Lebanon profile

President: Michel Suleiman

Michel Suleiman A Maronite Christian, Gen Michel Suleiman is widely regarded as a unifying figure

The Lebanese parliament finally elected General Michel Suleiman as president in May 2008 after six months of political stalemate that followed the departure of the previous president, Emile Lahoud, in November 2007.

The agreement that paved the way for his election ended some of the worst factional violence since Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

As mounting clashes raised fears of a renewed civil war, the Western-backed government and the Hezbollah-led opposition agreed on General Suleiman - the head of the country's armed forces - as a compromise candidate.

On taking office, the new president hailed the opening of a new phase in Lebanese history, saying that his fellow countrymen had "refused to succumb to self-destruction".

General Suleiman stood unopposed for the presidency, and is widely seen as a unifying figure, whose apparent neutrality has earned him the respect of both sides of the political divide. He is credited with having kept the army on the sidelines in times of political crisis.

He is a Maronite Christian, and so his election also met the requirement of Lebanon's complex power-sharing system that the presidency should be held by a member of that sect.

The next presidential election is due to take place in the spring of 2014.

Prime minister: Tammam Salam

Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam Tammam Salam had to bridge serious divisions between rival political groups to form a government

The Sunni Muslim politician Tammam Salam was tasked with forming a new government in April 2013, after the divided cabinet of his predecessor, Najib Mikati, failed to reach agreement on how parliamentary elections due later in the year should be staged.

In the event, it took Mr Salam ten months to assemble a new power-sharing cabinet. Meanwhile, the elections were put on hold; they are now due to be held in November 2014.

Mr Salam's unity government is split equally between the two main opposing factions in Lebanese politics - the Hezbollah-led pro-Syria March 8 coalition and the Western-leaning March 14 movement led by Saad Hariri.

The March 8 bloc is Shia-dominated, while the March 14 faction is Sunni-based. The traditional enmity between the two sides has been exacerbated by the conflict in neighbouring Syria, as Hezbollah's Shia fighters have taken the side of the Syrian government while March 14 has supported the rebels.

The length of time it took Mr Salam to form his government is a telling indication of the bitterness of the political divide in Lebanon and the difficulty of getting all sides to agree on the allocation of key ministries.

Announcing the new government, Mr Salam said that it was "the best formula to allow Lebanon to confront challenges", but some of these challenges are likely to be extremely tough ones and the cabinet may struggle to avoid becoming deadlocked over key issues.

Tammam Salam was born in 1945 into a prominent Lebanese political family. His father, Saeb Salam, served as prime minister six times between 1952 and 1973.

Mr Salam does not belong to any political party. His independent status facilitated his acceptance by the Lebanese parliament, which voted overwhelmingly in favour of his nomination after the fall of the Mikati-led government.

He was first elected to parliament in 1996 and served as minister of culture from 2008 to 2009 in the national unity government led by Fouad Siniora.

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