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Arabic is the official language of the country, and is even spoken by the minority population of Lebanese Jews.The Armenian population speaks mostly Armenian or Turkish, while Assyrians speak Syriac. A land of varied terrain, Lebanon encompasses coastline, mountain, and fertile growing regions such as the Bekáa Valley, which is a primary cereal-producing region.Christians, who account for under two-fifths of the total Lebanese population, include the Maronites (the most numerous and the most powerful) at 22 percent, the Eastern Orthodox at 10 percent; Melkites (Greek Catholics) and Armenians, each at 6 percent, and Protestants at 2.5 percent.Through Lebanon's unwritten National Pact of 1943, political power was apportioned between Christians and Muslims.The population of the country is made up of ethnic groups from every Middle Eastern country, which is reflective of Lebanon's long history. Both Muslims and Christians have many sectarian subdivisions, 17 in all.Among the Muslim population, the Shi'a are the most numerous with about 35 percent, the Sunni number around 23 percent, and the Druze comprise 6 percent.
From 1516 until 1916, when the Ottoman Empire was dismembered by the victors of World War I, the area that is now Lebanon was part of the Ottoman province of Greater Syria.This identity strengthened in the 1940s, when Lebanon gained independence.