History of Lebanon Lebanon has a heritage as old as the earliest evidence of mankind. Its geographic position as a crossroads linking the Mediterranean Basin with the great Asian hinterland has conferred on it a cosmopolitan character and a multicultural legacy. At different periods of its history, Lebanon has come under the domination of foreign rulers, including Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Ottomans, and French. Although often conquered, Lebanon was never subdued, the Lebanese take pride in their rebellions against despotic and repressive rulers. Moreover, despite foreign domination, Lebanon’s mountainous terrain has provided it with a certain protective isolation, enabling it to survive with an identity all its own. Its proximity to the sea has ensured that throughout its history Lebanon has held an important position as a trading center. This tradition of commerce began with the Phoenicians and continued through many centuries, remaining almost unaffected by foreign rule and the worst periods of internal strife.
The area now known as Lebanon first appeared in recorded history around 3000 B.C. as a group of coastal cities and a heavily forested hinterland. It was inhabited by the Canaanites, a Semitic people, whom the Greeks called “Phoenicians” because of the purple (phoinikies) dye they sold. These early inhabitants referred to themselves as “men of Sidon” or the like, according to their city of origin, and called their nation Canaan. Later, the name of the mountain, Lebanon, was applied to the entire country. The origin of the name “Lebanon” (lebanôn) may be explained in a couple of ways but the most likely and most widely held view is that the name “Lebanon” is derived from the Semitic root lbn or laban and labnan meaning “white” and “to be white”. It is more than reasonable to assume that the almost perennial white snow on the top of the mountain gave it this name. The white chalk and limestone walls that give the Lebanon range its characteristic features would have also contributed to the origin of the name.
Another explanation of the name is in the Hittite and Hurrite words for “cypress” and “juniper” which are very similar in appearance when compared to the Hittite and Hurrite words for “Lebanon Mountains”. It is possible that the cedars of Lebanon could have been the source of the name of both the mountain and the country. In various ancient languages, the name differed only slightly: “Levanon” in Hebrew, “Libnah” in Phoenician, “Labnanu” in Assyrian, and “Lablani” or “Niblani” in Hittite.
Due to the nature of the geography of the country the ancient Lebanese, the Phoenicians, lived in coastal cities and turned to the sea, where they engaged in trade and navigation so as to survive and prosper. Each of the coastal cities was an independent kingdom and had an elected council of elders to check the power of the king, these councils are the first example of democracy in history. In times of danger the city states would unit to form a Phoenician federation. Each city was noted for the special activities of its inhabitants. Tyre and Sidon were important maritime and trade centers; Gubla (Jbiel) known as Byblos, gave its name to the Bible and Berytus (present-day Beirut) were trade and religious centers. Gubla was the first Phoenician city to trade actively with Egypt and the pharaohs of the Old Kingdom (2686-2181 B.C.), exporting cedar, olive oil, and wine, while importing gold and other products from the Nile Valley. The Phoenicians are credited with the invention of the alphabet and its distribution.
Before the end of the seventeenth century B.C., Lebanese Egyptian relations were interrupted when the Hyksos, a nomadic Semitic people, conquered Egypt. After about three decades of Hyksos rule (1600-1570 B.C.), Ahmose I (1570-45 B.C.), a Theban prince, launched the Egyptian liberation war. Opposition to the Hyksos increased, reaching a peak during the reign of the pharaoh Thutmose III (1490-36 B.C.), who invaded Syria, put an end to Hyksos domination, and incorporated Lebanon into the Egyptian Empire.
Toward the end of the fourteenth century B.C., the Egyptian Empire weakened, and Lebanon was able to regain its independence by the beginning of the twelfth century B.C. The subsequent three centuries were a period of prosperity and freedom from foreign control during which the earlier Phoenician invention of the alphabet facilitated communications and trade. The Phoenicians also excelled not only in producing textiles but also in carving ivory, in working with metal, and above all in making glass. Masters of the art of navigation, they founded colonies wherever they went in the Mediterranean Sea (specifically in Cyprus, Rhodes, Crete, and Carthage), they were the rival of Rome and established trade routes to Europe and western Asia. Furthermore, their ships circumnavigated Africa a thousand years before those of the Portuguese. These colonies and trade routes flourished until the invasion of the coastal areas by the Assyrians.
Assyrian rule (875-608 B.C.) deprived the Phoenician cities of their independence and prosperity and brought repeated, unsuccessful rebellions. In the middle of the eighth century B.C., Tyre and Byblos rebelled, but the Assyrian ruler, Tiglath-Pileser, subdued the rebels and imposed heavy tributes. Oppression continued unabated, and Tyre rebelled again, this time against Sargon II (722-05 B.C.), who successfully besieged the city in 721 B.C. and punished its population. During the seventh century B.C., Sidon rebelled and was completely destroyed by Esarhaddon (681-68 B.C.), and its inhabitants were enslaved. Esarhaddon built a new city on Sidon’s ruins. By the end of the seventh century B.C., the Assyrian Empire, weakened by the successive revolts, had been destroyed by Babylonia, a new Mesopotamian power.
Babylonian Rule and the Persian Empire
Revolts in the Phoenician cities became more frequent under Babylonian rule (685-36 B.C.). Tyre rebelled again and for thirteen years resisted a siege by the troops of Nebuchadnezzar (587-74 B.C.). After this long siege, the city capitulated; its king was dethroned, and its citizens were enslaved.
The Achaemenids ended Babylonian rule when Cyrus, founder of the Persian Empire, captured Babylon in 539-38 B.C. and Phoenicia and its neighbors passed into Persian hands. Cambyses (529-22 B.C.), Cyrus’s son and successor, continued his father’s policy of conquest and in 529 B.C. became suzerain of Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. The Phoenician navy supported Persia during the GrecoPersian War (490-49 B.C.). But when the Phoenicians were overburdened with heavy tributes imposed by the successors of Darius I (521-485 B.C.), revolts and rebellions resumed in the Lebanese coastal cities.
Rule of Alexander the Great
The Persian Empire eventually fell to Alexander the Great, king of Macedonia. He attacked Asia Minor, defeated the Persian troops in 333 B.C., and advanced toward the Lebanese coast. Initially the Phoenician cities made no attempt to resist, and they recognized his suzerainty. However, when Alexander tried to offer a sacrifice to Melkurt, Tyre’s god, the city resisted. Alexander besieged Tyre in retaliation in early 332 B.C. After six months of resistance, the city fell, and its people were sold into slavery. Despite his early death in 323 B.C., Alexander’s conquest of the eastern Mediterranean Basin left a Greek imprint on the area. The Phoenicians, being a cosmopolitan people amenable to outside influences, adopted aspects of Greek civilization with ease.
The Seleucid Dynasty
After Alexander’s death, his empire was divided among his Macedonian generals. The eastern part–Phoenicia, Asia Minor, northern Syria, and Mesopotamia–fell to Seleucus I, founder of the Seleucid dynasty. The southern part of Syria and Egypt fell to Ptolemy, and the European part, including Macedonia, to Antigonus I. This settlement, however, failed to bring peace because Seleucus I and Ptolemy clashed repeatedly in the course of their ambitious efforts to share in Phoenician prosperity. A final victory of the Seleucids ended a forty-year period of conflict.
The last century of Seleucid rule was marked by disorder and dynastic struggles. These ended in 64 B.C., when the Roman general Pompey added Syria and Lebanon to the Roman Empire. Economic and intellectual activities flourished in Lebanon during the Pax Romana. The inhabitants of the principal Phoenician cities of Byblos, Sidon, and Tyre were granted Roman citizenship. These cities were centers of the pottery, glass, and purple dye industries; their harbors also served as warehouses for products imported from Syria, Persia, and India. They exported cedar, perfume, jewelry, wine, and fruit to Rome. Economic prosperity led to a revival in construction and urban development; temples and palaces were built throughout the country, as well as paved roads that linked the cities.
Upon the death of Theodosius I in A.D. 395, the empire was divided in two: the eastern or Byzantine part with its capital at Constantinople, and the western part with its capital at Rome. Under the Byzantine Empire, intellectual and economic activities in Beirut, Tyre, and Sidon continued to flourish for more than a century.
The fifth century witnessed the birth of Maronite Christianity. The contribution that the Maronites made and continue to make to Lebanese history, independence and culture is of such magintude that a separate section is dedicated to the Maronites.
In the sixth century a series of earthquakes demolished the huge temples of Baalbek and destroyed the city of Beirut, leveling its famous law school and killing nearly 30,000 inhabitants. To these natural disasters were added the abuses and corruptions prevailing at that time in the empire. Heavy tributes and religious dissension produced disorder and confusion. Furthermore, the ecumenical councils of the fifth and sixth centuries A.D. were unsuccessful in settling religious disagreements. This turbulent period weakened the empire and made it easy prey to the newly converted Muslim Arabs of the Arabian Peninsula.
Enter the Arabs
The Arab Conquest, 634-36
The followers of the Prophet Muhammad, the founder of Islam, embarked on a movement to establish their religious and civil control throughout the eastern Mediterranean from their base in the Arabian Peninsula. Their determination to conquer other lands resulted both from economic necessity and from religious beliefs, which imbued them with contempt for death.
Calling for a jihad (holy war) against non-Muslims, the Prophet’s successor, Caliph Abu Bakr (632-34), brought Islam to the area surrounding Lebanon. Dividing his forces into three groups, he ordered one to move in the direction of Palestine, one toward Damascus, and one toward the Jordan River. The Arab groups under General Khalid ibn al Walid defeated the forces from in 636 at the Battle of Yarmuk in northwestern Jordan.
The Umayyads, 660-750 After the Battle of Yarmuk, Caliph Umar appointed the Arab Muawiyah, founder of the Umayyad dynasty, as governor of Syria, an area that included present-day Lebanon. Muawiyah garrisoned troops on the Lebanese coast and had the Lebanese shipbuilders help him construct a navy to resist any potential Byzantine attack. He also stopped raids by the Marada, a powerful people who had settled in the Lebanese mountains and who were used by the Byzantine rulers to prevent any Arab invasion that would threaten the Byzantine Empire. Concerned with consolidating his authority in Arabia and Iraq, Muawiyah negotiated an agreement in 667 with Constantine IV, the Byzantine emperor, whereby he agreed to pay Constantine an annual tribute in return for the cessation of Marada incursions. During this period some of the Arab tribes settled in the Lebanese and Syrian coastal areas.
The Abbasids, 750-1258 The Abbasids, founded by the Arab Abul Abbas, replaced the Umayyads in early 750. They treated Lebanon and Syria as conquered countries, and their harshness led to several revolts, including an abortive rebellion of Lebanese mountaineers in 759. By the end of the tenth century, the amir of Tyre proclaimed his independence from the Abbasids and coined money in his own name. However, his rule was terminated by the Fatimids of Egypt, an independent Arab Muslim dynasty.
Impact of Arab Rule Arab rule under the Umayyads and Abbasids had a profound impact on the eastern Mediterranean area and, to a great degree, was responsible for the composition of modern Lebanese society. It was during this period that Lebanon became a refuge for various ethnic and religious groups. The presence of these diverse, cohesive groups led to the eventual emergence of the Lebanese confessional state, whereby different religious communities were represented in the government according to their numerical strength.
One of the groups that came to seek refuge in Lebanon was a small Christian sect called Melchites, living in northern and central Lebanon. Influenced by the Greek Christian theology of Constantinople, they accepted the controversial decrees of the Council of Chalcedon, the fourth ecumenical council of the church held in 451, as a result of missionary activity by the Roman Catholic Church. They became known as Greek Catholics because Greek is the language of their liturgy. They lived mainly in the central part of the Biqa Valley with Zahle being their stronghold.
During the Arab era, still another religious faith found sanctuary in Lebanon. After Al Hakim (996-1021), the Fatimid caliph of Egypt, proclaimed himself an incarnation of God, two of his followers, Hamza and Darazi, formulated the dogmas for his cult. Darazi left Egypt and continued to preach these tenets after settling in southern Lebanon. His followers became known as Druzes, along with Christians and Muslims, they constitute major communities in modern Lebanon.
Under the Abbasids, philosophy, literature, and the sciences received great attention, especially during the caliphate of Harun ar Rashid and that of his son, Al Mamun. Lebanon made a notable contribution to this intellectual renaissance. The physician Rashid ad Din, the jurist Al Awazi, and the philosopher Qusta ibn Luqa were leaders in their respective disciplines. The country also enjoyed an economic boom in which the Lebanese harbors of Tyre and Tripoli were busy with shipping as the textile, ceramic, and glass industries prospered. Lebanese products were sought after not only in Arab countries but also throughout the Mediterranean Basin.
The Crusades, 1095-1291
The occupation of the Christian holy places in Palestine and the destruction of the Holy Sepulcher by Caliph Al Hakim led to a series of eight campaigns, known as the Crusades, undertaken by Christians of western Europe to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. The first Crusade was proclaimed by Pope Urban II in 1095 at the Council of Clermont-Ferrand in France. After taking Jerusalem, the Crusaders turned their attention to the Lebanese coast. Tripoli capitulated in 1109; Beirut and Sidon, in 1110. Tyre stubbornly resisted but finally capitulated in 1124 after a long siege.
Although they failed to establish a permanent presence, the Crusaders left their imprint on Lebanon. Among the conspicuous results of the Crusades, which ended with the fall of Acre in 1291, are the remains of many towers along the coast, ruins of castles on hills and mountain slopes, and numerous churches. Of all the contacts established by the Crusaders with the peoples of the Middle East, those with the Maronites of Lebanon, who fought along side the Crusaders were among the most enduring. They acquainted the Maronites with European influences and made them more receptive to friendly approaches from Westerners. During this period the Maronites were brought into a union with the Holy See (Vatican). France was a major participant in the Crusades, and French interest in the region and its Christian population dates to this period.
Bitter conflicts among the various regional and ethnic groups in Lebanon and Syria characterized the thirteenth century. The Crusaders, who came from Europe, the Mongols, who came from the steppes of Central Asia, and the Mamluks, who came from Egypt, all sought to be masters in the area. In this hard and confused struggle for supremacy, victory came to the Mamluks.
The Mamluks, 1282-1516
The Mamluks were a combination of Turkoman slaves from the area east of the Caspian Sea and Circassian slaves from the Caucasus Mountains between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. They were brought in by the Muslim Ayyubid sultans of Egypt to serve as their bodyguards. One of these slaves, Muez-Aibak, assassinated the Ayyubid sultan, Al Ashraf Musa, in 1252 and founded the Mamluk sultanate, which ruled Egypt and Syria for more than two centuries.
From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, the Shia Muslims migrated from Syria, Iraq, and the Arabian Peninsula and to the northern part of the Biqa Valley and to the Kasrawan Region in the mountains northeast of Beirut. They and the Druzes rebelled in 1291 while the Mamluks were busy fighting European Crusaders and Mongols, but after repelling the invaders, the Mamluks crushed the rebellion in 1308. To escape from repression and massacres by the Mamluks, the Shias abandoned Kasrawan and moved to southern Lebanon.
The Mamluks indirectly fostered relations between Europe and the Middle East even after the fall of the Byzantine Empire. The Europeans, accustomed to luxury items from the Middle East, strongly desired both its raw materials and its manufactured products, and the people of the Middle East wished to exploit the lucrative European market. Beirut, favored by its geographical location, became the center of intense trading activity. Despite religious conflicts among the different communities in Lebanon, intellectual life flourished, and economic prosperity continued until Mamluk rule was ended by the Ottoman Turks.
OTTOMAN RULE, 1516-1916
The Ottoman Turks were a Central Asian people who had served as slaves and warriors under the Abbasids. Because of their courage and discipline they became the masters of the palace in Baghdad during the caliphate of Al Mutasim (833-42). The Ottoman sultan, Salim I (1516-20), after defeating the Persians, conquered the Mamluks. His troops, invading Syria, destroyed Mamluk resistance in 1516 at Marj Dabaq, north of Aleppo.
During the conflict between the Mamluks and the Ottomans, the amirs of Lebanon linked their fate to that of Ghazali, governor (pasha) of Damascus. He won the confidence of the Ottomans by fighting on their side at Marj Dabaq and, apparently pleased with the behavior of the Lebanese amirs, introduced them to Salim I when he entered Damascus. Salim I, moved by the eloquence of the Lebanese ruler Amir Fakhr ad Din I (1516-44), decided to grant the Lebanese amirs a semiautonomous status. The Ottomans, through two great Druze feudal families, the Maans and the Shihabs, ruled Lebanon until the middle of the nineteenth century. It was during Ottoman rule that the term Greater Syria was coined to designate the approximate area included in present-day Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel.
The Maans, 1120-1697
The Maan family, under orders from the governor of Damascus, came to Lebanon in 1120 to defend it against the invading Crusaders. They settled on the southwestern slopes of the Lebanon Mountains and soon adopted the Druze religion. Their authority began to rise with Fakhr ad Din I, who was permitted by Ottoman authorities to organize his own army, and reached its peak with Fakhr ad Din II (1570-1635).
Although Fakhr ad Din II’s aspirations toward complete independence for Lebanon ended tragically, he greatly enhanced Lebanon’s military and economic development. Noted for religious tolerance and having converted to a Maronite Christian, Fakhr ad Din attempted to merge the country’s different religious groups into one Lebanese community. In an effort to attain complete independence for Lebanon, he concluded a secret agreement with Ferdinand I, duke of Tuscany in Italy, the two parties pledging to support each other against the Ottomans. Informed of this agreement, the Ottoman ruler in Constantinople reacted violently and ordered Ahmad al Hafiz, governor of Damascus, to attack Fakhr ad Din. Realizing his inability to cope with the regular army of Al Hafiz, the Lebanese ruler went to Tuscany in exile in 1613. He returned to Lebanon in 1618, after his good friend Muhammad Pasha became governor of Damascus.
Following his return from Tuscany, Fakhr ad Din, realizing the need for a strong and disciplined armed force, channeled his financial resources into building a regular army. This army proved itself in 1623, when Mustafa Pasha, the new governor of Damascus, underestimating the capabilities of the Lebanese army, engaged it in battle and was decisively defeated at Anjar in the Biqa Valley. Impressed by the victory of the Lebanese ruler, the sultan of Constantinople gave him the title of Sultan al Barr (Sultan of the Mountain).
In addition to building up the army, Fakhr ad Din, who became acquainted with Italian culture during his stay in Tuscany, initiated measures to modernize the country. After forming close ties with the dukes of Tuscany and Florence and establishing diplomatic relations with them, he brought in architects, irrigation engineers, and agricultural experts from Italy in an effort to promote prosperity in the country. He also strengthened Lebanon’s strategic position by expanding its territory, building forts as far away as Palmyra in Syria, and gaining control of Palestine. Finally, the Ottoman sultan Murad IV of Constantinople, wanting to thwart Lebanon’s progress toward complete independence, ordered Kutshuk, then governor of Damascus, to attack the Lebanese ruler. This time Fakhr ad Din was defeated, and he was executed in Constantinople in 1635. No significant Maan rulers succeeded Fakhr ad Din II.
The Shihabs, 1697-1842
The Shihabs succeeded the Maans in 1697. They originally lived in the Hawran region of southwestern Syria and settled in Wadi at Taim in southern Lebanon. The most prominent among them was Bashir II, who was much like his predecessor, Fakhr ad Din II. His ability as a statesman was first tested in 1799, when Napoleon besieged Acre, a well-fortified coastal city in Palestine, about forty kilometers south of Tyre. Both Napoleon and Al Jazzar, the governor of Acre, requested assistance from the Shihab leader; Bashir, however, remained neutral, declining to assist either combatant. Unable to conquer Acre, Napoleon returned to Egypt, and the death of Al Jazzar in 1804 removed Bashir’s principal opponent in the area.
When Bashir II decided to break away from the Ottoman Empire, he allied himself with Muhammad Ali, the founder of modern Egypt, and assisted Muhammad Ali’s son, Ibrahim Pasha, in another siege of Acre. This siege lasted seven months, the city falling on May 27, 1832. The Egyptian army, with assistance from Bashir’s troops, also attacked and conquered Damascus on June 14, 1832.
Ibrahim Pasha and Bashir II at first ruled harshly and exacted high taxes. These practices led to several revolts and eventually ended their power. In May 1840, despite the efforts of Bashir, the Maronites and Druzes united their forces against the Egyptians. In addition, the principal European powers (Britain, Austria, Prussia, and Russia), opposing the pro-Egyptian policy of the French, signed the London Treaty with the Sublime Porte (the Ottoman ruler) on July 15, 1840. According to the terms of this treaty, Muhammad Ali was asked to leave Syria; when he rejected this request, Ottoman and British troops landed on the Lebanese coast on September 10, 1840. Faced with this combined force, Muhammad Ali retreated, and on October 14, 1840, Bashir II surrendered to the British and went into exile.
In 1840, directly after the deposition of Bashir II, the Ottoman sultan appointed Bashir III as amir of Mount Lebanon. Bitter conflicts between Christians and Druzes, which had been simmering under Ibrahim Pasha’s rule, resurfaced under the new amir. Hence, the sultan deposed Bashir III on January 13, 1842, and appointed Umar Pasha as governor of Mount Lebanon. This appointment, however, created more problems than it solved. Representatives of the European powers proposed to the sultan that Lebanon be partitioned into Christian and Druze sections. On December 7, 1842, the sultan adopted the proposal and asked Assad Pasha, the governor (wali) of Beirut, to divide the region, then known as Mount Lebanon, into two districts: a northern district under a Christian deputy governor and a southern district under a Druze deputy governor. this arrangement came to be known as the Double Qaimaqamate. Both officials were to be responsible to the governor of Sidon, who resided in Beirut. The Beirut-Damascus highway was the dividing line between the two districts.
This partition of Lebanon proved to be a mistake. Animosities between the religious sects increased, nurtured by outside powers. The French, for example, supported the Christians, while the British supported the Druzes, and the Ottomans fomented strife to increase their control. Not surprisingly, these tensions led to conflict between Christians and Druzes as early as May 1845. Consequently, the European powers requested that the Ottoman sultan establish order in Lebanon, and he attempted to do so by establishing a majlis (council) in each of the districts. Each majlis was composed of members who represented the different religious communities and was intended to assist the deputy governor.
This system failed to keep order when the peasants of Kasrawan, overburdened by heavy taxes, rebelled against the feudal practices that prevailed in Mount Lebanon. In 1858 Tanyus Shahin, a Maronite peasant leader, demanded that the feudal class abolish its privileges. When this demand was refused, the poor peasants revolted against the shaykhs of Mount Lebanon, pillaging the shaykhs’ land and burning their homes.
Foreign interests in Lebanon transformed these basically sociopolitical struggles into bitter religious conflicts, culminating in the 1860 massacre of about 10,000 Maronites, as well as Greek Catholics and Greek Orthodox, by the Druzes. These events offered France the opportunity to intervene; in an attempt to forestall French intervention, the Ottoman government stepped in to restore order.
On October 5, 1860, an international commission composed of France, Britain, Austria, Prussia, and the Ottoman Empire met to investigate the causes of the events of 1860 and to recommend a new administrative and judicial system for Lebanon that would prevent the recurrence of such events. The commission members agreed that the partition of Mount Lebanon in 1842 between Druzes and Christians had been responsible for the massacre. Hence, in the Statue of 1861 Mount Lebanon was separated from Syrian administration and reunited under a non-Lebanese Christian mutasarrif (governor) appointed by the Ottoman sultan, with the approval of the European powers. The mutasarrif was to be assisted by an administrative council of twelve members from the various religious communities in Lebanon.
Direct Ottoman rule of Lebanon remained in effect until the end of World War I. This period was generally characterized by a laissez-faire policy and corruption. However, a number of governors, such as Daud Pasha and Naum Pasha, ruled the country efficiently and conscientiously.
Restricted mainly to the mountains by the mutasarrifiyah (district governed by a mutasarrif) arrangement and unable make a living, many Lebanese Christians emigrated to Egypt and other parts of Africa and to North America, South America, and East Asia. Remittances from these Lebanese emigrants send to their relatives in Lebanon has continued to supplement the Lebanese economy to this day.
In addition to being a center of commercial and religious activity, Lebanon became an intellectual center in the second half of the nineteenth century. Foreign missionaries established schools throughout the country, with Beirut as the center of this renaissance. The American University of Beirut was founded in 1866, followed by the French St. Joseph’s University in 1875. An intellectual guild that was formed at the same time gave new life to Arabic literature, which had stagnated under the Ottoman Empire. This new intellectual era was also marked by the appearance of numerous publications and by a highly prolific press.
The period was also marked by increased political activity. The harsh rule of Abdul Hamid II (1876-1909) prompted the nationalists, both Christians and Muslims, in Beirut and Damascus to organize into clandestine political groups and parties. The Lebanese, however, had difficulties in deciding the best political course to advocate. Many Lebanese Christians were apprehensive of Turkish pan-Islamic policies, fearing a repetition of the 1860 massacres. Some, especially the Maronites, began to contemplate secession rather than the reform of the Ottoman Empire. Others, particularly the Greek Orthodox, advocated an independent Syria with Lebanon as a separate province within it, so as to avoid Maronite rule. A number of Lebanese Muslims, on the other hand, sought not to liberalize the Ottoman regime but to maintain it, as Sunni Muslims particularly liked to be identified with the caliphate. The Shias and Druzes, however, fearing minority status in a Turkish state, tended to favor an independent Lebanon or a continuation of the status quo.
Originally the Arab reformist groups hoped their nationalist aims would be supported by the Young Turks, who had staged a revolution in 1908-1909. Unfortunately, after seizing power, the Young Turks became increasingly repressive and nationalistic. They abandoned many of their liberal policies because of domestic opposition and Turkey’s engagement in foreign wars between 1911 and 1913. Thus, the Arab nationalists could not count on the support of the Young Turks and instead were faced with opposition by the Turkish government.
World War I
The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 brought Lebanon further problems, as Turkey allied itself with Germany and AustriaHungary . The Turkish government abolished Lebanon’s semiautonomous status and appointed Jamal Pasha, then minister of the navy, as the commander in chief of the Turkish forces in Syria, with discretionary powers. Known for his harshness, he militarily occupied Lebanon and replaced the Armenian mutasarrif, Ohannes Pasha, with a Turk, Munif Pasha.
Nationalist feelings were running high in Lebanon and in other parts of the Ottoman Empire such as in Armenia and the Turks were not willing to tolerate such fancies anywhere in their Empire. In February 1915, frustrated by his unsuccessful attack on the British forces protecting the Suez Canal, and an Allied initiated a blockade of the entire eastern Mediterranean coast to prevent supplies from reaching the Turks, Jamal Pasha vented his anger on Lebanon and its people. Hoping to put an end to the troublesum Lebanese, the Turks commited mass murder by commandeering Lebanon’s food supplies and so caused hundreds of thousands of deaths from widespread famine and plagues. Lebanon suffered as much as, or more than, any other Ottoman province, loosing over one third of its population. The war also deprived the country of its tourists and summer visitors, and remittances from relatives and friends abroad were lost or delayed for months. The Turkish Army cut down trees for wood to fuel trains or for military purposes, Lebanon lost over 60% of its forests. In 1916 Turkish authorities publicly executed twenty-one Syrians and Lebanese in Damascus and Beirut, respectively, for alleged anti-Turkish activities. The date, May 6, is commemorated annually in both countries as Martyrs’ Day, and the site in Beirut has come to be known as Martyrs’ Square.
Relief came for Lebanon, however, in September 1918 when the British general Edmund Allenby and Faysal I, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, moved into Palestine with British and Arab forces, thus opening the way for the occupation of Syria and Lebanon. At the San Remo Conference held in Italy in April 1920, the Allies gave France a mandate over Greater Syria. France then appointed General Henri Gouraud to implement the mandate provisions.
The Mandate Period
On September 1, 1920, General Gouraud proclaimed the establishment of Greater Lebanon with its present boundaries and with Beirut as its capital. The first Lebanese constitution was promulgated on May 23, 1926, and subsequently amended several times. Modeled after that of the French Third Republic, it provided for a unicameral parliament called the Chamber of Deputies, a president, and a Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The president was to be elected by the Chamber of Deputies for one six-year term and could not be reelected until a six-year period had elapsed; deputies were to be popularly elected along confessional lines. The first and only complete census that had been held in Lebanon took place in 1932 and resulted in the custom of selecting major political officers according to the proportion of the principal sects in the population. Thus, the president was to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim. Theoretically, the Chamber of Deputies performed the legislative function, but in fact bills were prepared by the executive and submitted to the Chamber of Deputies, which passed them virtually without exception. Under the Constitution, the French high commissioner still exercised supreme power, an arrangement that initially brought objections from the Lebanese nationalists. Nevertheless, Charles Dabbas, a Greek Orthodox, was elected the first president of Lebanon three days after the adoption of the Constitution.
At the end of Dabbas’s first term in 1932, Bishara al Khouri (also cited as Khoury) and Emile Iddi (also cited as Edde) competed for the office of president, thus dividing the Chamber of Deputies. To break the deadlock, some deputies suggested Shaykh Muhammad al Jisr, who was chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Muslim leader of Tripoli, as a compromise candidate. However, French high commissioner Henri Ponsot suspended the constitution on May 9, 1932, and extended the term of Dabbas for one year; in this way he prevented the election of a Muslim as president. Dissatisfied with Ponsot’s conduct, the French authorities replaced him with Comte Damien de Martel, who, on January 30, 1934, appointed Habib as Saad as president for a one-year term (later extended for an additional year).
Emile Iddi was elected president on January 30, 1936. A year later, he partially reestablished the Constitution of 1926 and proceeded to hold elections for the Chamber of Deputies. However, the Constitution was again suspended by the French high commissioner in September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II.
World War II and Independence, 1939-43
After the Vichy government assumed power in France in 1940, General Henri-Fernand Dentz was appointed high commissioner of Lebanon. This appointment led to the resignation of Emile Iddi on April 4, 1941. Five days later, Dentz appointed Alfred Naqqash (also given as Naccache or Naccash) as head of state. The Vichy government’s control ended a few months later when its forces were unable to repel the advance of French and British troops into Lebanon and Syria. An armistice was signed in Acre on July 14, 1941.
After signing the Acre Armistice, General Charles de Gaulle visited Lebanon, officially ending Vichy control. Lebanese national leaders took the opportunity to ask de Gaulle to end the French Mandate and unconditionally recognize Lebanon’s independence. As a result of national and international pressure, on November 26, 1941, General Georges Catroux, delegate general under de Gaulle, proclaimed the independence of Lebanon in the name of his government. The United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, the Arab states, and certain Asian countries recognized this independence, and some of them exchanged ambassadors with Beirut. However, even though the French technically recognized Lebanon’s independence, they continued to exercise authority.
General elections were held, and on September 21, 1943, the new Chamber of Deputies elected Bishara al Khouri as president. He appointed Riyad as Sulh (also cited as Solh) as prime minister and asked him to form the first government of independent Lebanon. On November 8, 1943, the Chamber of Deputies amended the Constitution, abolishing the articles that referred to the Mandate and modifying those that specified the powers of the high commissioner, thus unilaterally ending the Mandate. The French authorities responded by arresting a number of prominent Lebanese politicians, including the president, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, and exiling them to the Castle of Rashayya (located about sixty-five kilometers east of Sidon). This action united the Christian and Muslim leaders in their determination to get rid of the French. France, finally yielding to mounting internal pressure and to the influence of Britain, the United States, and the Arab countries, released the prisoners at Rashayya on November 22, 1943; since then, this day has been celebrated as Independence Day.
The ending of the French Mandate left Lebanon a mixed legacy. When the Mandate began, Lebanon was still suffering from the religious conflicts of the 1860s and from World War I. The French authorities were concerned not only with maintaining control over the country but also with rebuilding the Lebanese economy and social systems. They repaired and enlarged the harbor of Beirut and developed a network of roads linking the major cities. They also began to develop a governmental structure that included new administrative and judicial systems and a new civil code. They improved the education system, agriculture, public health, and the standard of living. Concurrently, however, they linked the Lebanese currency to the depreciating French franc, tying the Lebanese economy to that of France. This action had a negative impact on Lebanon. Another negative effect of the Mandate was the place given to French as a language of instruction, a move that favored Christians at the expense of Muslims.
The foundations of the new Lebanese state were established in 1943 by an unwritten agreement between the two most prominent Christian and Muslim leaders, Khouri and Sulh. The contents of this agreement, later known as the National Pact or National Covenant (al Mithaq al Watani), were approved and supported by their followers.
The National Pact laid down four principles. First, Lebanon was to be a completely independent state. The Christian communities were to cease identifying with the West; in return, the Muslim communities were to protect the independence of Lebanon and prevent its merger with any Arab state. Second, although Lebanon is an Arab country with Arabic as its official language, it could not cut off its spiritual and intellectual ties with the West, which had helped it attain such a notable degree of progress. Third, Lebanon, as a member of the family of Arab states, should cooperate with the other Arab states, and in case of conflict among them, it should not side with one state against another. Fourth, public offices should be distributed proportionally among the recognized religious groups, but in technical positions preference should be given to competence without regard to confessional considerations. Moreover, the three top government positions should be distributed as follows: the president of the republic should be a Maronite; the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim; and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, a Shia Muslim. The ratio of deputies was to be six Christians to five Muslims.
From the beginning, the balance provided for in the National Pact was fragile. Many observers believed that any serious internal or external pressure might threaten the stability of the Lebanese political system, as was to happen in 1975.
Lebanon became a member of the League of Arab States (Arab League) on March 22, 1945. It also participated in the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations (UN) and became a member in 1945. On December 31, 1946, French troops were completely withdrawn from the country, with the signing of the Franco-Lebanese Treaty.
Lebanon’s first president after independence was Bishara al Khouri, elected in 1943 for a six-year term; reelected in 1949 for a second term, he became increasingly imperial in his actions. According to his opponents, his regime was characterized by a narrow political structure supported by a strictly sectarian framework, and it did little to improve the economy.
In June 1952 an organization called the Social National Front (SNF) was formed by nine deputies led by Kamal Jumblatt, head of the Progressive Socialist Party; Camille Chamoun, the former ambassador to Britain; Emile Bustani, a self-made millionaire businessman; and other prominent personalities. This front dedicated itself to radical reform, demanding that the authorities end sectarianism and eradicate all abuses in the governmental system. The SNF founders were encouraged by people claiming to be dissatisfied with the favoritism and corruption thriving under the Khouri regime.
On May 17, 1952, the front held a meeting at Dayr al Qamar, Chamoun’s native town. The meeting was attended by about 50,000 people and turned into a mass rally. The speakers criticized the regime and threatened rebellion if the president did not resign. On July 23 the Phalange Party, led by Pierre Jumayyil (also given as Gemayel), also voiced its discontent with the regime. On September 11 the SNF called for a general strike to force the president to resign; the appeal brought all activities in the major cities to a standstill. This general strike is sometimes referred to as the “Rosewater Revolution” because of its nonviolence. President Khouri appealed to General Fuad Shihab (also given as Chehab) the army chief of staff, to end the strike. However, Shihab refused to become involved in what he considered a political matter, and on September 18, Khouri finally resigned.
On September 23, 1952, the Chamber of Deputies elected Camille Chamoun to succeed Khouri. In the spring of 1953, relations between President Chamoun and Jumblatt deteriorated as Jumblatt criticized Chamoun for accommodating himself to the traditional pattern of Lebanese politics and for toning down the radical ideals that had led to the change of government in 1952. The balance between religious communities, provided for in the National Pact, was precariously maintained, and undercurrents of hostility were discernible. The Muslim community criticized the regime in which Christians, alleging their numerical superiority, occupied the highest offices in the state and filled a disproportionate number of civil service positions. Accordingly, the Muslims asked for a census, which they were confident would prove their numerical superiority. The Christians refused unless the census were to include Lebanese emigrants who were mainly Christians, and they argued that Christians contributed 80 percent of the tax revenue.
The 1956-58 period brought many pressures to bear on Lebanon. First, there was general unrest in the Arab world following the Suez Canal crisis and the abortive attacks on Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel. More specifically, however, political struggles occurred in two fields: rivalry among Lebanese political leaders who were linked to religious or clan groups and their followers; and the ideological struggle causing polarization between Lebanese nationalism and growing pan-Arabism.
President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt became the symbol of panArabism after the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1958 merger of Egypt with Syria to form the United Arab Republic. He had great influence on Lebanese Muslims, who looked to him for inspiration. In this period of unrest, the Lebanese authorities, most of whom were Christians, insisted on two things: maintaining the country’s autonomy and cooperating with the West. Christians considered their friendly relations with the West important for the future of Lebanon. President Chamoun’s refusal to respond favorably to pan-Arab pressures was in direct opposition to the stand of several prominent Sunni leaders, who devoted themselves to Nasser and the pan-Arab cause.
In 1957 the question of the reelection of Chamoun was added to these problems of ideological cleavage. In order to be reelected, the president needed to have the Constitution amended to permit a president to succeed himself. A constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote by the Chamber of Deputies, so Chamoun and his followers had to obtain a majority in the May-June 1957 elections.
Chamoun’s followers did obtain a solid majority in the elections, which the opposition considered “rigged,” with the result that some non-Christian leaders with pan-Arab sympathies were not elected. Deprived of a legal platform from which to voice their political opinions, they sought to express them by extralegal means. The conflict between Chamoun and the pan-Arab opposition gained in intensity when Syria merged with Egypt. Pro-Nasser demonstrations grew in number and in violence until a full-scale rebellion was underway. The unrest was intensified by the assassination of Nassib Matni, the Maronite anti-Chamoun editor of At Talagraph, a daily newspaper known for its outspoken pan-Arabism . The revolt almost became a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims.
This state of turmoil increased when, in the early hours of July 14, 1958, a revolution overthrew the monarchy in Iraq and the entire royal family was killed. In Lebanon jubilation prevailed in areas where anti-Chamoun sentiment predominated, with radio stations announcing that the Chamoun regime would be next. Chamoun, realizing the gravity of his situation, summoned the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, and France on the morning of July 14. He requested immediate assistance, insisting that the independence of Lebanon was in jeopardy.
Furthermore, he invoked the terms of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which Lebanon had signed the year before. According to its terms the United States would “use armed forces to assist any [Middle East] nation . . . requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism.” Arguing that Lebanese Muslims were being helped by Syria, which had received arms from the Soviet Union, Chamoun appealed for United States military intervention. The United States responded, in large measure because of concern over the situation in Iraq and the wish to reassure its allies, such as Iran and Turkey, that the United States could act. United States forces began arriving in Lebanon by mid-afternoon of July 15 and played a symbolic rather than an active role. In the course of the 1958 Civil War, in which United States forces were not involved, between 2,000 and 4,000 casualties occurred, primarily in the Muslim areas of Beirut and in Tripoli. At the end of the crisis, the Chamber of Deputies elected General Fuad Shihab, then commander in chief of the Lebanese Army, to serve as president.
President Shihab, having cultivated nonpartisanship during the 1958 Civil War, enjoyed considerable support from the various political factions. However, his initial appointment to the cabinet of a large number of Muslim leaders, such as Rashid Karami, Sunni leader from Tripoli, whom he asked to form a reconciliation government, led to sharp reactions by the Phalange Party. Shihab was obliged to reapportion the balance in the cabinet on the basis of “no victors, no vanquished.” He instituted electoral reform and increased the membership of the Chamber of Deputies from sixty-six to ninety-nine, thus enabling leaders of the various factions in the civil war to become active members of the legislature. He was determined to observe the terms of the National Pact and to have the government serve Christian and Muslim groups equally. This policy, combined with Shihab’s concept of an enlightened president as one who strengthened the role of the executive and the bureaucracy at the expense of the zuama, or traditional leaders, was later referred to as “Shihabism.” Shihab also concentrated on improving Lebanon’s infrastructure, developing an extensive road system, and providing running water and electricity to remote villages. Hospitals and dispensaries were built in many rural areas, although there was difficulty in staffing them.
In foreign affairs, one of Shihab’s first acts was to ask the United States to withdraw its troops from Lebanon starting on September 27, 1958, with the withdrawal to be completed by the end of October. He pursued a neutral foreign policy with the object of maintaining good relations with Arab countries as well as the West. Many observers agree that his regime brought stability and economic development to Lebanon and that it demonstrated the need for compromise if the Lebanese confessional system of government were to work. At the same time, however, it showed that in times of crisis the only solution might be to call on an outside power to restore equilibrium.
Shihab was succeeded by Charles Helou, who was selected president by the Chamber of Deputies on August 18, 1964. President Helou, a journalist, jurist, and diplomat, was known for his high moral and intellectual qualities. Despite his efforts to promote Lebanon’s development, during his tenure the Arab-Israeli June 1967 War, in which Lebanon did not participate, had serious repercussions on all aspects of Lebanese life. The most significant impact was the increased role of Palestinian guerrilla groups in the struggle against Israel and the groups’ use of Lebanon as a base of operations. The Palestinian presence impinged on the effort to maintain the confessional balance, for it tended to pit Muslim Lebanese against Christian Lebanese. On the whole, the former group initially viewed the Palestinian guerrillas as upholding a sacred cause that deserved full-scale support. The latter, who strongly favored Lebanese independence, tended to be more concerned with the effects of unrestricted guerrilla activity on Lebanese security and development. They feared both Israeli reprisals and the general undermining of governmental authority within Lebanon if curbs were not imposed on the guerrillas. The Helou government did its best to satisfy the conflicting demands made on it by guerrillas, Arab governments, Israel, and the internal political and religious elements.
The Chamber of Deputies elections of 1968 and the subsequent disagreements over forming a cabinet had already receded into the background when Israel launched a raid on Beirut International Airport on December 28, 1968. This attack set the stage for the government crises that marked Lebanese life for the next five years, until the Arab-Israeli October 1973 War. Moreover, it highlighted the delicate balance of internal political forces in Lebanon and the connection between that balance and the extent to which Lebanese identified with the Arab position in the ArabIsraeli conflict.
Periodic clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army continued throughout the late spring, summer, and fall of 1969. In the late summer of 1969, several guerrilla groups moved to new bases, better located for attacks against Israel. Israel regularly raided these bases in reprisal for guerrilla raids on its territory. In October the Lebanese Army attacked some guerrilla camps in order to restrict their activity, an action that led to several demonstrations in support of the guerrillas.
On November 2, 1969, the Lebanese commander in chief and Yasir Arafat, the head of Al Fatah, the leading faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), agreed in Cairo to a cease-fire. The secret Cairo Agreement on Palestinian guerrilla operations in Lebanon which helped to restore calm was to prove a disaster for Lebanon in the years to come.
The Lebanese government’s efforts to curtail guerrilla activities continued through late 1969 and 1970. Migration from southern Lebanon, particularly of large numbers of Shias, increased, primarily because of inadequate security against Israeli shelling and raids along with lack of economic opportunity. In Beirut the migrants, estimated to exceed 30,000, often could not find adequate shelter and met with indifference on the part of predominantly Christian military leaders. These problems resulted in occasional clashes between the migrants and government forces.
To deal with the problems caused by the fighting in the south, a governmental committee was formed, and funds were allocated for Al Janub Province. On January 12, 1970, the government announced a plan to arm and train Lebanese civilians in southern villages and to fortify the villages against Israeli raids. This action was apparently the result of an intentional government policy to avoid committing the army to action in southern Lebanon, presumably for fear of polarizing the religious groups that composed the army– mainly Christian Maronite officers and Muslim or Druze enlisted personnel. But the problem was exacerbated by increasing activity by Palestinian guerrillas operating from southern Lebanon into Israel and by Israeli reprisals.
On January 7, 1970, General Emil Bustani, the army commander, was replaced by General Jean Njaim, suggesting a government effort to take a harder line toward the guerrillas and to defend southern Lebanon more actively. Clashes between the army and the guerrillas recurred, but southern Lebanese villagers continued to protest governmental inaction. After several bloody clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army and a nationwide general strike in May 1970, the government approved additional appropriations for the defense of the south, and it pressed the guerrillas to abide by the Cairo Agreement and to limit their activity.
1970-1975, The Outbreak of War
By the summer of 1970, attention turned to the upcoming presidential election of August 17. Sulayman Frangieh (also cited as Franjieh), who had the backing of the National Bloc Party and the center bloc in the Chamber of Deputies, was elected president by one vote over Elias Sarkis, head of the Central Bank, who had the support of the Shihabists (those favoring a strong executive with ties to the military). Frangieh was more conservative than his predecessor, Helou. A Maronite leader from northern Lebanon, he had a regional power base resulting from clan allegiance and a private militia. Although Franjiyah had a parochial outlook reflecting a lack of national and international experience, he was the choice of such persons as Kamal Jumblatt, who wanted a weaker president than Sarkis would have been. Frangieh assumed office on September 23, 1970, and in the first few months of his term the general political atmosphere improved.
The expulsion of large numbers of Palestinian guerrillas from Jordan in late 1970 and 1971, as a result of severe clashes between the Jordanian army and the PLO, had serious repercussions for Lebanon, however. Many of the guerrillas entered Lebanon, seeing it as the most suitable base for launching raids against Israel. The guerrillas tended to ally themselves with existing leftist Lebanese organizations or to form various new leftist groups that received support from the Lebanese Muslim community and caused further splintering in the Lebanese body politic. Clashes between the Palestinians and Lebanese right-wing groups, as well as demonstrations on behalf of the guerrillas, occurred during the latter half of 1971.
The Chamber of Deputies elections in April 1972 also were accompanied by violence. The high rate of inflation and unemployment, as well as guerrilla actions and retaliations, occasioned demonstrations, and the government declared martial law in some areas. The government attempted to quiet the unrest by taking legal action against the protesters, by initiating new social and economic programs, and by negotiating with the guerrilla groups. However, the pattern of guerrilla infiltration followed by Israeli counterattacks continued throughout the Franjiyah era. Israel retaliated for any incursion by guerrillas into Israeli territory and for any action anywhere against Israeli nationals. An Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon, for example, was made in retaliation for the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in September 1972. Of particular significance was an Israeli commando raid on Beirut on April 10, 1973, in which three leaders of the Palestinian Resistance Movement were assassinated. The army’s inaction brought the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Saib Salam, a Sunni Muslim leader from Beirut.
In May armed clashes between the army and the guerrillas in Beirut spread to other parts of the country, resulting in the arrival of guerrilla reinforcements from Syria, the declaration of martial law, and a new secret agreement limiting guerrilla activity.
The October 1973 War overshadowed disagreements about the role of the guerrillas in Lebanon. Despite Lebanon’s policy of noninvolvement, the war deeply affected the country’s subsequent history. As the PLO’s military influence in the south grew, so too did the disaffection of the Shia community that lived there, which was exposed to varying degrees of unsympathetic Lebanese control, indifferent or antipathetic PLO attitudes, and hostile Israeli actions. The Frangieh government proved less and less able to deal with these rising tensions, and by the onset of the War in April 1975, political fragmentation was accelerating.