Lebanon, officially the Republic of Lebanon, is a country in the East Mediterranean. It is bordered by Syria to the north and east, and Israel to the south. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland has dictated its rich history, and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity.
The earliest evidence of civilization in Lebanon dates back more than 7,000 years—predating recorded history. Lebanon was the home of the Phoenicians, a maritime culture that flourished for nearly 2,500 years (3000–539 BC). Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the five provinces that comprise modern Lebanon were mandated to France. The French expanded the borders of Mount Lebanon, which was mostly populated by Maronite Catholics and Druze, to include more Muslims. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, and established a unique political system, known as confessionalism, a power-sharing mechanism based on religious communities – Bechara El Khoury who became independent Lebanon's first President and Riad El-Solh, who became Lebanon's first prime minister, are considered the founders of the modern Republic of Lebanon and are national heroes for having led the country's independence. French troops withdrew from Lebanon in 1946.
Before the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990), the country experienced a period of relative calm and prosperity, driven by tourism, agriculture, and banking. Because of its financial power and diversity, Lebanon was known in its heyday as the "Switzerland of the East". It attracted large numbers of tourists, such that the capital Beirut was referred to as "Paris of the Middle East." At the end of the war, there were extensive efforts to revive the economy and rebuild national infrastructure.
Until July 2006, Lebanon enjoyed considerable stability, Beirut's reconstruction was almost complete, and increasing numbers of tourists poured into the nation's resorts. Then, the month-long 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon caused significant civilian death and heavy damage to Lebanon's civil infrastructure.
Due to its tightly regulated financial system and the highest gold reserve in the Middle East, Lebanese banks largely avoided the financial crisis of 2007–2010. In 2009, despite a global recession, Lebanon enjoyed 9% economic growth and hosted the largest number of tourists in its history; however, by 2011, economic growth had slowed to below average for the region.
Lebanon is known for its unique efforts in the Middle East to guarantee civil rights and freedom to its citizens, ranking first in the Middle East and 26th worldwide (out of 66 countries) in the The World Justice Project's Rule of Law Index 2011.
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