Demography and economic geography. – West Asian state. According to Homosociety, the last census dates back to 1970, then never repeated due to the political balance within the country, which governs the relative demographic strength of each of the communities that make up the national pact. All available data on Lebanese demographic dynamics are estimates, starting with 4,965,914 residents of 2014, according to an estimate by UNDESA (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs), in which, however, refugees must be considered, given that the Palestinians present in Lebanon for a long time – about 450,000 according to the statistics of July 2014 – were joined by almost 500,000 Syrians fleeing the civil war. Among the communities there is a prevalence of Muslims (54%) over Christians (40.5%) with, respectively, 27% of Sunnis, 27% of Shiites, 21% of Maronite Christians, 8% of Greek Orthodox, plus the Druze community (5.6%). The data on access to water, health care and life expectancy are surprisingly positive compared to the general situation of the country, with a standard of living similar to that of Western countries.
Both from a political and economic point of view, Lebanon has always been negatively affected by internal instability and neighboring countries. To guarantee adequate services to the population, the government has borrowed heavily, with a heavy budget deficit (-9.4% in 2013) and a very high public debt (120%). The tertiary sector, traditionally strong in banking and tourism services, is negatively affected by the uncertain political situation, which does not attract foreign investments, even if it employs a large majority of the population (72.7%). The prolonged civil war depopulated the countryside, reduced the importance of the primary sector too quickly and determined a strong urbanization (87%). The growing importance of some illegal crops, especially cannabis, in the Beka’a valley should be noted. The country’s industrial weakness leads to a sharply negative trade balance, with imports weighing four times as much as exports, although calmed by remittances from emigrants and international aid. Despite this, the Lebanon has shown remarkable reactive abilities in moments of peace.
History. – Battleground between the major powers of the region, the Lebanon of the first decades of the 21st century. it was dangerously affected by the serious crisis that characterized the whole Middle East. Some elements in particular threatened the democratic life of the country: the long-standing conflict with Israel, the difficult relations with Syria and the inherent fragility of the institutional structure, based on the rigid criterion of quotas attributed to the various religious confessions present in the country (Christian and Sunni and Shia Muslims). Lastly, the cumbersome presence of the Shiite party-state of Ḥezbollāh which, thanks to its military arsenal, financed by Irān and Syria, threatened internal security and regional peace.
In 2014, the evident signs of the destruction caused by the 2006 conflict between the Israeli state and the militias of Ḥezbollāh still remained at the border with Israel and throughout the southern part of the country. The United Nations peacekeeping contingent, UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon), stationed in the border area between the two countries since 1978, and strengthened after the 2006 crisis, had no tools to ward off new tensions which, after years of relative calm, experienced a sudden, and apparently returned, deterioration in January 2015. Internally, the aforementioned division of institutional offices and parliamentary seats on a community and confessional basis guaranteed a precarious balance between the forces in the field, as demonstrated between 2007 and 2008 by the eighteen months of political crisis during which parliament was unable to elect the new President of the Republic. The crisis culminated in the military clash between the Shia opposition, with Ḥezbollāh in the lead, and the forces of the anti-Syrian side close to the Sunni Prime Minister Fouad Siniora (Fu᾽ād al-Sanyūra), clash that threatened to plunge the Lebanon back into the civil war. The attempt by government forces to reduce military power and intelligence of the powerful Shiite party, based in many key places in the country. The danger of destabilization, however, was averted thanks to international mediation and the Arab League, under the aegis of the Qaṭar, with the signing of a normalization agreement in Doha (21 May 2008) which indicated in General Michel Suleiman (Mīšāl Sulaymān) the new president.
Between 2011 and 2013 the radicalization of the Syrian crisis fueled divisions between the political-sectarian camps, and in March 2013 the government of Prime Minister Najib Mikati (Nağīb Mīqātī) resigned due to the withdrawal of Ḥezbollāh from the majority. Under the fire of crossed vetoes, and while the risk of attacks in West Beirut, Tripoli and the Bekaa Valley increased, the legislative elections scheduled for June 2013 were postponed before seventeen months and then until June 2017.
In May 2014, after Suleiman’s resignation, the new Prime Minister Tammām Salām also assumed the post of President of the Republic on an interim basis. A further threat to internal security was the presence in the country of over one million Syrian refugees fleeing the civil war (1,172,753 as of July 6, 2015, according to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees). An unsustainable economic burden and a potential demographic risk in a country of about 4 million residents that has hosted 450,000 Palestinian refugees for decades.