’s an FAQ on the topic, ‘Is Lebanon a country?’:
Q1: Is Lebanon a country?
A1: Yes, Lebanon is a sovereign country. It is officially known as the Lebanese Republic or the Republic of Lebanon.
Q2: Where is Lebanon located?
A2: Lebanon is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea to the west, Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south.
Q3: What is the capital of Lebanon?
A3: The capital city of Lebanon is Beirut, which is also the largest city in the country.
Q4: What type of government does Lebanon have?
A4: Lebanon is a democratic republic with a special form of parliamentary democracy known as confessionalism. The high-ranking offices are proportionally reserved for representatives from specific religious communities.
Q5: What languages are spoken in Lebanon?
A5: The official language of Lebanon is Arabic. However, English and French are widely spoken, and many Lebanese people are multilingual.
Q6: What is the currency of Lebanon?
A6: The official currency of Lebanon is the Lebanese pound (LBP), also known as the Lira.
Q7: What is Lebanon known for?
A7: Lebanon is known for its rich history, diverse culture, and cuisine. It is also famous for its historical sites, including the ancient Phoenician cities of Tyre, Byblos, and Sidon and the Roman ruins at Baalbek.
Q8: What is the dominant religion in Lebanon?
A8: Lebanon is known for its religious diversity, with 18 recognized religious sects, including several Christian and Muslim sects, the Druze and Judaism. There isn’t a single dominant religion.
Q9: What is the political situation in Lebanon?
A9: Lebanon’s political situation is complex, characterised by a balance of power among various religious communities, political groups, and external influences. It has faced significant challenges, including political instability and economic crises.
Q10: Is Lebanon safe to visit?
A10: Safety conditions can vary and can be influenced by a range of factors, including political stability and other issues. Several countries have issued travel advisories for Lebanon, so always check your government’s warning page before travelling.