The Creation of Lebanon as viewed by Sa’adeh
By Dr. Edmond Melhem
Many thought that Sa’adeh took a double stand on Lebanon. On the one hand, he denied Lebanese nationalism and called for Syrian unity. On the other, he defended Lebanon’s sovereignty and declared, on several occasions, his party’s respect for the existence of Lebanon. Indeed, in many of his statements on the Lebanese question, Sa’adeh seemed to be contradicting himself. This situation can be illustrated in the following contradictory statement: “Our aim is not to demolish Lebanon, but to build Syria…”
A question arises: “Did Sa’adeh really take a double stand on Lebanon and contradict himself?” An attempt will be made in the following discussions to answer this question and clarify the SSNP’s stand on Lebanon. Before such an attempt can be embarked upon, however, it is important to point out that there is ample literature regarding the ideological stand of the SSNP on Lebanon. Sa’adeh, as a matter of fact, wrote many articles which analysed the Lebanese question. These articles were classified chronologically and published by the SSNP in a series of books. Three of these books will be used for the purposes of this study. These are: al-Muhadarat al-’Ashr (The Ten Lectures); Mukhtarat fi al-Mas’alah al-Lubnaniyyah (Selections on the Lebanese Question); al-In’izaliyyah ‘Aflasat (Isolationism is Bankrupt).
The following discussions will be presented under four headings: a) The creation of Lebanon as viewed by Sa’adeh; b) Sa’adeh’s refutation of Lebanese nationalism; c) Sa’adeh’s debate with the religious authorities; and d) Sa’adeh’s conception of national consciousness.
A. The creation of Lebanon as viewed by Sa’adeh
According to Sa’adeh, Lebanon had never existed in the shape we know it today. He emphasized that “in history there was nothing called the Lebanese nation or the Lebanese state. This latter was created after the First World War.” In fact, although the sense of Lebanese identity could be found in the writings of some Maronite historians of the first half of the nineteenth century, Lebanon as a territorial state did not come into political existence until 1920. As Kamal Salibi stated:
Before that time there was a political entity called Mount Lebanon which was constituted as a privileged administrative unit of the Ottoman empire under international guaranty; but this mutasarrifiyya of Mount Lebanon, as it was called, had no existence before 1861. Earlier on, ‘Mount Lebanon’, or ‘the Lebanon’, was a geographical expression which did not acquire internationally recognized political usage until the 1830s.
Sa’adeh summed up the story of partitioning ‘natural Syria’ that led to the creation of several political states, including Lebanon. He wrote:
After the First World War the condominium of Great Britain and France over Syria resulted in the partition of the country according to their political aims and interests and gave rise to the present political designations: Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Cilicia and Iraq. Natural Syria consists of all those regions which constitute one geographic-economic-strategic unit.
It would not be difficult to substantiate Sa’adeh’s claim that the partition of the country was carried out according to the aims and interests of Great Britain and France. The two mandatory powers, especially France, adopted policies that were not in the interests of the people and sought to break national unity. “The interests of the people themselves”, as Nicola Ziadeh pointed out, “were a matter of secondary importance.” Thus, the French rule was criticized and opposed by a large part of the population. Even France’s devoted friends, the Maronites, expressed criticism and opposition to French rule on certain occasions. In 1936, for example, the Maronite Patriarch, Antoine ‘Arida, addressed a memorandum to the Quai d’Orsay in which he criticised French administration of Lebanon. When this memorandum was published with a collection of memoranda, the Patriarchal secretary wrote in the introduction:
His Beatitude the Maronite Patriarch, as a friend of France, wished to draw the attention of the authorities that the mandatory regime was being conducted against the interests of both the people of Lebanon and France; that opposition to it was growing stronger in Lebanon; that renewal of troubles in Syria was a matter he viewed seriously…
The destiny of the nation [Syria], Sa’adeh argued, was not determined by the people’s will. “The State of Lebanon”, he said, “was not announced by a Lebanese institutional council elected by the people. It was announced by the leader of an occupying foreign army [General Henri Gouraud], in a conspiracy with some religious institutions, feudalists and beneficiaries.”
To be continued