If there’s one Middle Eastern country that is truly distinctive from other countries in the region, it has to be Lebanon. This small country may have earned its independence just around eight decades ago, but its history dates back to thousands of years. Below, you’ll find a list of 11 interesting facts about Lebanon that you were likely unaware of.
1. No other country in the Middle East is as religiously diverse as Lebanon
The Middle East isn’t particularly known for its religious diversity – it’s a predominantly Muslim region. And like any other in the region, Lebanon too is a Muslim-majority country. However, a significant chunk of its population are Christians, with the proportion being greater than anywhere else in the Middle East.
According to the CIA World Factbook, the estimated percentage of Muslims in the country in 2014 was 54 percent, while that of Christians was 40.5 percent. Adherents of the Druze faith comprised of 5.6 percent of the population. A small numbers of Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, and other religious communities were also residing in the country.
2. It is the smallest recognized country in mainland Asia
Lebanon is around 35 times larger than Maldives, the smallest recognized country in Asia. Its area, which is 4,036 square miles, is also greater than that of three other Asian countries: Singapore, Bahrain, and Brunei. But, while none of those countries are situated in mainland Asia, Lebanon is. Then, there’s Palestine, which has a smaller territory than Lebanon and is also positioned in mainland Asia. However, it’s just a partially recognized state as of now. Hence, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that this country is the smallest in mainland Asia, a fun fact about Lebanon.
3. The Lebanese capital was home to the world’s first law school
The Roman Empire, presumably under Emperor Augustus in the first century AD, built a law school in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon as well as one of the oldest cities in the world. The city with a history of more than 5,000 years was called Berytus back then. The Beirut-based Roman law school, which was destroyed in 551 AD, is widely believed to be the first of its kind. Also, it had earned more recognition than any other law school in the Empire, which is why Beirut became known as the “Mother of Laws” back then.
4. The country is primarily trilingual
Like in any other Middle Eastern country, the official language as well as the language of the majority in Lebanon is Arabic. However, there are two other secondary languages that are also widely used here: French and English.
Although the country wasn’t under the French mandate rule for more than 23 years, around 45 percent of its population speak French today as a second language. English is spoken by about 30 percent of the population, with its use in science, business and media growing significantly in recent years.
5. In the Middle East, Lebanon is the only country that lacks a desert
When you think the Middle East, you probably picture a desert landscape with people riding camels. And since Lebanon is in the region, the same visuals may pop up in your head. In reality, however, you won’t be able to find a desert in the country, simply because it doesn’t have one. It’s the only country in the region that lacks a desert, an interesting fact about Lebanon. On the contrary, it witnesses snowfall, and even has ski resorts that remain open for as long as three months a year.
6. More Lebanese live outside the country than within
According to the most recent estimates, the population of Lebanon is in the range of six to seven million. But the number of Lebanese people living outside the country is estimated to be eight to fourteen million. In fact, there are claims, although widely-disputed, that Brazil alone currently has around seven million people of Lebanese descent. If that is true, there are more Lebanese in Brazil than in Lebanon itself. What remains undisputed is that the lion’s share of the Lebanese diaspora are Christians.
7. The Lebanese president is always a Maronite Christian, while its prime minister is always a Sunni Muslim
Thanks to an unwritten agreement called the National Pact, Lebanon has a unique power sharing arrangement between people of different faiths. Since gaining independence from France in 1943, all of its presidents have been Maronite Christians, and all of its prime ministers have been Sunni Muslims.
The speakers of the Lebanese parliament have always been Shia Muslims, while members of the Greek Orthodox Christian faith have always held the positions of the Deputy Speaker of the Parliament and the Deputy Prime Minister. The position of the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces has always been held by an adherent of the Druze faith.
8. The country’s last official census took place in 1932
In 1932, more than a decade before the birth of the modern Lebanese state, the French mandate in the country conducted an official census. Nearly 90 years have passed since then, but Lebanon has yet to carry out another census. But why is that? Well, when it comes to religious affiliation, there is a political sensitivity in the country. That’s why its government has refrained from conducting a new census, a fun fact about Lebanon.
9. None of the rivers in Lebanon are navigable
In addition to having a coastline of 140 miles on the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon is home to as many as 22 rivers. What’s surprising, however, is the fact that each of these rivers is non-navigable. This is because they are fast-flowing, straight, and generally plunge down narrow mountain canyons to the sea.
10. It was the first Arab country to authorize private television broadcasting
At the beginning, television was a government monopoly in the Arab world, being used as key political instruments. Lebanon, however, was an exception. An interesting fact about Lebanon is that it was the first country in the region to grant broadcast licenses to a couple of private companies in 1956.
One of those two companies, La Compagnie Libanaise de Télévision (CLT), began broadcasting in 1959 as the Arabic-speaking world’s first commercial television station. In the 1960s, other countries in the region began emulating the Lebanese model. In 1967, CLT began broadcasting in color, becoming the third television station in the entire world to do so.
11. The country ranks third in the world for cigarette consumption
The use of tobacco products is an alarming issue in Lebanon. According the World Health Organization, the country had the third-greatest number of smokers per capita in the world in 2015. On an average, a person consumes between eight and nine cigarettes per day. Around one-third of the country’s youth smoke today, with many of them starting at the tender of 11 or 12.
I hope that this aritcle on Lebanon facts was helpful. If you are interested, visit the Country Facts Page!