Lebanon recognises 18 religious communities across the country and all are represented in the complex politicial system.
The three highest offices in government are reserved for Shia Muslim, Sunni Muslim and Maronite Christian politicians.
The ties that bind the disparate factions have led to the development of distinct majority and opposition blocs.
Some of the major players in Lebanese politics are:
Michel Sleiman is the chief commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), who succeeded Emile Lahoud when the latter was elected president of Lebanon.
|Michel Sleiman [EPA]|
The head of the Lebanese army since 1998, Sleiman is seen as a unifying figure in Lebanon, where nearly every politician is considered to be either pro or anti-Syrian.
The 59-year-old Maronite Christian was once seen as a supporter of Syria, and was a key facilitator in ending its 29-year military presence in Lebanon in 2005.
His profile as a strong Lebanese leader was boosted after the Lebanese army cleared the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp of al-Qaeda-inspired Fatah al-Islam fighters after a 15-week siege in May 2007.
He also gained support after refusing to deploy the military to crack down on massive anti-Syria street demonstrations in March 2005, days after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the former prime minister.
Sleiman is the consensus candidate for Lebanon’s vacant presidency, but his election to the post has been held up amid political wrangling between the government and the opposition.
Hassan Nasrallah is secretary-general of Hezbollah, a Shia political party and resistance movement.
|Hassan Nasrallah [EPA]|
Nasrallah joined Hezbollah in 1982 after spending several years as a member of Amal. He became Hezbollah’s secretary-general in 1992.
He guided the organisation through a concerted period of political accommodation with other parties in Lebanon, establishing a bona fide political party alongside its resistance operations.
Under his leadership, Hezbollah also increased its attacks against Israeli occupying forces. Israel and its proxies were forced from Lebanon in 2000.
Israel’s failure to wipe out Hezbollah in last year’s war in Lebanon further boosted Nasrallah’s image as a hero across the Arab world.
After the war, Nasrallah led calls for a Lebanese national unity government to be formed. He has criticised what he calls Western interference in Lebanese affairs. Hezbollah is backed by Iran and Syria.
The group has criticised the UN’s formation of an international tribunal to investigate the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, a former Lebanese prime minister.
The last UN report on the investigations have blamed Syria for the political tensions in Lebanon and talked about “a criminal network” behind the string of assassinations in the country.
Saad al-Hariri is leader of the Future Movement (al-Mustaqbal), a Sunni Muslim party.
|Saad al-Hariri [AFP]|
The Future Movement is the largest party within the March 14 Forces, Lebanon’s majority bloc in parliament.
Al-Hariri became Future’s leader in 2005 after his father, Rafiq, was assassinated.
The Future Movement later formed allegiances with other parties, including the Druze Progressive Socialist Party and the Christian Lebanese Forces.
The new March 14 Forces alliance ran on an anti-Syria platform in 2005’s parliamentary elections, calling on Damascus to end its alleged interference in Lebanese affairs.
Saad al-Hariri was tipped to become Lebanon’s prime minister following the March 14 Forces’ victory in the 2005 elections.
He declined the post, recommending the selection of Fouad Siniora, an economist and finance minister during the prime ministerial terms of Rafiq al-Hariri.
Al-Hariri is in favour of disarming Hezbollah’s Islamic Resistance wing. He is backed by the US and France.
Fouad Siniora is the Lebanese prime minister and a member of Saad Hariri’s Future party (al-Mustaqbal).
|Fouad Siniora [EPA]|
He has served twice as Lebanon’s finance minister, on both occasions for the late Rafiq al-Hariri, a close political ally and friend.
Siniora became prime minister in 2005, when the March 14 Forces took a parliamentary majority.
Several months after the war between Hezbollah and Israel, supporters of a Hezbollah-Amal-Free Patriotic Movement alliance called for Siniora to leave office.
The opposition has argued that Siniora has failed to deliver assistance to areas of Lebanon worst affected by Israel’s bombing campaign.
Siniora’s cabinet has been effectively impotent since the Hezbollah-led opposition pulled its members from the cabinet in November 2006. However, his government receives support from the US and France.
Walid Jumblatt, a Druze, leads the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), part of the majority March 14 Forces bloc.
|Walid Jumblatt [EPA]|
In 1982 and 1983, as Lebanon’s civil war raged, Jumblatt led a Druze group against Maronite Christian fighters in retaliation for atrocities committed against the Druze earlier in the war.
After his fighters defeated the Maronites, Jumblatt solidified his position as de facto leader of the Druze community.
He is famous for shifting his political allegiances in order to protect the long-term interests of the Druze.
Jumblatt supported Syria’s military and security presence in Lebanon after the civil war ended in 1990, but vociferously campaigned for an end to Syrian influence after the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister.
He has maintained good relations with international politicians and commands significant respect across Lebanon’s sects.
Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, leads the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), a Christian political organisation which advocates a secular character for Lebanon.
|General Michel Aoun [EPA]|
A former commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army, Aoun was also prime minister and acting president of the predominantly Christian military government in east Beirut in the last two years of Lebanon’s civil war.
His rule ended when he was forced from the presidential palace at Baabda by Syrian troops.
Aoun fiercely criticised Syrian influence in Lebanon after he went into exile in 1991. He founded the Free Patriotic Movement while in Paris.
He returned to Lebanon in May 2005, shortly before the FPM agreed “a memorandum of understanding” with Hezbollah, a Shia political party and resistance movement.
The FPM is part of the Hezbollah-led opposition to the majority March 14 Forces parliamentary bloc.
Nabih Berri holds the position of house speaker in Lebanon’s national assembly, and is leader of Amal, a Shia Muslim party.
|Nabih Berri [EPA]|
Berri took full control of Amal in 1980 and led the organisation for the remainder of Lebanon’s civil war.
Amal was particularly involved in battles for control of Muslim west Beirut.
At the height of the war, Amal fought Hezbollah, a rival Shia movement.
Berri’s group currently has cordial relations with Hezbollah, and supported it in its July-August 2006 war with Israel.
Berri currently dismisses the rump Lebanese cabinet as unconstitutional and unrepresentative.
His criticism comes after ministers opposed to the March 14 parliamentary majority pulled out of the Lebanese cabinet in November 2006, in protest at the failure to form a unity cabinet.
Samir Geagea is head of the Lebanese Force, a predominantly Maronite Christian political party and former militia group.
|Samir Geagea [EPA]|
Geagea became an active member of the right-wing Phalangist Party, which became the main Christian fighting force upon the outbreak of the civil war in 1975.
In the early 1980s, he was appointed as the head of the Lebanese Forces militia northern front.
He led the group in fighting against the Syrian army, Walid Jumblatt’s PSP and Palestinian fighters.
Geagea spoke out against Syrian influence in Lebanon after the civil war ended and refused to join the cabinet.
He was jailed for life in 1994 in connection to assassinations carried out during the civil war but after the 2005 elections an amnesty bill was passed and Geagea was freed.
Geagea says he was a political prisoner and was convicted because of his opposition to Syria.