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While sectarian differences are often blamed for the violent clashes that have impacted Lebanon over the years, the sources of conflict are not theological but economic, familial and political. Each group jockeys for influence and power; they are not homogenous internally. Druze, Shiites and Maronites, for example, are plagued by divisions that threaten to create permanent fault lines within each community. And, as most communities have allegiances beyond Lebanon’s borders, regional powers continue to influence — even dominate — internal dialogue and positioning.

Sociopolitical situation. The Lebanese civil war (1975-90) ended a relatively prosperous era in Lebanese history. Before 1975, this “Switzerland of the Middle East” flourished as a regional banking and commerce center. Wealthy tourists from the West and the East mingled on its pristine beaches and ski slopes or spent millions in its casinos and nightclubs. Nevertheless, Muslim discontent with the influence, power and wealth of the Christian community grew, particularly as the number of Christians emigrating increased and Muslim birthrates escalated. These tensions erupted in 1975 as Maronite militias and the Palestine Liberation Organization launched a series of retaliatory strikes on civilian targets, which the Maronite-led national army was unable to control or prevent.

The 15 years of intermittent violence and war destroyed the Lebanese capital of Beirut, devastated much of the country’s infrastructure, killed as many as 250,000 people, wounded or maimed nearly a million more and drove hundreds of thousands of people into exile. The Taif Agreement, which was ratified in late 1989, ended this chapter in Lebanon’s history and divided political power more evenly between Christians and Muslims. However, the lack of a strong central government, coupled with the presence of Syrian troops on Lebanese soil and the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, invited regional tensions to continue to play out in the country for the next decade or so.

Other factors continued to destabilize Lebanon. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005 led to a political crisis that divided allies, forged new partnerships and ultimately led to the complete withdrawal of Syrian troops from the country.

Mr. Hariri’s violent death also sparked a campaign of political assassinations through 2007, destabilizing the country even further. The rise of Hezbollah as a leading Shiite militia and political party, particularly in the south, eventually led to an Israeli-Hezbollah war in the summer of 2006, which ravaged the southern half of the country and revealed Lebanon’s frailty.

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Tags: Lebanon Middle East Christians Emigration Maronite Church Socioreligious programs