This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of the Lebanon Republic (Al Jumhuriyah al Lubnaniyah), based on research produced by GlobaLex at NYU Law School and the Library of Congress. Under Lebanon's Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) has no legal status.
Lebanon is located in the Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon is a rather small country, roughly four times the size of Rhode Island. It is bounded by Israel, Syria, and the Palestinian Territories. The capital of Lebanon is Beirut. The official language is Arabic, though French is often used at the government level as well. The country's population in 2017 was approximately 6.2 million. This includes a large refugee population, and in fact, one out of every four people in Lebanon is a refugee. Lebanon is a multi-religious country, with 54% of the population Muslim (27% Shīʿī and 27% Sunnī), 40.5% Christian (21% Maronite Catholic, 8% Greek Orthodox, 5% Greek Catholic, and 6.5% other Christian), and 5.6% Druze. Lebanon is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and Arab League.
Constitutional and Legal Structure
Lebanon is referred to as a parliamentary republic, in which sovereignty belongs to the people and the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Although Lebanon's Constitution was adopted in 1926, the country did not fully gain its independence from France until 1943. This independence was achieved largely due to the unwritten National Pact of 1943, which divided power between the legislative branch and the judicial branch. The National Pact transformed the Lebanese political system into a confessional state, where religious affiliation determines the extent of one’s political rights and privileges, and divided various state offices and leadership positions between Lebanon's major ethno-religious groups. The terms of the National Pact are:
Despite this, sectarian tensions continued to increase until Lebanon broke into civil war (1975-1991), which finally ended with the Taif Agreement. In addition to reinstating democracy, the Taif agreement modified the terms of the National Pact, limiting the powers of the president and changing the parliament's Christian to Muslim ratio to 1:1.
The Lebanese legal system is a mixed legal system of civil law, based on the French civil code, Ottoman legal tradition, and religious laws covering personal status, marriage, divorce, and other family relations of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian communities.
Constitutional Status of Islamic Law
Islamic law has no constitutional status in Lebanon.
Jurisdiction(s) of Islamic Law
In matters of personal status (such as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and child custody), Islamic law has some official jurisdiction. However, this is only true for Lebanon's Muslim population. Different religious laws govern the personal affairs of Lebanese Jews and Christians.
Dominant School of Islamic Law
Lebanon has no official school of Islamic law. Lebanon's Muslim population is roughly evenly divided between Shīʿī and Sunnī. Thus, in matters of personal status, either the Jaʿfarī (Shīʿī) or Mālikī (Sunnī) schools may be applied, depending on the individuals involved.
Sources of Law for Legal Research
For an extended list of legal resources for this country, see the Library of Congress’s Research Guide, and for a narrative review, see the GlobaLex Foreign Law Research Guide (most updated version, where available). The Constitution is available in the LOC Guide in its original language and at Constitute in English translation. For full versions of past constitutions, amendments, and related legislation, see HeinOnline World Constitutions Illustrated or Oxford Constitutions of the World [subscription required for each].