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    Written by: The Prophet Essay (2345 words)

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    Edited by: The MetallianLebanon, a nation that once proudly called itself the Switzerland of theMiddle East, is today a country in name only. Its government controlslittle more than half of the nation’s capital, Beirut. Its once-vibranteconomy is a shambles.

    And its society is fragmented – so fragmented, somebelieve, that it may be impossible to re-create a unified state responsiveto the needs of all its varied peoples. Lebanon lies on the eastern shore of the Mediterranea n Sea, in that partof southwestern Asia known as the Middle East. Because of its location -at the crossroads of Asia, Europe, and Africa – Lebanon has been the centerof commerce and trade for thousands of years. It has also been on theroute of numerous conquering armies. With an area of 4,015 square miles, Lebanon is one of the smallestcountries in the Middle East.

    It is smaller than every state in the UnitedStates except Delaware, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Lebanon issandwiched between Syria in the north and east and Israel in the south. The maximum distance from the nation’s northern border to the southern oneis only 130 miles. And the maximum distance from the Mediterranean Sea tothe Lebanon-Syria border is 50 miles.

    In the south, along the border withIsrael, Lebanon’s eastern border is only 20 miles from the sea. Although a tiny land, Lebanon boasts a great diversity in its landscapewhich makes it one of the most picturesque countries in the world. Thecoast line is br oken by many bays and inlets of varying size. At somepoints, the mountains wade silently right into the sea – then climbsuddenly tier on tier away from the Mediterranean to the sky.

    Because ofthe limitation of flat agricultural land, all but the steepest hillsideshave been patiently and neatly terraced and planted with garlands oftwisted grapevines. The mountains lend a great variety of hues – palepink, rosy red, forest green or deep purple – to the landscape. Dependingon the time of day, they never appear the same twice, and from time to timewhipped white clouds hide all except their snow-capped peaks. Even on thedarkest night, the lights of the villages perched on the mountains shine insmall clusters as a reminder of their presence. On c loser view, themountains become a jumble of giant gorges, many of them over a thousandfeet deep, with rocky cliffs, steep ravines and awesome valleys. Theseunassailable bastions have offered a secure hideaway, throughout history,for hermits and persecuted groups seeking refuge.

    Lebanon has four distinct geographical regions: a narrow – but fertile -coastal plain; two roughly parallel mountain ranges that run the fulllength of the country – the Lebanon, which rises in the west to an alpinehei ght of 11,000 feet while the eastern range, the anti-Lebanon, iscrowned magestically by the snow-capped Mount Hermon at 9,232 feet. Thetwo chains of mountains shelter between them a well-cultivated plateauextending seventy miles in length and fifteen miles in width. Thistableland is called the Bekaa. This is a fertile strip of land 110 mileslong and six to ten miles wide. Zahle, the third largest city in thecountry, is in the valley.

    The country’s two most important rivers, theLitani and the Orontes, rise in the northern Bekaa near Baalbek, a citythat dates to Roman times. The Litani flows southwest through the BekaaValley and then empties into the Mediterranean Sea north of Tyre. Itswaters are used for irrigation, so it becomes a mere tr ickle by the timeit gets to the sea. The Orontes rises not far from the Litani, but itflows northward between the two mountain ranges, wending its way intoSyria.

    Beyond the Bekaa and the anti-Lebanon mountains, the Syrian desertonly stretches east f or about 800 miles to the valley of the Tigris andEuphrates rivers. This geography has been a determining factor formillenia in keeping Lebanon turned toward the West. The landscape cannot be described without mentioning the most celebratedtree o f Lebanon, the cedar. Called by the Lebanese “Cedar of the Lord,”this famed tree retains somewhat of a sacred aura this day.

    It has becomethe symbol of Lebanon and appears in the center of the flag, on the coins,and often on postage stamps. Since an cient times the cedar constituted avaluable export which provided King Solomon with timber for theconstruction of his Temple, the Phoenicians with wood for their seafaringgalleys , the Egyptians with lumber for their palaces. Unhappily only afew grov es of these stately trees have survived the ax of the builder, theseeker of fuel, or the hunger of goats. Cedars generally grow on thehighest mountain tops so it is not surprising to find an ancient grove of450 trees nestled under the highest peak. Th is grove, the only remaininglarge one, may be seen as small dark specks on the bare face of themountain side from a distance of many miles.

    A few of the existing treesmay be 1,000 years old, and it is estimated that twenty of them have grownfor more than 400 years. The largest measure about twelve feet incircumference, eighty feet in height and their branches spread anunbelievable 100 feet. The olive, another tree closely associated with Lebanon, is extensivelycultivated, and old gnarled oli ve groves cover many of the lower hills andvalleys. For centuries olives have been a staple in the diet while theiroil has taken the place of butter among the peasants who still firmlybelieve in the medicinal benefits of warm olive oil applied to stra ins,sprains and earaches. The diversity of soil and the elevation produce agreat variety of other trees including oaks, pines, junipers, firs, cyprus,sycamore, fig, banana, acacia and date palm. Orange, lemon, apple andother fruit trees have been ra ised commercially in recent years.

    Besidessupplying the local market with a great variety of delicious fresh fruit,the harvest is exported to neighboring countries and provides Lebanon witha main source of income. The narrow plain along the Medit erranean coast is the most denselypopulated part of Lebanon. Here and there the Lebanon Mountains push downto the sea, and thus there is no coastal plain. In other spots the plainis so narrow that there is barely enough room for a road.

    However, in anumber of places the coastal plain is wide enough to accommodate populationcenters, and it is here, between the foothills of the mountains and theMediterranean Sea, that two of Lebanon’s most important cities – Beirut andTripoli- are located. Be irut – Lebanon’s capital, largest city, and majorport – is located at about the midpoint of the country’s coastline. Today,much of Beirut lies in ruins. It has been a battlefield on which thecontending forces of have warred to see who could cause the greatestdestruction. But before 1975, when the civil war erupted, Beirut was thenation’s cultural and commercial heart and on of the most beautiful andprosperous cities in the Middle East.

    Lebanon’s second largest city,Tripoli, is also on the c oast, some 40 miles north of Beirut. Because mostof the people in this city are Sunni Moslems, it had, until 1983, escapedthe destruction brought to Beirut by the Moslem- Christian fighting. But inlate 1983, warring factions of the Palestine Liberati on Organizationfought their battles in and around Tripoli. Hundreds of Lebanese werekilled, buildings were destroyed, and oil-storage tanks were set ablaze.

    Alarge part of Tripoli’s population fled the battle area, but returned inDecember 1983 after the PLO forces loyal to Yasir Arafat were evacuated. Other important cities on the coastal plain are Juniye, Sidon, and Tyre. Sidon and Tyre are south of Beirut and have been occupied by Israeli troopssince the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. In 1984, the population was estimated at 3,480,000 Lebanese (these areestimated because no poll has been officially taken since 1932).

    Almostall of these people, whether they are Christian or Moslem, are Arabs, andLebanon is an Arab country. Mo st of the people can speak French orEnglish or both, but Arabic is the national language. However, thenational unity that usually comes from a common language and heritage haseluded the Lebanese people. In many ways, the country is less a nationthan a collection of fuedal- like baronies based on religious lines. Eachreligious community has its own leaders and its own fighting force, ormilitia. It is reminiscent of China during the early years of thetwentieth century, when that nation had a weak central goverment and wasruled by various warlords scattered throughout the country, each seekingpolitical and economic dominance.

    The Moslems, who now constitute more than half the population, aredivided into three major sects: the Shiites, the S unnis, and the Druse. The Christians include the Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics,Orthodox and Catholic Armenians, and Protestants. But neither theChristians nor the Moslems are truly unified; throughout their historyMoslem and Christian se cts have fought for political and economic gain. The Moslems, who in 1932 were in the minority, now make up 56 percent ofthe population in Lebanon.

    The Shiites, the poorest of the Moslem sects,number about 1 million. They are concentrated in West Beirut and in thecity’s southern suburbs, as well as in southern Lebanon in and aroundBaalbek in the Bekaa Valley. The Sunnis number about 600,000 and are concentrated in West Beirut,Tripoli, Sidon, and Akkar, in the northernmost part of the count ry. Rashid Karami, a former Lebanese prime minister, is the leader of theSunnis in Tripoli and the most influential Sunni in the country.

    Themilitia, Morbitun, a force of 5,000 well-trained fighters, is stationed inWest Beirut, Tripoli, and other Su nni areas. The Druse, a secretive Moslem sect, number about 350,000, but theirinfluence is greater than these numbers would indicate. The Druse liveprimarily in the Shuf mountains and in other areas to the south and east ofBeirut. They now have close ties to Syria, where there is a large Drusecommunity.

    The Syrians have supplied the Druse with a large assortment ofweapons, including artillery and tanks. The Druse militia numbers about4,000 men and has joined forces with the Shiite militia i n and around WestBeirut to battle the Christian-dominated Lebanese army and the Christianmilitias. Another major Moslem force in the country – and a constant threat to it -are the 500,000 Palestinian refugees and the remnants of the PLO. Their leader, Yassir Arafat, and thousands of his troops were forced out of Beirutby the Israelis in 1982 and out of Tripoli by Syrian-backed PLO dissidentsin 1983. The dissident PLO forces no longer recognize Arafat as theirleader because of his lack of mili tancy in the fight with Israel.

    TheSyrians, in addition to controlling these dissident members of the PLO,also control the 3,500-man Palistine Liberation Army. The Christians, who in 1932 made up a majority of the Lebanesepopulation, are now only about 44 percent of the population. The largestChristian sect – and thus far the dominant one in the nation’s politicaland economic life – are the Maronites. They number about 580,000 and makeup 38 percent of the Christian population and 17 percent of the nationalpopulation. The Phalange party, headed by Pierre Gemayel, is the most importantMaronite political group.

    The Phalangist militia is the largest of theChristian militias. It controls East Beirut, the area along the coast justnorth of the capital, and some areas in southern and central Lebanon. Thismilitia has been heavily armed by the Israelis. Each of these peoples has played an important role in Lebanese history.

    Moslems and Christians have lived in harmony for long period s of time, butthey have frequently engaged in bitter warfare, much as we are seeingtoday. For nearly a decade this hapless nation has suffered continuous civil waramong its various religious and ethnic groups. It has been invaded twiceby Israel, which now controls all of southern Lebanon, and it has beenoccupied by Syria, which controls most of eastern and northern Lebanon. Nearly 500,000 Palestinians – refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars – live inLebanon, where they have formed a “state with in a state.

    ” And a successionof peacekeeping forces – Arab, United Nations, and Western – have not onlyfailed to establish peace, but have exacerbated the already horrificsituation. Why haven’t the Lebanese people been able to put aside their sec tariandifferences to work toward a stable government that represents all of thepeople? The complete answer to this question lies deep within the uniquehistory of Lebanon. In 1943, the year that France, which ruled Lebanon asa League of Nations manda te, reluctantly gave the nation its independance. As independence approached, the nation’s two most populous and powerfulsects, the Maronites and the Sunnis, formulated what is known as theNational Pact – an unwritten agreement that spelled out the cou ntry’spolitical makeup as well as its general orientation in foreign affairs. The National Pact allocated political power to Lebanon’s religious sectson the basis of population.

    The census in 1932 showed that the Christianshad the majority with j ust over 50 percent of the population. As aresult, it was agreed that the President of Lebanon would always be aMaronite Christian and the prime minister would always be a Sunni Moslem. Other important positions were given to other sects. The Preside nt of theChamber of Deputies, for example, would always be a Shiite Moslem and thedefense minister would be a Druse.

    In addition, the Christians were tohave six seats in Parliment for every five seats held by Moslems. Thissystem guaranteed the Maron ite Christians control of Lebanon. This system worked well enough for fifteen years. From 1943 until 1958the nation’s economy boomed and Beirut was transformed into the showcasecity of the Mediterranean. The government seemed stable enough, but th erewere problems boiling beneath the surface and in the mid-1950s the systembegan to come apart.

    For one thing, the Moslems, especially the poorerShiites, had a substantially higher birthrate than the Christians; manypeople believed that the Shiites had surpassed the Maronites in population. But the Christians would not allow a new census to be taken, for this wouldhave meant a reallocation of the nation’s political power, with the Moslemsects gaining at the expense of the Christians. With their hopes forpolitical gains dampened, the Shiites became disenchanted. Why is this once prosperous nation on the verge of total collapse? Thereare a number of reasons, but the primary one is that the Lebanese peoplebelong to at least fifteen differe nt religious sects and their loyalty tothese sects is greater than their loyalty to a united Lebanon. Had thepeople’s sense of nationhood been stronger, they would not have sufferedthe destruction of the past decade.

    This essay was written by a fellow student. You may use it as a guide or sample for writing your own paper, but remember to cite it correctly. Don’t submit it as your own as it will be considered plagiarism.

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    Written by: The Prophet Essay (2345 words). (2019, Jan 09). Retrieved from https://artscolumbia.org/written-by-the-prophet-essay-67842/

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