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The port of Beirut is the busiest and most important in the country. As of 1994, the population of Lebanon was estimated to be 3,620,345.
Ninety-five percent of the population is Arab, 4 percent is Armenian, and other ethnic backgrounds comprise the remaining 1 percent.
Whereas at independence, gained in 1943, the population was one-half Christian and one-half Muslim, a higher birth rate among Shiite Muslims upset this balance and was one of the causes of the civil war.
Estimates in the 1990s reveal a population composed of nearly 70 percent Muslims and 30 percent Christians. Languages spoken include Arabic, French, English, and Armenian. The Beirut accent is the mellowest and most highly regarded, while country accents are harsher.
After World War II, Lebanon was placed under French mandate.
Later, France gave Lebanon a parliamentary system and, for the first time in the Middle East, created a nation where Christians had a strong political presence: each government office was apportioned to a representative of the country's main sects, with the presidency reserved for the Maronite Christians.
The Phoenicians are celebrated today in the government-supervised history books as the inventors of the alphabet and as the symbol of Lebanon's golden past.
In the medieval period, Christian minorities often helped the Crusaders.
Government buildings are generally simple and do not display reliefs, paintings, or slogans. Rice is nearly a staple, and pasta is very popular. Red meat and chicken are common but are usually eaten as part of a dish.This created a close relationship between Lebanese Christians, particularly the Maronites, and Europe, particularly France.These ties persisted and grew stronger, especially in the eighteenth century, and were a major factor in the creation of the modern Lebanon.Latin later became common, and finally the Arab invasion in the eighth century introduced and assured the hegemony of Arabic.Today, all Lebanese speak Arabic; most of them, especially the upper and middle classes, speak French; recently, English has become increasingly important. The cedar in the center of the Lebanese flag is the symbol of six thousand years of history: the cedar was Lebanon's chief export in ancient times.
Most of Lebanon's population lives in the main cities of Beirut, Tripoli, and Sidon which are densely populated. Apartments are usually decorated in western style: couches are placed against the walls, end tables are common, and walls are often adorned with framed paintings and tapestries.