Editor's note: The Washington Post added this background in its story on the suicide bombings in Beirut that have killed dozens. (Responsibility for the bombings was claimed by the Islamic State.) 'Hezbollah is fighting alongside government forces against the Sunni-led rebellion in Syria, drawing the ire of such militantly anti-Shiite groups as the Islamic State. Lebanon faced a string of similar bombings more than a year ago that also targeted the largely Shiite areas of Beirut.' - Tom
Lebanon (/ˈlɛbənɒn/ or /ˈlɛbənən/; Arabic: لبنان Libnān or Lubnān; Lebanese Arabic: [lɪbˈneːn]; Aramaic: לבנאן; French: Liban), officially the Lebanese Republic (Arabic: الجمهورية اللبنانية al-Jumhūrīyah al-Lubnānīyah; Lebanese Arabic: [elˈʒʊmhuːɾɪjje l.ˈlɪbneːnɪjje]; French: République libanaise), is a country in Western Asia. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Israel to the south. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland facilitated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity.
The earliest evidence of civilization in Lebanon dates back more than seven thousand years, predating recorded history. Lebanon was the home of the Canaanites/Phoenicians and their kingdom, a maritime culture that flourished for over a thousand years (c. 1550–539 BC). In 64 BC, the region came under the rule of the Roman Empire, and eventually became one of the Empire's leading centers of Christianity. In the Mount Lebanon range a monastic tradition known as the Maronite Church was established. As the Arab Muslims conquered the region, the Maronites held onto their religion and identity. However, a new religious group, the Druze, established themselves in Mount Lebanon as well, a religious divide that would last for centuries. During the Crusades, the Maronites re-established contact with the Roman Catholic Church and asserted their communion with Rome. The ties they established with the Latins have influenced the region into the modern era.
The region eventually came under the rule of the Ottoman Empire from 1516 to 1918. Following the collapse of the Empire after World War I, the five provinces that constitute modern Lebanon were mandated to France. The French expanded the borders of Mount Lebanon Governorate, which was mostly populated by Maronites and Druze, to include more Muslims. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, establishing a unique political system – "confessionalism" – that is, a power-sharing mechanism based on religious communities. Bechara El Khoury (independent Lebanon's first president), Riad El-Solh (Lebanon's first prime minister) and Emir Majid Arslan (Lebanon's first minister of defence) are considered the founders of the modern Republic of Lebanon and are national heroes for having led the country's independence. Foreign troops withdrew completely from Lebanon in 31 December 1946. Lebanon is a member of the Organisation internationale de la francophonie since 1973.
Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the country experienced a period of relative calm and renowned prosperity, driven by tourism, agriculture, commerce, and banking. Because of its financial power and diversity in its heyday, Lebanon was compared to Switzerland, and its capital Beirut attracted so many tourists that it was known as "the Paris of the Middle East". At the end of the war, there were extensive efforts to revive the economy and rebuild national infrastructure.