The Social Nationalists in Bshamoun

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By Dr. Edmond Melhem

When the two ministers, Arslan and Abu Shahla, resorted to Bshamoun and declared themselves the legal government, a group of fighters was formed to protect this government. This group, calling itself “the National Security”, consisted of SSNP members and Lebanese of all confessions.[1]

The “National Security” force repelled attempts by the mandate authorities to occupy the palace where the two ministers resided.[2] On November 15, 1943, French soldiers attacked Bshamoun in an attempt to seize the government’s headquarter. Tanks were used in the battle. Sa’id Fakhr al-Din, an SSNP member, fell while attacking a French tank. On November 17, 1943, al-Amir Magid Arslan issued a military communiquJ (no. 1) in which he told how the French soldiers had attacked the headquarter of the Lebanese Government in Bshamoun. As a result of the battle that took place, al-Amir Majid Arslan explained, “one martyr only fell while defending the headquarter. This was Sa’id Fakhr al-Din. [3]

In his book, Sa’id Fakhr al-Din: Shahid al-’Istiqlal al-Wahid (Sa’id Fakhr al-Din: The Only Martyr of Independence), John Dayyah quoted Adel Qa’id Bey, who witnessed the fall of Sa’id Fakhr al-Din when a French Officer fired his machine-gun at him while he was trying to throw a hand grenade at a French Tank: “One of the warriors who responded to the call of duty in those critical moments was Sa’id Fakhr al-Din and a large number of Social Nationalists like Farid Muwafaq and his brother Ma’aruf, Amin Sirri aI-Din, Shafiq Nur al-Din and others. These SSNP members were headed by Adib al-Ba’ayyni, one of the three leaders of the “National Security” force.” [4] Adel Qa’id Bey added:

The Social Nationalists were the only fighters driven by a doctrine known for its strong opposition to the colonists. They joined the “National Security” force by orders from their officials and resisted the French persistently whereas other warriors had discarded their guns and escaped. [5]

Three years later, the Lebanese President, Bishara al-Khuri, issued a decree (no. K/9377) in which he granted Sa’id Fakhr al-Din, as a martyr, a medal of national struggle (al-Jihad al-Watani). [6]

Some members, however, were detained by the French mandatory authorities. The latter, a party publication stated:

“… had detained tens of Social Nationalists owing to their hard line stand in confronting the policies of the mandate. Those detainees had an illustrious role during the detention of the Lebanese President and some members of his cabinet on November 11, 1943, thus solidifying the stand of these officials against the mandate”. [7]

This statement was in reference to the detention of the SSNP leadership in 1942-43 by the mandate authorities. A group of SSNP leaders and members, including Na’ameh Thabet, the president of the Supreme Council of the party, Ma’amun Ayyas, Jubran Jurayj, Anis Fakhuri and Zakaryya al-Labebidi had been imprisoned for their activities against the French mandate. [8] The party had been banned by the French and its persecution was a continuous campaign. In this context, Haytham Kader emphasised that “the SSNP was constantly the subject of persecution by the French authorities whether the Vichy French or the Free French”.[9] He added, “following the outbreak of the war, the French authorities proclaimed martial law and banned the SSNP on October 7, 1939 and unleashed a campaign of persecution against its membership. Hundreds of SSNP members were arrested and held in detention camps for over a year without trial”. [10]

The leader of the SSNP was also the subject of French persecution, defamation and false charges, according to the SSNP, during his overseas trip. In 1938, Sa’adeh embarked on a trip to Europe and the Americas for the purpose of organizing his party among Syrian emigrants and spreading his cause. While in Brazil, Sa’adeh was reportedly arrested on “false charges but was later vindicated and released.”[11] It has been argued by SSNP publications that Sa’adeh’s arrest took place after the mandate authorities had contrived with confessional groups to defame the cause of the SSNP and to raise suspicions in South American states against the activity of Sa’adeh. [12]

When Sa’adeh moved to Argentina, he encountered the problem of limited ability to travel. The French consulate, which still handled the affairs of Syrians abroad, refused to renew his passport on the pretext that the war had started and that he was an agent provocateur.[13] Sa’adeh, therefore, could not leave the confines of the Argentinean republic. At the same time, he could not return to Syria, for the mandate authorities had sentenced him in absentia to 20 years of jail and 20 years of exile.[14] Accordingly, Sa’adeh had to abandon his plans to visit regions of Syrian emigrant concentrations in the United States and Mexico. He also had to prolong his stay abroad while awaiting for circumstances to allow him return home.

At home, when the battle for Lebanese independence had been fought, the SSNP leadership, as mentioned above, was imprisoned. Jurayj, who was one of SSNP leaders in prison awaiting trial, tells us in his memoirs about their role during the detention of the Lebanese president and other members of his cabinet at the fortress of Rashayya.[15] While in prison, Jurayj and his colleagues were able to obtain updated information through secret agents on events and developments against the French throughout Lebanon. They transmitted the information secretly to the Lebanese President and other members of his cabinet whom the French kept in isolation in order to prevent them from knowing what was happening outside and to weaken their stand. The information passed on secretly to the Lebanese President and his ministers solidified their stand against the mandate. It was these circumstances which led the SSNP leadership to support the Lebanese officials against the common enemy. Accordingly, the SSNP considered the leadership’s role inside the fortress of Rashayya as an indirect contribution towards winning the battle of independence.

SSNP participation in the struggle for Lebanese independence could also be seen through student activism and demonstrations. In his work, Lebanon in Strife, Halim Barakat traces the development of the student movement. He says: “The present student movement began to emerge during the second quarter of this century when the struggle for independence started to take shape in the Middle East and the rest of the Third World countries”.[16] It was during the second quarter of this century when the SSNP, as an organized national movement, began to emerge and bring about increasing national awareness especially among students. Sa’adeh, it should not be forgotten, established his party secretly on the campus of the American University of Beirut (AUB). To him, students were the social class least infected by the prevailing psychology and the most receptive to his ideas. In this context, it is worthy to quote Jamil Sawaya, one of the first AUB students to join the SSNP. Sawaya wrote:

We were easily able to attract the intelligentsia into the party by appealing to them to fight the mandate and to reconstruct a homeland laid waste by an unjust and duplicitous Turkish regime and by a French mandate of exploitation that encouraged sectarian conflicts and feudalism. [17]

Halim Barakat explained that the SSNP was one of the two national movements that started to emerge among students of AUB in the thirties and that dominated the political arena at this university for almost three decades.[18] “Both movements”, Barakat stated, “concerned themselves with the question of national identity and struggle for independence”.[19] Both movements, moreover, “competed for control of student societies and later the Student Council.”[20] It was through student societies and the Student Council of the AUB that SSNP and other nationalist activists led university students to take part in strikes and demonstrations on many national occasions and in reaction to major events in the area. During the struggle for Lebanese independence in 1943, “students, led by members of the Student Council, staged demonstrations against the French and they were fired at by the Senegalese soldiers sent by France to keep order. Some were wounded, and arrest warrants were issued against others.” [21] As Bayard Dodge described the situation, “between November 11th and 23rd, 1943, the city [Beirut] was in a state of siege. Eight hundred boarding students were interned on the campus. Several American military police were sent from Palestine to protect the campus gateways from violence.” [22]

Sa’adeh and his party, despite their contributions to the fight against the mandate and their role in the battle for national independence, were accused of being against the independence of Lebanon. As discussed in chapter two, such an accusation came from the propagandists of Lebanese nationalism who rejected any doctrine that aimed to incorporate Lebanon within an Arab or a Syrian nation. It also came from certain religious authorities.

[1]al-Bina’, No. 711, 25/11/1989, p. 9.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Jubran Jurayj, “Ma’rakat al-Istiqlal” (The Battle of Independence), in Sabah el-Kheir, issue no. 383, 11/6/1983, pp. 42-43.

[4]Ibid.

[5]Ibid.

[6]The Arabic text of this decree is contained in Jubran Jurayj, Haqa‘iq ‘an al-’Istiqlal Ayyam Rashayya [Truths about Independence during the Days of Rashayya], Beirut: Dar al-Fan, 1965, p. 33.

[7]SSNP, Information Bureau, Antun Sa’adeh, Leadership and Testimony, op. cit., p. 21.

[8]Jubran Jurayj, Haqa‘iq ‘an al-’Istiqlal Ayyam Rashayya [Truths about Independence during the Days of Rashayya], op. cit., p. 42.

[9]Haytham Kader, op. cit., p. 97.

[10]Ibid.

[11]Ibid., p. 94.

[12]Haytham Kader, op. cit., p. 94.

[13]Ibid.

[14]Ibid.

[15]Jubran Jurayj, Haqa‘iq ‘an al-’Istiqlal Ayyam Rashayya [Truths about Independence during the Days of Rashayya], op. cit., pp. 53-118.

[16]Halim Barakat, Lebanon in Strife, op. cit., 151.

[17]Jamil Sawaya, “The Genesis of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party”, in Kemal H. Karpat ed., Political and Social Thought in the Contemporary Middle East (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, publishers, 1968), p. 99.

[18]The other movement was the Arab nationalist movement, which looked to Constantine K. Zurayk and others for inspiration. See Halim Barakat, op. cit., p. 151.

[19]Halim Barakat, ibid., p. 151.

[20]Ibid.

[21]Halim Barakat, ibid., p. 152.

[22]Quoted in Halim Barakat, ibid., p. 152.

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