The Creation of Lebanon – Part II

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France disregarded the wishes of the people

By Dr. Edmond Melhem

Was Lebanon really created by France “in a conspiracy with some religious institutions, feudalists and beneficiaries”, as Sa’adeh claimed? The answer to this question is twofold. First, it can be said that France responded to Maronite demands for an independent Lebanon separate from Syria. The Maronites, particularly leaders of the Maronite Church, representatives of the Central Administrative Council (CAC) and some intellectuals who escaped to Cairo, Paris and New York during World War I , had actively solicited the help of France to extend Mount Lebanon to its “natural and historical boundaries” and to achieve their independence from Syria. The prototype of what they claimed as the historic Lebanon existed during the Ma’ni immarah (princedom) period (1590-1697), particularly under the dynamic leadership of Fakhr al-Din II, whose princedom consisted of various parts of present-day Lebanon, Syria and Northern Palestine (as far as Safad).

Hence, the Maronite Patriarch, Elias Huwayyik, made it clear to the American King-Crane Commission , which visited the country in the summer of 1919 that “Lebanon demanded full independence, but that if assistance was to be extended to the country it must come from France.” Moreover, Maronite delegations, composed of secular and religious leaders and headed by the Maronite Patriarch, pursued the same demands at the Paris Peace Conference. Their aspirations were detailed in a Memorandum presented to the Peace conference on August 27. Two days earlier, the Patriarch gave the French Premier, M. Georges Clemenceau, a letter summarizing those aspirations as being:

1) the recognition of the independence of the Lebanon with full sovereignty, “internal and external;
2) the restitution of her natural, historical and economic frontiers, and
3) the help and support of France for the achievement of those aspirations in the light of the tradition of friendship which the Lebanon had always maintained towards France.

For his part, Daud Ammun, the president of the Administrative Council of Mount Lebanon, appeared before the Supreme Council of the Allies on February 13, 1919. He demanded the independence of Lebanon and the extension of its territories to its ‘historical’ and ‘natural’ frontiers. As he put it:

the territories within the said frontiers are necessary to our existence. Without them, neither commerce nor agriculture is possible for us and our population is bound to migrate. The mere closing of our frontiers by administrative measures would drive us, as has happened during the war, to actual starvation.

The French attended to the Maronites’ demands and enlarged the country. The creation of Greater Lebanon, accordingly, was a fulfillment of both the economic needs of Mount Lebanon and the interests of the French mandate. At this point, one may ask: “What made the French attend to the Maronites’ demands?”

The answer to the above question, it can be argued, lies in the special relationship the French had with the Maronites. They had cultural affinity with the Maronites and strong sympathies for them. In the 12th century, the Maronites, then confined to Mount Lebanon, began to associate themselves with the church of Rome. In the spring of 1099, it is reported, they had descended from their mountains to offer their services to the Crusaders who were heading towards Jerusalem. The advice and support they gave to the crusaders was later appreciated by the pope and helped them develop their relationship with the Roman papacy. By the year 1578, they had given up their monothelete doctrine and united with Rome. In 1584, Pope Gregory XIII established a Maronite college in Rome for the education of Maronite children. This college trained Maronite clergy and produced many distinguished scholars. Most of them returned home and contributed to the development of religious education and the modernization of their church organization.

In sum, the early relationship of the Maronites with Rome, their support of the Crusaders, and Catholic missionary activities among them, particularly those of the Jesuits, in addition to their minoritarian feelings, to be discussed later, have made them identify themselves with the “Christian” West, and in particular with France. In return, France’s concern for the Maronites and for the Christians of the Levant in general showed itself not only in the work of the missions, but also in continuous assurances of protection. Hence, Louis IV of France assured the Maronites of his protection in a letter dated May 21, 1205. In addition, acting as protector of European commerce in the Ottoman Empire that was carried exclusively by Christian merchants, both European and Levantine, and by Jews, France sought, in 1535, capitulatory privileges from the Ottoman sultan, and consequently, came to be recognized as the guardian of European Catholicism in the sultan’s realm. After 1639, France claimed the right to protect Ottoman Christian subjects- especially Catholics-throughout the Asian provinces. Hence, the “adoption” of the Maronite community in Lebanon by Louis XIV was proclaimed in 1649. In a circular letter, dated April 28, 1649, Louis XIV instructed his diplomatic representatives to treat the Maronites with all possible charity and gentleness and give French protection to them. France’s concern for the Christians of the Levant, furthermore, showed itself in the Treaty of Berlin of July 13, 1878. This treaty gave formal international recognition to French protection over the Catholics in the Holy Places. When the Peace Conference was being held in Paris and the Maronites were actively working to preserve Lebanese independence under French protection, M. Clemenceau wrote, to the Maronite Patriarch, Elias Huwayyik, on 10 November replying to his letter of August 25, 1919. Clemenceau assured the Patriarch that “France was in full agreement with the Lebanese aspiration and would give them the full support.” The French Government considered this letter as “a binding agreement which the government intended to carry out.”

Second, although the creation of Greater Lebanon was more to Maronite political satisfaction, this action by France would still be considered inconsiderate and unjustifiable. For this action was not determined in accordance with the wishes of the population in geographical Syria. France did not consult other communities in Mount Lebanon and the coastal towns that were added to it. In this context, Kamal Salibi asserts that:

When Greater Lebanon was created in 1920, only the Maronites were consulted. No other community really was. The Druzes were taken for granted, because they had already been living quietly in the Lebanese mutasarrifiyya since 1861, without voicing any special political demands or grievances. The Shi’is at the time were not yet in a position to express an opinion on the matter. Where the Sunnis were concerned, the new Lebanese state was actually created against their declared wishes.

France even disregarded the wishes of many Lebanese Christians and non-Christians and their strong expressions of Syrian national feeling as well as their repulsion at the idea of a French mandate. These wishes and expressions were described in a report submitted to President Wilson by the King-Crane Commission. This Commission concluded that:

In Mt. Lebanon… the Druzes and the Greek orthodox desired union with Syria because they were afraid of Maronite domination and also feared France. But so did the Protestants and some other Christians, who sincerely believed in Syrian nationalism… Finally the [Muslims] of Mt. Lebanon, like those of Syria proper, desired union.

In their report, moreover, the commissioners indicated that the people of Syria preferred national independence; and if that was not possible, they preferred to have their country assisted or placed under American mandate or, failing that, under a British mandate, but on no account did they want a French mandate. A French mandate in Syria, the report indicated, was unpopular among the great mass of the population.

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