With its high literacy rate and traditional mercantile culture, Lebanon has traditionally been an important commercial hub for the Middle East.
It has also often been at the centre of Middle Eastern conflicts, despite its small size, because of its borders with Syria and Israel and its uniquely complex communal make-up.
Shia Muslims, Sunni Muslims, Christians and Druze are the main population groups in a country that has been a refuge for the region’s minorities for centuries.
President: post vacant
Michel Suleiman vacated the presidency at the end of his six-year term in May 2014, leaving behind a political vacuum chiefly caused by the fallout from the civil war in neighbouring Syria.
The president is chosen by a two-thirds majority of parliament, or 85 of the legislature’s 128 members.
Several attempts in parliament have failed to agree on a consensus president, some of them because of a boycott by MPs.
Prime minister: Tammam Salam
The Sunni Muslim politician Tammam Salam was tasked with forming a new government in April 2013, after the divided cabinet of his predecessor, Najib Mikati, failed to reach agreement on how parliamentary elections due later in the year should be staged.
In the event, it took Mr Salam ten months to assemble a new power-sharing cabinet. Meanwhile, the elections were put on hold; instability caused by the war in neighbouring Syria may mean they will be delayed for some time.
Mr Salam’s unity government is split equally between the two main opposing factions in Lebanese politics – the Hezbollah-led pro-Syria March 8 coalition and the Western-leaning March 14 movement led by Saad Hariri.
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Lebanon’s broadcasting scene is developed, lively and diverse, and reflects the country’s pluralism and divisions.
It was the first Arab country to permit private radio and TV. The government has a say over who may operate stations and whether or not they can broadcast news. Some outlets are owned by leading politicians.
Reporters Without Borders says the media have more freedom than in any other Arab country, but face “political and judicial machinations”.
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Some key dates in Lebanon’s history:
1516-1918 – Lebanon is part of the Ottoman Empire.
1920 – The League of Nations grants the mandate for Lebanon and Syria to France, which creates the State of Greater Lebanon out of the provinces of Mount Lebanon, north Lebanon, south Lebanon and the Bekaa.
1926 – Lebanese Representative Council approves a constitution and the unified Lebanese Republic under the French mandate is declared.
1944 – France agrees to transfer power to the Lebanese government on 1 January.
1975-1990 – Lebanese civil war
1992 – After the first elections since 1972, wealthy businessman Rafik Hariri becomes prime minister.
2000 – Israel pulls out of south Lebanon
2005 – Former prime minister Rafik Hariri is killed by a car bomb in Beirut, sparking anti-Syrian rallies and a political crisis.
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