General Information

Geography and Climate

Lebanon is a small and beautiful country on the Eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It is located at the meeting point of three continents and, as such, has been the crossroads of many civilizations whose traces may still be seen today. Its coastline is about 225 km (150 miles) in length and is, on average, 45 km (30 miles) wide. The total area of the country amounts to 10,452 square km (4,500 square miles). Along the coast are the five famous cities of Beirut, Byblos, Sidon, Tripoli, and Tyre (see interactive map under Tourism). It is bordered in the north and east by Syria and in the south by Israel.

Lebanon’s beauty is illuminated by its geography – its narrow coastal plane and two parallel north/south mountains (the mountains of Lebanon and anti-Lebanon). The fertile Bekaa valley, with its Litani and Orontes Rivers, separates these mountains and nourishes the terrain. Residing majestically over the valley, Qournet Assaouda in the north of Mount Lebanon (altitude 3,083 meters or 10,112 feet) and Jabal al-Sheikh in the south of the anti-Lebanon range (altitude 2,814 meters or 9,230 feet) remain as the highest peaks in the country.

This unparalleled natural splendor is enhanced by Lebanon’s moderate, Mediterranean climate. Lebanon enjoys about 300 days per year of sunshine. The winter is mild on the coast and snowy in the mountains while the summer is hot on the coast and mild on the mountains. It is possible during the spring months to ski in the mountains and swim on the coast in the same day!

Average Temperatures for Beirut (coastal) and Zahle (inland) in Centigrade

MONTH BEIRUT ZAHLE
January 13 7
February 14 9
March 16 10
April 18 13
May 22 20
June 25 24
July 27 24
August 28 25
September 26 23
October 24 19
November 19 11
December 16 8

Government and Politics

Because of its long history, natural beauty, and rich culture, the Republic of Lebanon has always inhabited a special place in the world. Beginning with its independence on November 22, 1943, Lebanon has been and continues to be an integral player in the Middle East and throughout the international community. As an Arab country, Lebanon’s official language is Arabic; however, English and French are widely spoken. Tolerance and the encouragement of diversity as well as its strong political culture have confirmed Lebanon’s world prominence. In fact, Lebanon is a founding member of the League of Arab States (LAS) and the United Nations and played a major role in the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Upon its independence, Lebanon adopted this flag (shown below) as a symbol of its enduring strength through self-sacrifice, durable peace, and sound democracy.

As a democratic republic, Lebanon enjoys a parliamentary system of government and a cabinet headed by a Prime Minister. The structure of government at the national level is based on its constitutional principle of separation of executive, legislative, and judicial powers. Currently, Emile Lahoud serves his six-year term as President while Selim al-Hoss serves his four-year term as Prime Minister. Likewise, the 128 members of the Parliament are elected by universal adult suffrage for a four-year term.  The Speaker of the House, Mr. Nabih Berri, was elected to his post in 1992.

Holidays

Judging by its rich cultural heritage centered on hospitality and family, Lebanon is truly a country for all seasons. Even more impressive is its diversity of holidays, which enhances Lebanon’s relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

                                        Official Holidays in Lebanon

New Year’s Day Jan 1 Ashoura **
Eid El Fitr ** Labour Day May 1
St. Maroun’s Day Feb. 9 Martyr’s Day May 6
Eid El Adha ** Resistance and Liberation Day May 25
Good Friday (Catholic) * Assumption of the Virgin Aug. 15
Easter Monday (Catholic) * All Saints’ Day Nov. 1
Good Friday (Orthodox) * Independence Day Nov. 22
Easter Sunday (Orthodox) * Christmas Dec. 25
Hejira (Muslim New Year) ** Birthday of the Prophet **

* These days vary each year.

** These days are Muslim feasts that vary each year according to the Muslim calendar.

Economy

Lebanon capitalizes on the initiative of its people and its geographical location to compensate for lack of natural resources. As a free market economy, the maximum income tax is 10% and sometimes less than that. In addition, Lebanon has a well-trained workforce in the various fields of development and technology. As a service-based economy with trading, banking, and financial facilities as well as its free currency market, Lebanon reigns as the region’s commercial and tourist center.

The Lebanese currency, the Lira (=100 Piasters), has continued to strengthen against the US dollar over the past three years and is regaining its reputation as a powerful currency in international financial markets. In spite of the devastating armed conflict that took place in Lebanon between 1975 and 1990, the growth rate of the Lebanese economy (which is around 8% per year) is the highest in the Middle East and one of the highest in the world. (For more on the economy, see “doing business” and “Statistics/Economics.”)

Business

As the region’s center of trade and business, Lebanon is a host to several foreign companies. Lebanon offers one of the most liberal investment climates in the Middle East. The government offers incentives to attract foreign and domestic investment, including low income tax rates for individuals and corporations.

With the lift of the US government ban on travel to Lebanon in 1997, US companies are now encouraged to enter the Lebanese market. While opportunities for American investment and business are plentiful, the US faces great competition as European and Middle Eastern companies dominate foreign trade and investment in Lebanon.

(For more information on trade, business, economy, or investment in Lebanon, see The Ministry of Economy and Trade, Trade Information Center, The Investment and Development Authority in Lebanon, or the Ministry of Finance.)

Education

At the outset of the 19th century, professors, poets, journalists, and historians convened in Lebanese cultural institutions to revive old Arab traditions and extol the value of modern culture. Lebanon’s seven major universities and numerous specialized colleges were thus founded. For example, the American University in Beirut, founded in 1866, offers a liberal education that has trained many of the region’s leaders, educators, and scientists. A Lebanese state university was founded in 1967 comprising faculties of law, medicine, arts, and science. Moreover, Lebanon’s nation-wide network of elementary and secondary public and private schools lay a strong foundation for further university education and vocational training.

Because Lebanon is a country where three languages – Arabic, French, and English – are commonly spoken, there are schools that teach in Arabic, French, and English. Lebanon provides a wide variety of schools from which parents can choose, depending on which language of instruction they prefer.

Organizations

A wide variety of Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) are based in Lebanon. For example, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the Save the Children Foundation, and Greenpeace operate in Lebanon in order to establish sustainable economic development. A host of other influential regional and international, environmental, women’s, and human rights organizations have intensified their interaction with the Lebanese community and government, thereby enhancing regional and international peace, stability, and development.

Media

Lebanon enjoys a free press, including newspapers, television, and radio. A wide variety of independent news sources operate in Lebanon, including An-Nahar, the Daily Star Newspaper, and Le Commerce Du Levant. The media presents information to the public in the three languages most commonly used in Lebanon – Arabic, English, and French.

Technology

Lebanon is at the forefront of the Internet and technology revolution with one of the highest amount of Internet users in the region. According to a survey by the Internet Arab World, Lebanon trails only three countries – UAE with 400,000 Internet users, Saudi Arabia with 300,000 Internet users, and Egypt with 440,000 internet users. Still, Lebanon’s total Internet users amount to 227,500, which is highly impressive for such a small country.

The Internet and its benefits continue to grow in Lebanon. Lebanese retailers use the Internet in order to tap into the international market, expanding their customer base. Approximately 130,00 companies in Lebanon advertise or sell products on the Internet, a number with is expected to reach 500,000 within the next few years. While the Lebanese used to be able to surf through American or European web sites, they are now visiting web sites created by Lebanese for Lebanese companies. Today in Lebanon, Terra Net (terra.net.lb) has the biggest content site in Lebanon with 1,200 pages.

At the outset of the 19th century, professors, poets, journalists, and historians convened in Lebanese cultural institutions to revive old Arab traditions and extol the value of modern culture. Lebanon’s seven major universities and numerous specialized colleges were thus founded. For example, the American University in Beirut, founded in 1866, offers a liberal education that has trained many of the region’s leaders, educators, and scientists. A Lebanese state university was founded in 1967 comprising faculties of law, medicine, arts, and science. Moreover, Lebanon’s nation-wide network of elementary and secondary public and private schools lay a strong foundation for further university education and vocational training.

Because Lebanon is a country where three languages – Arabic, French, and English – are commonly spoken, there are schools that teach in Arabic, French, and English. Lebanon provides a wide variety of schools from which parents can choose, depending on which language of instruction they prefer.