Cedarland

Mandate, Independence, and the Formation of a Political System.

The history of Lebanon as a separate entity from its neighbours began many thousands of years ago, long before the modern state was born. In fact it is doubtful whether any country in the Middle East apart form Egypt can claim such a long and continuos history as a separate political entity. Certain unique features had appeared as far back as the Byzantine Empire, but the modern Lebanese entity emerged in the late 16th century during the rain of Fakhr al-Din II when within its territory an evolving form of political authority continued without interruption to our own time, giving Lebanon and the Lebanese a separate and distinct identity and a strong sense of nationality. Over the years, so successfully did the Maronites consolidate their power that much of their territory had grown virtually independent by the second half of the 16th century. The effort to maintain this independence dominated Maronite policy throughout the subsequent four hundred years of Turkish aggression. Lebanese history from the 16th century until 1840 largely records the efforts of the Turk to divide the country, and the efforts of one local emir after another to unite Lebanon against Ottoman rule. On the whole the emirs were surprisingly successful. Two among them, the Emirs Fakhr al-Din II and Bashir II, were outstanding.

Fakhr al-Din was an exceptional man, for fifty years (1585-1635) he planned, intrigued, and fought for Lebanese independence, and in so doing created the Greater Lebanon for the first time. Fakhr's realm extended well beyond the current state of Lebanon. His achievement cost him five years exile and finally his life. In 1613 he was forced to fly the country, and escaping on a French vessel found a welcome at the court of the Medicis. Eighteen years after his return to the Lebanon, he left the country again, a prisoner, going to his death at Constantinople. He was a capable, imaginative and ambitious man, Fakhr al-Din's administration laid the foundations of a security which made the Lebanon in the 17th and 18th centuries the safest district in the Turkish Empire. The resulting co-operation of Druze and Christian was, for nearly two hundred and fifty years, an embarrassment to the Turks. Fakhr al-Din's contacts with the Florentine Renaissance were as useful to him, in the pursuit and elaboration of his policies, as were his Florentine engineers in the execution of infrastucture projects such as his harbour works. Fakhr was a remarkable prince, his reputation was outstanding in his lifetime.

Throughout Emir Bashir's life of over eighty years (1767-1850) he dominated the fortunes of Lebanon, disputing its control with all comers, and extending its territories and autonomy almost to the limits achieved by Fakhr al-Din. Bashir's extraordinary career, with its no less extraordinary vicissitudes, he had to flee the country on four occasions, coincided with a period in which Lebanese affairs were taking a new and yet more complicated turn. Since Napoleon's expedition the western powers had intervened increasingly in Turko-Lebanese politics, and even the Emir, scheming in his mountain palace, found it at times impossible to play off the many interests involved. There was also a serious deterioration in Maronite-Druze relations and their fruitful co-operation was drawing to an end. This was primarily due to Druze jealousies and apprehensions which were exploited and encouraged by the Turks and apparently also by the English. Further the Maronite and Druze communities were undergoing structural alteration and their old feudal organization was breaking down. As long as the Emir Bashir, who could command the obedience of both parties, remained in power there was no serious open rupture. Not until his final exile in 1840 did the trouble develop which was to culminate in the Druze massacre of the Maronites in 1860. This event, by precipitating the intervention of the European powers, marked a new era in the history of the Mountain. Owing to European pressure and a French military expedition, the Porte was compelled to provide for the peculiar position of the Mountain and officially to recognize the autonomy for which the Maronites had so long struggled. A Lebanese enclave was created, much smaller than the Greater Lebanon, it was given a Christian governor and depended directly from the Porte rather than from the local pasha. This arrangement persisted until the First World War.

The war hit Lebanon hard. The Turks commandeerd Lebanon's food supplies and requisitioned its beasts of burden and so caused hundreds of thousands of deaths from widespread famine. The land also became a paradise for disease and plagues claimed thousands of souls. During this period, Lebanon suffered more than any other Ottoman province, loosing over one third of its population to slow and painful deaths.

At the end of the First World War, in an attempt to ensure that the suffering they had experienced over past years would not happen again, the Maronites demanded a state whose boarders were those established naturally by the Lebanese of times gone by, a Greater Lebanon. The Maronites wanted a state which would be large enough to stand on its own and one in which the Lebanese could control their own destinies. They based their demands on appeals to history, geography and economics. In Paris, after the war the Lebanese claims were pressed by the Central Syrian Committee of Shukri Ghanim and by delegations sent by the Maronite Patriarch, Elias Huwayyik.

On 10 November 1919, in a letter to Huwayyik, Georges Clemenceau, the French prime minister, committed France to support an independent Lebanese state and in April 1920 the San Reno conference gave the mandate over Lebanon and Syria to France. The mandate was an innovation in international relationship. Credit for its origination is given to General Smuts of South Africa and President Wilson of the United States. In the act of the mandate Lebanon and Syria were acknowledged as class A and included in the same document. One high commissioner was appointed for both. The principle underlying this class was expressed in Article 22 of the covenant of the League of Nations:

'Certain communities formerly belonging to the Turkish Empire have reached a stage of development where their existence as independent nations can be provisionally recognized subject to the rendering of administrative advice and assistance by a Mandatory until such time as they are able to stand alone. The wishes of these communities must be a principal consideration in the selection of the Mandatory.'

As a matter of fact only the United States sent a commission to ascertain the "wishes of these communities". Its report, never published officially, left no doubt about Syrian determined opposition to the French mandate. But in Lebanon the vast majority favoured the French mandate and demanded an independent Greater Lebanon from Tripoli to Tyre.

The act of the mandate recognized in principle the independence of both Lebanon and Syria but it was flawed as it lacked implementation for the attainment of that end. It set no specific time limit for the duration of the mandate and fixed no criteria for measuring the people's attainment of capacity for the full exercise of self-government. It left the minor at the mercy of the trustee. The entire act of mandate bears the marks of a hasty and careless document. One article put French side by side with Arabic as official language but maintained Arabic as the medium of public instruction. Of its twenty articles only one, dealing archaeology, was given any thought and is analysed and subdivided into eight sections, constituting a sixth of the entire text. The mandate had to start from scratch. Its task was no less than creating and developing administrative, legislative and judiciary agencies concerned with public safety and the execution of justice, health and education and public works. A provisional constitution for governing the new state and determining its frontiers was promulgated. Lebanon had no system of public education; one was devised, wholly limited to the elementary level. Modern codes for civil procedure were introduced. The Ottoman municipal law was replaced (1922) by one enabling about a hundred and twenty towns and villages to practise a measure of home rule. Means of communication were improved. Special care was bestowed on Beirut harbour, neglected since its construction by a French company in 1889-94.

The mandate proceeded and between 1920 and 1925 Lebanon was ruled by French governors assisted by advisory councils, the first three high commissioners sent by France were generals with distinction in the war as a main credential. Their troops were largely Senegalese. Their aides were drawn mainly from colonial service. The only system of rule they knew was the familiar one, and so they needed to adapt. Not only was the new situation calling for new techniques but the country was at a new depth in its economic, social, political and spiritual affairs. First in the series of rapidly changing commissioners was General Henri Gouraud, hero of the Marne and victor in the battle against the Syrian army. On September 1, 1920, the high commissioner made the following historic proclamation:

'At the foot of these majestic mountains, which have been the strength of your country, and remain the impregnable stronghold of its faith and freedom, on the shore of this sea of many legends that has seen the triremes of Phoenicia, Greece and Rome and now, by a happy fate, brings you the confirmation of a great and ancient friendship and the blessings of French peace. I solemnly salute Grand Liban, in its glory and prosperity, in the name of the Government of the French Republic.'

Thus was Greater Lebanon reborn. The area which belonged to it, geographically and historically, was reunited. Christians formed a majority of the population of Greater Lebanon comprising 55 per cent of the population and the Maronites, while still the largest single community, numbered one-third of the whole. The second largest community at one-fifth of the whole was the Sunni Muslims many of whom bitterly resented the loss of their former supremacy under the Ottomans and wanted to be part of a Muslim Greater Syria. The advisory councils set up in 1920 were replaced in 1922 by representative councils, which were fashioned in a manner which was to be significant for the future of Lebanon because deputies were elected on a confessional basis, that is the seats were divided proportionately among religious communities.

In 1926 the Lebanese Republic was established under the constitution of 23 May 1926. The transition from representative assembly to chamber of deputies was not accomplished smoothly and in 1925-6 the Lebanese political system passed through a major crisis. In 1925 the representative council was abolished by General Maurice Sarrail who disliked the whole confessional system and proposed for Lebanon a quite different mode of development, namely that Lebanon should become a secular state. Sarrail wanted to end the system of representation of religious communities, to replace the administrative organization of Lebanon with new arrangements which obliterated the old confessional divisions, and to break the hold of the religious communities on education which should henceforth become the responsibility of the secular state. Sarrails proposals encountered widespread opposition from most religious communities in Lebanon and they were aborted for this reason and also partly because of a Druze uprising in Syria which Sultan al-Atrash tried to extend into Chouf region of Lebanon.

The Lebanese constitution of 1926 preserved the confessional system established four years earlier and in its origins dating back to the middle of the nineteenth century. There was an elected chamber of deputies, a senate nominated by the French high commissioner on a confessional basis, a president and a cabinet. The first president was Charles Dabbas, a Greek Orthodox chosen by the commissioner at the time, Henri de Jouvenal. Although French control was still secured through the influence of the high commissioner, and also through the control of military forces and the Common Interests, the Lebanese Republic provided an arena in which the political life of Lebanon could develop. In the early years, however, that development was impaired by the continued refusal of some of the population of Lebanon to work the system. Many Sunnis were wholly opposed to the state; the Shiites were suspicious, although Shiite notables were more willing to co-operate; and many Greek Orthodox, although concerned about the prospect of Muslim rule, continued to resent Catholic pre-eminence. The Druzes were divided: they disliked Maronite domination but were in favour of an independent Lebanon; some notables, like the Jumblatts were willing to co-operate with France and some, like the Arslans, refused.

Between 1926 and 1943 Lebanese politics became directed towards the future of Lebanon and maronite attempts to secure the co-operation of the Sunnis. Many Maronites believed that Greater Lebanon must always expect Muslim hostility and therefore should lean wholly on French support. For much of his career Edde took this view as did his great rival, Bishara al-Khuri, in the early years of the state. Non Maronites like Charles Dabbas and Fuad Arslan also thought French protection essential. Faced with the difficulty of securing this co-operation, Emile Edde, who in 1919 had been one of the foremost advocates of a Greater Lebanon, suggested abandoning the northern and southern regions and leaving only the Mountains, the Bekaa Valley and Beirut as the independent Lebanon. The vast majority of Maronites, however, believed that in the long run a Greater Lebanon could work only if the Muslims were persuaded to accept it and eventually this view was taken up by Bishara al-Khuri. For this to succeed, it was necessary that first the generation of Sunni politicians and notables with memories of Ottoman domination should pass away and be replaced by a new group whose attitudes were not shaped by the past.

A leading feature of Lebanese politics was, and to a large extent still is, the pre-dominance of notables. The Sunni notables resembled those of Syria with their Ottoman education and experience although their wealth often derived more from their urban activities than from their land holding. The cousins, Sami al-Sulh and Riyad al-Sulh, both of whom had adopted Arab nationalist views before 1918, came from an old Ottoman bureaucratic family from Sidon, but settled in Beirut. Abd al-Hamid al-Karami and his son Rashid al-Karami came from a religious family in Tripoli which had held the office of mufti. Saib Salam was the son of a deputy in the Ottoman parliament from a Beirut merchant family. An interesting personality was Shaykh Muhammad al-Jisr, from a religious family in Tripoli with a record of Ottoman service. He was one of the earliest of the Sunni notables to co-operate with France and served as president of the senate and later of the chamber of deputies from 1926 to 1932. Another member of an old Tripoli family was Khayr al-Din al-Ahdab who moved to Beirut and established a newspaper which became the vehicle for his Pan-Arab views. Later, he modified his views and in 1937 he became the first Muslim prime minister of Lebanon. The Shiite notables, on the other hand, were usually large landlords. Prominent among them were the Asads of the south and the Hamadas of the Bekaa. The Druze leaders, like the Shiites, tended to favour traditional status. In terms of status the leading family was that of the Arslans but in terms of land holdings the most wealthy were the Jumblatts. The rivalry between these two families was an important factor in Druze and Lebanese politics for it determined with whom they would work.

The Christian notables had a rather different background as most of them had studied in non-Ottoman schools and colleges, notably at the Jesuit college of St Joseph, and learned their political craft in the autonomous district of Mount Lebanon. Many were landowners but many also had moved into urban occupations. The Greek Catholic notables, Michel Shiha and Salim Taqia, were bankers. The Greek Orthodox were often from long established merchant families like that of the lawyer and millionaire, Petro Trad. Among the Maronites there were many landowners but professional men were the leaders in politics. Emile Edde was a Paris educated lawyer, more at home in French than in Arabic. Bishara al-Khuri, son of a civil servant who had served in the old autonomous district, was also trained as a lawyer. An interesting example of the composite nature of the Christian notable was Camille Chamoun who came from a land owning family in the Shuf but acquired a legal education and entered politics: in the Shuf he was a traditional notable; in Beirut a modern political leader. A similar appearance was made by Sulieman Franjieh from the north: in his stronghold of Zaghurta he was a traditional figure while in Beirut he played the modern game of politics. In the career of the Lebanese notable the two elements balanced and supported each other: his political base was his region; to reward his followers he was obliged to seek office. To stand aloof from politics altogether was a luxury which few notables could afford; the new political arena reshaped their traditional life.

In 1939 the world faced a second great war. On September 9 1939, High Commissioner Gabriel Puaux suspended the Lebanese constitution, dissolved the chamber, restricted presidential power, and declared martial law in both Lebanon and Syria. In the summer of the following year, when France capitulated to Germany and a collaborationist government at Vichy replaced that of Paris, Puaux and the French commander-in-chief of the entire Allied troops in the Levant declared loyalty to Vichy as against the Free French organized by General de Gaulle. De Gaulle had refused to recognize the capitulation and advocated continuing the fight. This move on the part of Puaux and the French commander imperilled the British position in Egypt, Palestine and Iraq. It further endangered the whole war effort. In June 1941 British troops, assisted by Free French units, expelled the Vichy and Axis forces and occupied Lebanon and Syria.

General Georges Catroux was de Gaulle's choice for governing the mandated territory as delegategeneral and for commanding the troops of the Levant. On November 26, 1941, Catroux proclaimed in the name of his government and its ally the termination of the mandate and the "sovereignty and independence" of Lebanon and its sister Syria. Great Britain extended immediate recognition to the two republics. The United States lost no time in nominating a diplomatic agent and consul-general. With the resumption of constitu- tional life Lebanon in 1943 sent to the chamber deputies with pronounced nationalist leanings. The chamber elected Bisharah al-Khuri, a French-educated Maronite lawyer who had held high government positions, as president of the republic, and approved Riyad al-Sulh, a pro Arab Sunnite leader who had been sentenced by Jamal Pasha to "perpetual exile", as prime minister. It then proceeded to purge the constitution of all references to France as the mandatory and of all articles deemed inconsistent with the new status. Find- ing the Lebanese authorities unrelenting the delegate-general suspended the constitution, arrested President al-Khuri, his prime minister and other cabinet members and sent them into exile in the castle of Rashayya. He declared martial law and imposed strict censorship.

Nothing could have more infuriated the public. Riots, demonstrations and strikes spread. A wave of disgust swept through the Arab countries. Lebanese emigrants in America and other lands bombarded their governments with protests. Under pressure from within and without France yielded. On November 21, after eleven days of confinement, the exiles were returned triumphant. With the reinstatement of the legal authorities on the second day, now celebrated as a national holiday, the constitutional institutions began to function again. In the course of 1944 almost all important French powers and services were transferred to local hands. In February 1945 the republic, to qualify for membership in the proposed United Nations, declared nominal war on Germany and Japan. An engraved tablet on that rock of ages at the mouth of the river north of Beirut records:

On December 31, 1946, the evacuation of all foreign troops from Lebanese soil was completed in the days of His Excellency Bisharah al-Khuri, president of the republic.

A key factor in the achievement of Lebanese independence had been the co-operation of Christian and Muslim politicians. This co-operation was founded on an unwritten understanding about power sharing known as the National Pact. Many earlier proposals for securing Christian-Muslim co-operation in Greater Lebanon had been based on the Sarrail model of individual equality in a secular state. The National Pact adopted the opposite approach and endeavoured to secure co-operation in a pluralist polity in which power was shared on a confessional basis. It incorporated both the ideas of men like Michcl Shiha, a Greek Catholic banker and one of the architects of the 1926 constitution, and the experience gained in working the system since 1926. In many ways the National Pact merely endorsed the practice of Lebanese politics.

To understand this power sharing system it is first necessary to enumerate the religious communities of Lebanon. The largest single community was the Maronite, 29 per cent of the population in 1932, located in the northern and central parts of Mount Lebanon and in east Beirut. The second was the Sunni Muslims, 23 per cent, mainly urban and in the coastal towns of Tripoli, Sidon and Beirut. The Shiites, still a predominantly rural community in 1943, had 20 per cent and were located in the south and in the northern Biqa The Greek Orthodox (10 per cent) were, like the Sunnis, mainly urban but were also found in the Kura in north Lebanon. Next came the Druzes (7 per cent) in the southern part of Mount Lebanon, notably in the Shouf. Greek Catholics (6 per cent) were a prosperous urban community strong in Beirut and in the town of Zahle. The remaining 5 per cent of the population consisted mainly of Christian sects living in Beirut of which the most important was the Armenians, essentially an exile community whose politics were still formed around earlier struggles for Armenia and a contest for control of the Armenian church organization. The percentages given for these groups are all from the 1932 census although they no longer truly reflected the situation in 1943. In particular they overestimated the Christian proportion and underestimated the weight of the Shiite population. Nevertheless, they formed the basis of the division of power agreed primarily by Maronites and Sunnis. The division of power was as follows. The president was to be a Maronite (as he had been since 1934), the prime minister a Sunni Muslim (since 1937), and the president of the chamber of deputies a Shiite. Representatives in the chamber of deputies were to be apportioned on the basis of six Christians to five Muslims, an arrangement introduced in the summer of 1943. Thereafter the number of deputies was a multiple of 11. Confessional representation was also extended to the cabinet. Cabinets consisted of eight or ten members including two (or three) Maronites, two (or three) Sunnis and one each from the Greek Orthodox, the Greek Catholics, the Shiites and the Druzes.

By independence the ingredients necessary for one to succeed in politics in Lebanon were established. These were a land owning base with local followers, urban wealth, modern skills and good alliances. Landowners were the leading group in Lebanese chambers down to independence and beyond falling from nearly 60 per cent in the 1920s to 40 per cent in 1957 and only 10 per cent in 1968. In Lebanon, however, those with modern skills came more quickly to the fore than in other countries of the region. By 1929 lawyers already numbered a quarter of the chamber and by 1943 they were nearly 40 per cent. In this shift Christians took the lead and Muslims followed. Lawyers also predominated in governments. Between 1926 and 1972, 8 out of 12 presidents and 7 prime ministers were lawyers. The proportion of lawyers in cabinets between 1943 and 1972 was between one third and two thirds. By contrast businessmen did not go into government in large numbers: only 6 per cent of members of Lebanese cabinets were in this category. In the rise of the professional politician one can begin to see the seeds of major change in Lebanon, namely the passing of many of the traditional notable families who could not well adapt to the requirements of the new political arena. In 1936, some 38 per cent of chamber seats were held by notable families which dated back to the nineteenth century; by 1972 such families held only 7 per cent of seats. The pre-eminence of a few families at the highest levels of Lebanese politics was a phenomenon that was especially pronounced among the Sunnis. Of 35 cabinets formed between 1943 and 1964 no less than 31 were headed by members of four families, the Solhs, the Karamis, the Yafis, and the Salams. These Sunni prime ministers formed alliances with the Maronite presidents.

From 1946 until 1958 the Lebanese political system was successful in providing a basis for considerable freedom and prosperity in Lebanon and with some modifications after that year it continued to do so until 1975. That it could do so depended upon it being asked to do very little. Whereas in every other part of the Near East one witnesses the often spectacular expansion of government activity, during the same period in Lebanon the government remained modest and unambitious. The Lebanese economy ran with the minimum of government control and with much success. Lebanon is a small, densely populated mountainous country. Only one-quarter of the land is cultivable with the consequence that urbanization proceeded more rapidly in Lebanon than elsewhere. By the late 1960s about 50 per cent of the population of Lebanon lived in towns. Most, however, did not work in manufacturing industry but in construction or services. Of the gross national product 18 per cent came from agriculture, 12 per cent from industry and 70 per cent from services. An economy based upon private service industries is peculiarly well adapted to flourish without government controls. In 1948 Lebanon had adopted a policy of free trade and free currency exchange. Trade expanded and Beirut became the leading banking centre of the Near East. The economic and the political systems of Lebanon were in harmony. On the other hand the benefits accrued especially to those groups who controlled the service industries. Agricultural and industrial workers were much less content. For them increased state intervention in the economy could bring increased prosperity.

By 1958 the pressures from those who were discontented with the allocation of economic and political benefits in Lebanon had become strong, especially in Beirut whither had come migrants from hitherto quiescent rural communities, notably the Shiites. The discontented were mobilized by two political leaders, Kamal Jumblatt and Sa'ib Salam who formed a coalition called the National Front to challenge the government. The international situation also favoured a challenge. Chamoun and his foreign minister, Charles Malik, were especially identified with a pro-Western policy and in 1957 had accepted the Elsenhower doctrine. Inevitably this action placed Lebanon in opposition to Egypt, whose leader, Abd al-Nasir, had become a hero for Lebanese Sunni Muslims and all those who believed that Lebanon should pursue a Pan-Arab policy.

The coalition of the National Front which confronted Chamoun received a setback in the parliamentary elections of 1958 when many of its leaders were defeated. The National Front then turned to street demonstrations and strikes. With large scale Arab support particularly from Syria and Egypt, the National Front used the 1958 union between Syria and Egypt to inspire their followers to turn to violence.


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