An overview of the history of Lebanon

In 1516, the Ottomans invaded the Levant. They reached Egypt the following year then controlled North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. They reached the borders of Persia on the East and Vienna on the West.

At the time, the Lebanese mountain was mainly populated by Maronites in the North and Druzes in the South. The Ottomans avoided venturing into rough mountains, difficult to attack, but easy to defend. As a result, the Ottomans prefered to entrust the management of this small country to local princes, even if they were non-Muslim. One of them, Fakhreddine II, built up diplomatic and economic relations with European countries, especially Florence. He managed to get his independance from the Ottoman Empire. But the Ottomans replied by a huge military campaign and defeated him in 1633.

In 1860, following devastating clashes between Druze and Christians in Lebanon, the main European powers and the Ottoman Empire created an autonomous province in Mount-Lebanon called the Moutassarrifya, ruled by a non-Lebanese Ottoman Christian governor. He was assisted by a 12 member board, spread over the different communities according to a well defined quota.

After the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, France took control of Syria and Lebanon. On September 1st, 1920, The French High Commissioner General Henri Gouraud proclaimed the creation of the State of Greater Lebanon. A Constitution was adopted in 1926. After several clashes, Lebanon earned its independance on November 22nd, 1943. The French troops withdrew in 1946.

The Lebanese political regime applies confessionalism in political life and personal status. This sectarian system, in addition to the presence of thousands of Palestinian armed troops in Lebanon, led to a civil devastating war between 1975 and 1990. Event though there are no internal clashes anymore, the internal conflicts still remain.

The economic and social evolution

The economic and social situation in the Moutassarrifya was much better than it was in the Syrian provinces. French manufacturers made important investiments in the Lebanese silk industry, creating a trading network between Mount-Lebanon and France. Beirut, which was not part of the Province, increased in importance. Two universities were founded, the Syrian Protestant College in 1866 that became the American University of Beirut, and Saint Joseph University in 1875, founded by the Jesuits missionaries. Beirut became the center of an ottoman province. The Port of Beirut was extended at the end of the 19th century, and a railway line was built to link Beirut to the DHP network.

Mount-Lebanon knew a significant demographic growth. According the Ohannes Pacha Koujoumjian, Governor of Mount-Lebanon from 1912 till 1915, the demographic density was 10 times higher in Lebanon that it was in the Syrian provinces.

The First World War was devastating to Lebanon, which lost the third of its population due to 1915 starvation. But after 1918, the French Mandate, appointed by the League of Nations, worked on improving the economic and social situation. Agriculture, Industry and trading incresed, despite the 1929 crash and the Second World War.

Lebanon knew its golden age in the 1950s and 1960s. The port of Beirut became the main link between Europe and the Gulf countries. Lebanon became the "Switzerland of the East".

After the devastating civil war (1975-1990), Beirut was rebuilt again. But Lebanon faces a crushing debt burden due to corruption and poor management.

The Lebanese diaspora

During the 19th Century, many emerging countries such as Brazil or United Stated implemented specific policies in order to attract migrants. Their economies were growing fast because of the industrial revolution and the relevant growth of the international trade.

Lebanon, like many European countries (Italy, Ireland, Poland,...) faced social challenges such as demographic growth and insufficient employment prospects, specially for non qualified workers.Thousands of young men or women emigrated to North and South America, South Africa, Australia, France, UK,...

Another wave of emigrants left Lebanon after the First World War, till the 1929 crash, where the USA and other countries restricted immigration. Many Lebanese kept reaching other countries where were living members of their families, and many of them went to Africa where no restrictions were applied by the colonial authorities.

The civil war relaunched the Lebanese emigration. Thousand of Lebanese applied to Europe, USA, Canada, Brazil or African countries.

The emigration issues

Many emigrates left behind them properties such as houses or lands. After a few decades, their descendants lost contact with their relatives in Lebanon. As a result, thousands of lands cannot be used because of inheritance issues. Things become more complicated when owners die abroad, and co-owners cannot register their death.

Many emigrants came back to Lebanon after spending years abroad. Meanwhile, they got a foreign nationality that their descendants might be interested to recover.

Foreign ancestors

Many Europeans lived in the Ottoman Empire: Italian, French, British, Russians,... After the First World War, many of them setlled down in Lebanon. Other came, often from France, for business purposes and remained in Lebanon.

For these reasons, many Lebanese or Syrians have a foreign ancestor, male or female. In many cases, it might be possible to recover his/her nationality, as far as they can get the appropriate documents.