Lebanon

References to Lebanon first appear in recorded history around 3000 BCE. The region is home to the Phoenicians, a people known for their cultural sophistication, entrepreneurial flair, mastery of the sea, and ability to prosper under the watch of Egypt, the superpower of the day.

After the Egyptian Empire weakens, Lebanon comes under the control of a succession of foreign invaders. The Assyrians rule from 875 BCE to 608 BCE. They are followed by the Babylonians (685 BCE to 636 BCE), and then the Persians. In the 4th Century BCE the Greeks led by Alexander the Great take control of the region.

In 64 BCE the Greeks are in turn replaced by the Romans, beginning an era of prosperity and relative peace that will last about 500 years. The later stages of the Roman rule also see the establishment of Christianity, as practiced by the Orthodox Byzantines of the Eastern Roman Empire.

Lebanon comes under the control of Arab invaders following the rise of Islam in the 7th Century CE. Both Sunni and Shia Islam are introduced to the country's religious mix. The mix is further complicated by the arrival of various other ethnic and religious groups, including Christian Maronites, Greek Catholics, and Druze (a splinter faction of Shia Islam).

The arrival of Islam to the region also motivates European Christians to embark on a 200-year Crusade to capture religious sites in Palestine.

Lebanon comes under the influence of the Egypt-based Mamluk Sultanate at the end of the 13th Century, following the Crusades. Commerce with Europe flourishes and Beirut becomes a major trading centre.

The political climate changes once more in 1516 when the Ottoman Empire conquers the Mamluks. Ottoman rule lasts for 400 years, until the First World War.

In the middle of the 19th Century, Lebanon is divided into two administrative districts, a Christian north and a Druze south. The partition ends in disaster when in 1860 about 10,000 Maronites, as well as Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox, are massacred by the Druze. As a result, Lebanon is reunited under a non-Lebanese Christian governor appointed by the Ottomans.

When the Ottoman Empire begins to collapse towards the end of the 19th Century, the Lebanese start to contemplate their future. While the Maronites favour secession from the empire, the Greek Orthodox advocate association with neighbouring Syria. Sunni Muslims wish to maintain the ties with the empire and the succeeding regime of the Young Turks, which is dominated by fellow Sunnis. Shia Muslims lean towards independence for Lebanon.

At the end of the First World War, Turkish authority over Lebanon is replaced by French colonial rule.

Lebanon's current borders are established. Beirut is set as the capital. A constitution establishing a unicameral parliament (Chamber of Deputies), a president, and a Council of Ministers (cabinet) is promulgated on 23 May 1926.

Senior officers are appointed to reflect the religious make-up of the community. The president is to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim. The ratio of deputies in the parliament is to be six Christians to five Muslims.

In 1936 Pierre Gemayel, a Maronite Christian, forms a paramilitary youth organisation called the Phalange, or Phalanxes (Kata'ib in Arabic).

The group is modelled on the fascist organisations Gemayel observed while competing in Berlin during the 1936 Olympic Games. Gemayel is an admirer of the fascist dictators in power in Germany, Italy and Spain at the time - Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Francisco Franco.

Lebanon's long history of foreign rule finally ends during the Second World War. Independence is declared on 26 November 1941, although the French are not completely removed until 22 November 1943, which comes to be celebrated as Lebanon's true Independence Day.

Lebanon becomes a member of the League of Arab States (Arab League) on 22 March 1945. It joins the United Nations (UN) the same year.

Independent Lebanon's political environment is characterised by conflict and upheavals almost from the outset. The country's first president is forced to resign in the Rosewater Revolution of 1952. The second president leaves office following a limited civil war in 1958.

The Phalange, which now has a membership of about 40,000, plays a central role in the war. As a result, party leader Pierre Gemayel is granted a position in the new four-man cabinet.

Succeeding administrations bring some stability, although developments within the Middle East region work to undermine the gains.

The proclamation of the independent state of Israel in May 1948 and the subsequent War of Independence between Israel and the surrounding Arab nations displaces hundreds of thousands of Palestinians.

Palestinian refugees from Israel soon begin to arrive in Lebanon. Their numbers steadily increasing to between 270,000 and 400,000. Among the refugees are Palestinian guerillas committed to a winning back their homeland.

As the number of Palestinian refugees rises, Lebanon's Christian community begins to fear that the country's demographic and religious balance will be compromised. The Phalange wants the refugees to leave Lebanon and is prepared to use violence to achieve this aim.