“Movements” of the past and deadlocks of the present


Ahmad Beydoun

“Movements” of the past and deadlocks of the present

Did the violence of the 19th century generate a society prone to civil war?



It is no wonder that in a society, whose recent history saw each of its major political crises turn into violent civil strife, some observers, be they specialists or not, anticipate the outbreak of another war, whenever a difficult crisis with no foreseeable solution emerges. Such is the case of the Lebanese, today, facing as they do the current crisis that cripples their political system and that was revealed (rather than emerged) more than a year ago. Naturally, they recall the latest war that swept through their country between 1975 and 1990 as well as older crises that led to civil strife, such as in 1958 and in the 19th century, or the so-called “movements”[1] crisis that raged for about two decades in the mid -1800s and attained its peak and its end in 1860.


However, The Lebanese who know their country’s history well, might also recall other situations where serious omens of civil strife spread or where violence erupted before it was brought under control by external influential forces which had a dissuading presence in the country or had no interest, under the given circumstances, in fomenting war. Such was the case in 1918-1920 and in 1936[2].


By recalling previous crises, one tends to let wars of the past pervade the way the present crisis is perceived and dissected. Such an attitude is reinforced by a hasty tendency claiming that all wars are the same regardless of any change of circumstances or facts, no matter how important.


The question that has to be asked: will previous wars necessarily generate new ones? Or will they be a source of contrition and learnt lessons, enhancing thereby the desire to reach peaceful solutions for political and/ or socio-political crises?


This chapter cannot include but a general diagnosis of the first war of the three that were waged in Lebanon in the 19th and 20th centuries. This diagnosis aims at unveiling constant denominators that were passed on to existing conflicts, if such denominators do exist. It also aims at deducing the unique features of the present crisis in comparison to the previous ones, attempting at the same time to verify the existence of links between these past wars and the potential violent tensions currently prevailing in Lebanon.


Different evolutions


The events of 1840-1860 were inaugurated by a general rebellion against unbearable policies adopted by the Egyptian occupation forces and their ally Prince Basheer Shihab II. The rebellion was general in the sense that it unified the ranks of the various religious denominations of the coast and the mountain, notably between the Maronites and the Druze. This unity was mainly expressed in memorable popular uprisings such as that of Entelias and Dayr al-Qamar. We tend to forget, though, the other events that preceded or followed these two popular movements by months or even years.


In fact, prior to the general  insurrection, the Maronites had adopted for a certain period of time, the project of Basheer Shihab, and accepted thus to fight the Druze who stood against him and the Egyptian ruler, Ibrahim Pasha. The Druze believed, then, that such a war, waged against them by the Maronites, aimed at breaking their back, so as to cripple forever those who were for long the powerful lords of the southern mountain.


Therefore, at the end of the insurrection, the Druze became more attached to their leaders who  returned from exile and attempted to regain the feudal privileges they had lost, and which had been a heavy burden on Maronites. Prince Basheer had in fact released the Maronites from a great part of that burden before the arrival of Ibrahim Pasha, only to indulge later on, with the Egyptians, in more unjust measures, straddling Christians and Druze alike. These measures were worse than any previous feudal privileges the two communities had ever known[3].


Such was the situation in the mountain after 1841. But it was not the same for the two camps. In fact, the Druze held on to the customary guarantees of their status in the mountain as a substitute for their small number and to make up for lagging behind the new trends induced by the Europeans. These trends should have led them to change existing patterns of investment in agriculture, education, industry and commerce alike. This was what the Christians did in the second quarter of the 19th century, and even before that[4].


Actually, the Christians had already started to appreciate the advantages of independent work and its association, in many cases, with what amounted to private landownership rights. It would be true to say that Private ownership was not fully applied in the 1840s from a purely legal point of view. However, the decline of feudalism during the rule of Basheer had made it a fait accompli in practice[5]. As a result, the first glimmers of patriotic aspirations and dreams of national independence started to appear among the Christians, as mirrored in the works of their scholars.  Christians were, thus, calling for either autonomy in an expanded mountain with an integrated economic system or for a Syrian kingdom open to Christian activity. In fact, Boulous Nujaim had no hesitation in describing such activity as “isti‘mar”, an Arabic word that meant ‘umran .i.e., cultivation or construction[6] at that time. However, Syrian nationalism had not by the middle of the nineteenth century gained acceptance at the level of Christian leadership, i.e., the Church. It was rather advocated by ‘heretics’, such as Boutros al- Bustani[7], converted by Anglo-Saxon missions and whose horizons were broadened by an Arabism movement founded in the Syrian provinces by Ibrahim Pasha as a means of countering the legitimacy of Ottoman rule[8].

While espousing modernization, this Maronite leadership found itself trapped in a paradoxical situation. On the one hand, it was weakening feudalism by empowering elements that were opposed to it, and by promoting the status of peasants’ sons who aspired to be priests and monks.  On the other hand, this leadership was still feudal in its origins in the 1840s and the church had become by then, despite the fact that it followed a different way of accumulating capital and managing labour, the leading feudal lord in its own right. Patriarch Youssef Hubaysh had combined utter allegiance to prince Basheer II and Druze allegiance to his person, since he was seen as the guardian of a system of values akin to theirs[9].


A Mixed partition


Following 1841, the Maronites, headed by the patriarch, failed to promote a stable national rule except through the reinstatement of Basheer II at Beit Eddeen .Such a solution constituted an absolute nightmare for the Druze[10]. When the Ottoman statesman Omar Pasha had failed to reinstate stability, the mountain was divided into two Qa’imaqamates (provinces) each having a sectarian council with judicial capacity[11]. The two Qa’imaqamates fared no better[12]. This led to the system of Shakib Effendi in the aftermath of the “1845 movement”. Feudal lords worked hard on sabotaging this new formula since it delegated some of their prerogatives to the councils and to the local governors and persisted in their efforts to violate[13] and paralyze the new system.


Nevertheless, the new system failed to solve other issues such as that of the mixed districts (cazas), notably in the southern province. There, power was given to the large minority of Druze while the Christians were left to wonder whether, according to religious affiliations, they were expected to follow the Christian governor in the North or his Druze counterpart in the South ,where he headed a bunch of dignitaries to whose authority the Christians were reluctant to submit again[14].


Under the regulations of this partition which lasted 15 years, the rising fury of the new enlightened Christian forces was  directed against both the Druze and the northern Maronite feudal lords. This mounting anger was eventually to culminate in the Peasants’ revolt led by Tanius Shahin, who proceeded to establish his own rule, dubbing it a “republic”, in Kisrwan in 1858. The new republic lifted the load off a part of the Northern Mountain by expelling landlords not only out of their own farms but out of their own homes as well[15]. Some historians found a correlation between the above- mentioned movement and the ascendance, within the church, of new forces which resulted in the election of Boulus Mas‘ad, a son of a peasant, to the headship of the Maronite church upon the death of Patriarch Youssef Al khazen in 1854[16].  Such views are corroborated by the unconditional support on behalf of the church of the rising movement at its early beginnings and the aspirations of religious dignitaries to set up their own direct rule of the mountain[17]. However, due to the institutional vocation of the church and its overall interests, the church could not relinquish its unifying and reconciliatory role and persist in its support of a movement that became violent and chaotic. It opted, thus, for an ambivalent position dictated by interrelated clerical interests and sectarian considerations. This allowed the new patriarch to turn a blind eye when Youssef karam led a campaign to put an end to the republic of Tanius Shahin[18].


Friction and sparks


The result of this internal situation was persistent frictions between two denominations: the Druze who did not manage to find any other solution to maintain their inherited status except to rally, as a somewhat unified bloc, around feudal leaders who rose from the ashes of the Basheer-Egyptian era, and on the other hand, the Maronites who were witnessing the emergence of new forces which linked agriculture to international trade and were embracing new professions and lifestyles. This resulted in further social differentiation within the ranks of the Maronites. Moreover, Maronite individuals were able to consolidate their positions, since they were being defined by their professional achievements rather than by their inherited social standing. They also started, under the leadership of the church, to strengthen sectarian ties, lending less importance to family and town identities. Thus, new power paradigms emerged embracing voting rights and the right to chose. This persistent friction sparked confrontations because of the social intermixing of the two communities and because the question of the administrative authority in the southern province remained unsolved for the Christians as was the case of the socio- economic authority for the Druze[19].


The underlying factor, fuelling such extended frictions in the southern province in particular, was the fate of feudalism .Feudalism often served to mask sectarianism as a system promoting both solidarity and conflict. It had often minimized its manifestations and prevented it from assuming an autonomous form, and from being controlled by a majority whose ultimate aim would have been to remove feudal allegiances at least in one community. The first omen of civil war was, in fact, the loss by the feudal lords of absolute allegiance to their authority, which was guaranteed by the ottomans and the traditional system they had installed, but was now opposed by one community while the other still considered it to be a safe haven for which there was no substitute .[20].


This feudal crisis took place in an ottoman and international environment that exacerbated it and embraced its sectarian dimensions. The Ottoman Tanzimat or “organizational measures”, inaugurated mainly under European pressure, by the Noble Rescript (Khatti Sharif) in 1839, were largely controversial. While some voiced their disapproval of certain notions, others welcomed them, while still others were totally opposed. These measures were thus partially implemented and a subject of controversy and reluctance depending on the advantages or disadvantages the central administration found in their implementation[21].


In Mount Lebanon, the new Christian forces welcomed the new measures regarding feudalism, and the consecration, by the Decree of 1856 (Katti Hamayoon), of equality among the Sultan’s subjects regardless of religion. However, the same forces opposed the consequences of such measures, reinforcing as they did central administration, and weakening at the same time the prerogatives of local governors ,which was equated in their eyes with autonomous rule[22].


By contrast, the Sunnite majority rejected this equality in rights which was induced, in its opinion, by a growing European influence in the sultanate, coupled with an enfeebled ottoman rule. The supporters of the new measures were considered, thus, as agents working for the Europeans[23]. Moreover, the Ottoman administration was not always honest in its will to implement reforms that deprived it of its privileges and prerogatives[24]. The Druze, on the other hand, felt this Sunnite resentment in the coastal cities vis-à-vis the new reforms and thought of proving their devotion to Islam through attendance of prayers at mosques and flaunting their newly-found devotion. Soon, however, they resented the tendency to centralize the administration and deny them autonomy over their region. They also grew weary of the Sunnite preachers sent to spread Sunnite faith amongst them[25].


Europe: a double- edged sword


On the European side, British influence had by then attained its peak in the Ottoman Empire, notably in the Syrian provinces. This was particularly the case after Britain led the Syrian fight against Mohammed Ali and helped solve the Egyptian problem. France, on the other hand, was quite embarrassed by its support of the Egyptian invasion and soon decided to play the unconvincing role of mediator[26]. The British attempted, thus, to seduce the Maronites in the hope of replacing the French. However, the Church perceived the British as heretics and fought British and American Missions as best as it could[27]. Hence, the British turned to courting the Druzes who were favourable to their initiative. Being a Catholic empire, Austria had better luck with the Maronites. However, its success was limited and short- lived due to the adherence of the Church to its French protector. The Orthodox, on the other hand, sought the protection of the Russian Tsar[28].



This distribution of protection (which was entrenched during the Mutasarrifiyya era 1860-1914) provided the respective denominations with a feeling of relative security vis-à-vis the state, and bestowed legitimacy on any interference by these protective states in Ottoman policies. However, it also exacerbated Muslim resentment of protected communities. This is how massacres spread to Damascus in 1860,where more than 5000 people were killed in one day on July 9 in what was the peak of violence in that wretched year[29].


Strangely, the majority of Damascus victims were Orthodox though the Lebanese Orthodox took the side of Druze not that of the Maronites in the events of 1860 and in other confrontations[30].


The “Movements”: made in the mountains


In anycase, one cannot deny the role of European powers in the “movements” of the 19th century in Lebanon. However, one cannot accuse the European consuls and their superiors or assistants of having direct responsibility for the waves of civil violence in Lebanon .In other words, these Europeans did not create this violence. In fact, the French tried to pacify the uprising of 1840 but to no avail[31]. The British, on the other hand, attempted to protect Basheer III from the Druze, only to abandon him later on etc[32]… Moreover, there is no proof to the direct involvement of foreign consulates either in the conflict of 1845 or in the massacres of 1860. They simply tried to protect those who sought refuge from ottoman rule, after each wave of civil violence. European countries also intervened to force the ottoman emperor to take measures to counter the spread of violence. They even took the liberty of taking these measures themselves when the need arose. This is how the British sent their fleet in 1840 and the French both in 1841 and 1860. In addition, both coordinated their political action in 1845[33].


The ottoman officials, in the mountain, knew that civil violence caused them embarrassment vis-à-vis European countries and increased their intervention in the affairs of the empire. At the same time, they opposed the rapprochement between Lebanese communities and any of the foreign countries the Ottomans suspected. Therefore, they crushed any step they considered as a move away from the empire.  They spread discord among the straying party and its opponent relying on an existing predisposition for war and replicating a known tactic used to deal with insurrection within the empire. In fact, the ottomans did not invent this tactic in the mid -1800s,since it was the way feudalism dealt with similar matters. During the “movements” era, they were stumbling out of such a behaviour rather than inventing it[34].







Nevertheless, one has to admit that not all ottoman rulers had the same attitude towards preventing bloodshed or dealing with insurrection. Mustapha Pasha, Omar Pasha, Wajihi Pasha and Khorshid Pasha were no match to As‘ad Pasha, Khalil Pasha, Shakib Effendi and Fouad Pasha in this regard[35]. In any case, the behaviour of Ottoman officials- in its different forms- was not unlike what was expected from them. In fact, one may accuse the likes of Wajihi Pasha and Khorshid Pasha of either turning a blind eye to planned atrocities or being accomplices to the planning. However, neither ottoman nor European attitudes can explain the wave of civil violence that spread in these times.


What does this all mean? It means that the civil violence that swept the country was genuinely civil or locally-based, sparked by socio-economic transformations that heralded similar ones at the socio-political levels. These transformations were imposed by some and opposed by others. The capacity of outside forces to split a given community and mobilize the other respectively stems from the mountain’s history itself. Depending on the angle one chooses, this history may include the years of Egyptian occupation or may extend to the past three centuries. Whether in the former or the latter eras, Mount Lebanon was always affected by the changes stirring in its immediate ottoman environment and the fluctuations of relations between this environment and the rest of the world and its most influential powers. It would, thus, be ludicrous to blame the rest of the world its major transformations and how that paved the way for the violence that gripped Lebanon, simply because it affected its society. Such blame would suggest that the Lebanese should have isolated themselves from the rest of the world or that the world should have given the Lebanese the prerogative of engineering its whole history so that to exclude all that could generate violence amongst them. Instead, the Lebanese had better wonder whether they did their best to use other means, besides civil wars, to cope with the inevitable obligations of history. Once such questions are answered, one can ask how others are to be blamed and what can be attributed to simple misfortune.


A classification of legacies


What legacy did the movements of the 19th century leave us with that might justify the likelihood of a civil war every time we face a difficult crisis? The answer includes three elements: 1. constant structures created and rooted in a certain period and passed on to future eras; 2. Past scenarios that are supposed to be recreated in the present and the future; and 3. events or series of events, that are unique by nature and cannot be passed on from era to era but could be repeated occasionally due to an intrinsic relation with constant structures.


Regarding the “structures” we have inherited from the movements of the 19th century, we can mention what was dubbed “sectarianism” or the designation of religious denominations as units of conflict and substitutes to feudalism. However, the movements were simply –in the words of Marx- the violent midwife of sectarianism. It did not create denominations or their disposition to play this role. In fact, the denominations that met in 1920 were not, in their social composition and power, the same as when they first formed in 1861. Moreover, they were not equal in their formation as sects or institutionalization as such, rather than mere conveyors of other forms of group solidarity. However, the model passed on by the ‘Mutasarrifiyya’ imposed itself, though in a ‘modified form’, on the new partners forcing them to embrace it and reproduce it through various paces and patterns. The erstwhile confrontation between Maronites and Druses was now a confrontation between Christians and Muslims. The state and the city –Beirut in this case- became the main stage of this confrontation, a factor that did not figure in the structures of the 19th century[36].


Today, we might be standing at the threshold of a new transformation where distinctions between Muslims and Christians have become politically insignificant, and have been replaced by new dividing lines between the various sects i.e. the Sunnites, the Maronites, the Shi‘ites, the Druze, the Orthodox, etc… These lines of division need to be redefined and might prove undulating and ever changing. The situation is not new. It was clearly seen as such when the Lebanese political society was looked at from Beirut, rather than Paris or Cairo, for instance. However, the divide amongst sects rather than religions seems to be more exacerbated in the current crisis. “Gender” experts assert, nowadays, that the distribution of humanity to females and males has become, due to change of roles, obsolete. Such is the case of the division of Lebanese into Muslims and Christians today.


As for the inherited scenarios, one cannot acquit old wars of either its facts or myths, exploited by existing wars to justify their cause and continuation or by efforts aiming at sparking a new war with the purpose of attaining certain objectives. Old scenarios are, in fact, used to emphasize existing divisions among the various communities. However, they may, according to the circumstances and the will of decision-makers, fuel another war or become a source of collective indignation or mockery. The truth is that old scenarios are not passed on to us without being altered and we all have our version of any given war or event. There are, therefore, various conflicting versions of the same war and its motives. The questions we ask about wars are reflections of our own questions coupled with questions about the era during which this or that war took place. In fact, the spiritual fuel of any war is not past images, despite their importance, but rather current violence itself through its realities and stories. This violence is founded on what we once called “the exacerbation of differences” where every divergence in views between two communities is turned into a ‘contradiction’ that shuns peaceful solutions[37].


As for inherited circumstances, the movements of the 19th century showed Lebanese incapacity to deal with the accumulation of changes through peaceful means. The Lebanese failed to recognize the different balance of forces within their society and did not act accordingly. This incapacity was not due to constraints imposed by third parties, as their leaders always communicated with each other and exchanged demands during those days, without any major obstacle. When they reached agreement over a given problem, they always managed to implement it without anyone preventing them from doing so.



What is being repeated?

This was later repeated. It was, in fact, agreed upon that the pact of 1943 would serve as the guideline of public policy. It was, however, seriously violated, on the eve of 1958[38], and during the 60s when supporters of reform and economic growth turned a deaf ear to those calling to preserve the role of the state and national security and vice versa. We came, thus, to the war of 1975 after which the Ta’if Agreement was signed to put an end to the cycle of violence in the country. That agreement was, unfortunately, not fully implemented. It was also violated in many ways. The Syrians rejected the question of their withdrawal from Lebanon and the Arab identity of Lebanon was understood to mean steering Lebanon’s affairs from Damascus. The only articles within the Ta’if agreement that were implemented were transitional or distributive political reform articles such as those pertaining to the distribution of parliamentary seats, and the handing of the executive power to the cabinet ,whose posts were also distributed according to sectarian considerations.  All other articles, pertaining to the dynamic chapter of the agreement, i.e. to the elimination of political sectarianism, were dismissed. All those who received a share in the deal seemed quite content with what they had received and only demanded –when there was any demand- to be given their full share, no more and no less. Such content drained the country and prevented any reform or proper governance.


These realities remained hidden under the rule of the neighbouring master. They were only unveiled when the main Lebanese political actors were left to communicate directly with each other. Unlike what some might think, the new situation was not revealed because the old ruler still had some followers to obey him in Lebanon –even if that was true. Neither was it revealed because the other Lebanese actors followed other foreign countries –even if that was also true.


It was rather revealed because Lebanese leaders, and hence Lebanese communities, became compelled to put behind them a political system that had long become dysfunctional and posed a hurdle to national independence, security, and development, confining the country’s choice to either collapse or explosion.



Freezing peace, generating violence


We believe that the reasons behind violence in Lebanon do not lie within the previous wars but rather within the peace settlements that were adopted in theory and in practice in Lebanon.  In fact, these settlements established a system of relations among various communities whose socio-historical structures underwent major transformations. Unfortunately, the failure to take into account these transformations strengthened the chances of war. We believe that it was not war that led to the formation of communities, though it might have consecrated them and altered their orientation and development. It was rather that these groups waged wars as the only available means of renewing their internal structures and their relationship with other stakeholders. War imposed itself because the afore-mentioned system and settlements were thought to have a sustainability that was neither deserved nor acknowledged by history. Therefore, it is the various “pacts” or “agreements”, rather than previous wars which are thought to be everlasting that are more worthy of being considered the real cause of future violence.


We thus believe that averting war suggests, among other things, the Lebanese adopt a pact among themselves to alter the existing system of governance if need be. The desire to maintain old systems despite changing circumstances, and consequently denying history itself, becomes sooner or later a will to kill and die.


A new pact suggests, however, the holding of negotiations amongst stakeholders who believe that new changes should be incorporated in the self image each one retains of themselves, of other parties, of the country and of the whole world. Such is the effort that is required and that the various Lebanese parties may not have the capacity to deliver, since each still clings to a self image that existed years ago and since each believes that the country has one fate settled once and for all a thousand years ago, if not more. There is no doubt that there are certain constants in every political system. However, political systems should always live up to the tests imposed upon them by the various social, historical and political changes because war becomes probable when constancy is valued more than survival and when the former is made the enemy of the latter.



** Professor in the Institute of Social Sciences at the Lebanese University


[1] Many books were written regarding the “Movements” of the 19th century and the war of 1975-1990  which is not the case of the events of 1958.Regading the Movements refer to

-Adel Ismail, Histoire du Liban du XVIIe Siècle à nos Jours,volume  IV, Redressement et Déclin du Féodalisme libanais (1840-1861), Beirut 1958.

– An analysis of  this book and other books dedicated to the movements of the 19th century can be found in the following

Ahmad Beydoun, Identité confessionnelle et Temps social chez les Historiens libanais contemporains, Beirut 1984, third part, chap. II.


Ismail has also published an Arabic synopsis of his book entitled  “The era of chaos and unrest 1840-1860” in Lebanon: history and legacy, (in Arabic), Beirut 1993. Volume II, p. 3229-382


regarding the war of 1975-1990 ref:

Ghassan Tueni, Une Guerre pour les Autres, Paris 1985.

Samir Kassir, La Guerre du Liban, de la Dissension nationale au Conflit régional, 1975-1982, Paris-Beirut 1994.


Regarding the events of 1958 ref :

Caroline Attie, Struggle in the Levant, Lebanon in the 1950’s, Oxford 2004.


[2] Regarding the events of 1918-1920:

Meir Zamir, The Formation of Modern Lebanon, Cornell 1988, chap. II

Regarding the events of 1936

Meir Zamir, Lebanon’s Quest, The Road to Statehood, 1926-1939, London-New York 1997, pp. 199-213

[3] For an account of the 1840 Rebellion, see ,Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., volume IV, pp. 39-103.

[4] Regarding the socio economic transformations that led to these ‘movements’, see

Dominique Chevallier, La Société du Mont-Liban à l’Époque de la Révolution industrielle en Europe, Paris 1971.

[5]  Chevallier, La Société…, op. cit., pp. 80-81.

[6] Jouplain, La Question du Liban, Paris 1908, p. 529

[7] A reading of the political texts of Boutros al-Bustani in

Nassar, Nassif, Towards a new society, fundamentals to the critique of sectarian societies, (in Arabic), Beirut 1970, p. 16-32

[8] With reference to the Arabism of Ibrahim Pasha,see

Zein Noureddine Zein, the emergence of Arab nationalism”, Beirut 1968,pp. 45-46 and 187-188 (of the Arabic version).


[9] Regarding transformations within the church,see,

Chevallier, La Société…, op. cit., pp. 245-256.

Sharara ,Waddah, On the origins of sectarian Lebanon, (in Arabic), Beirut 1975 pp. 63-39


Regarding the role of Patriarch Hobeish in the beginning of that period,see,

Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit, ,volume  IV, pp. 71, 113-117 et 133.


[10] Idem pp 113-115

regarding the relation between Basheer II and Druze Dignitaries refer to:

Abu Shaqra Hussein Ghadban (narrator) and Abu Shaqra Khattar Yussef (editor), movements in Lebanon during the times of the Mutasarrifiyya, (in Arabic) p. 1-24


[11]  Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., volume IV, pp. 284-289. Unanimity was prerequisite in both councils. Otherwise the decision is referred to the Wali (governor of Sidon). The two Qa’imakams could also be removed by that governor. If we consider that this system was the first institutional form of sectarianism in Lebanon, we must admit that the unanimity of vote required and the foreign Arbitration imposed in case no unanimity is reached, were elements that accompanied the birth of that system.  The truth is that it accompanied it throughout its history. During the Mustasarrifiya times, there was an administrative council. However, power was given to the Mutasarrif (ruler) who was not Lebanese. The various dignitaries from various denominations sill relied on European councils to gain leverage vis-à-vis the foreign ruler as well as vis-à-vis each other. During the French Mandate, power was given to the high commissioner who had the right to suspend the constitution, remove the president, dismiss the cabinet and dissolve the national assembly. Lebanon did not reach a removal of foreign arbitration and unanimous vote as a prerequisite for keeping the decision making process as an internal one excpet during the three decades following the independence of 1943 in other terms for 30 years out of 160 years which constitute the real age of sectarianism. We believe that the 30 years were an exception, and the reestablishment of the former conditions (which failed to prevent conflicts, anyway) is impossible. To overcome the unanimity (which is impossible and will cripple the authorities) and foreign arbitration conditions (which might be implicit or explicit) depends on overcoming political sectarianism altogether which is something the Taef Agreement seems to have recognized. However, what happened to that agreement clearly demonstrates that overcoming sectarianism is not an easy task to say the least.

[12] ISMAIL, Histoire…, op. cit., volume IV, pp. 175-201


[13] idem, p. 301

[14] Id, p 216-219

[15] Id, p. 321-327

[16]  Chevallier, La Société…, op. cit., p. 271

[17] Ismail, Histoire…, op.cit.,volume IV, pp. 324-325

[18] Chevallier, La Société…, op. cit., pp. 277-278 and 289



[19] Sharara, origins, id, p52-60

[20] Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit.,volume IV, Conclusion

[21] Regarding the impact of the movements on sectarian relationships in Damascus ref:

Iskandar Bin Yaacoub Abacarius, tTime stories of Mount Lebanon events, (in Arabic) edited by Abdel Kareem Assamak, London 1987, p253-254

Regarding the same topic in Mount Lebanon ref:

Abu Shakra, movements…, id, p32-34


[22] Regarding the fight of both Druze and Maronites against the Austrian Omar Pacha and the will of the Maronites to reinstate Basheer II ref:

Ismail, “ the Era of Chaos and Unrest…” , in Lebanon: history and legacy, id, Volume 2, p 352-354

Also ref: Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., Volume IV, pp. 257-261


[23]   Chevallier, La Société…, op. cit., pp. 267-269

[24]  Id, p 269

[25] Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., volume IV, pp. 139-140 and 188

[26] Riad Ghannam, Lebanese provinces during Egyptian Rule 1832- 1840, (in Arabic),  Chapters 4, 5, 6, Beirut 1988,


IsmailL, Histoire…, op. cit, volume IV, pp. 16-17

[27]  Chevallier, La Société…, op. cit., pp. 256-260

and Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., volume IV, pp. 156-160

[28] Ismail, ibid., pp. 106 et 146-148

[29] Abacarius, time stories…. , id, chapter 8



[30] Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., p. 137 and Ismail, « the Era of Chaos », id., p356

[31] Ismail, Histoire…, op. cit., pp. 78-88. On the other hand, Ismail (id, p 73-77) asserts that the British and the Ottomans encouraged the rebels and provided them with promises and arms. However, the movement of 1840 was a collective rebellion and was not a civil war.

[32] Ibid, p 110-111 and 121.

[33] Ibid, p. 73, 89-99, 154-156, 277-280, 333-334, 346-351

[34] In 1840, disarming the population and arming the formal authority became the objective of the Ottomans when dealing with the Lebanese crisis. It aimed at disempowering the feudal lords and replacing them with civil servants. However, this tendency truly materialized during the times of the Mutasarrifiyya. Regardless, the Lebanese tend till today to arm their respective communities.



[35] In the references we cited, there is a depiction of the Ottoman rulers. All these references commend the second group while accusing the first of partiality, conspiracy, neglect and corruption


[36] Ahmad Beydoun, The Discontinuous Republic, Sources of the Lebanese System after the Ta’if Agreement, (in Arabic), Beirut 1999, p461-463


[37] id, p 295-296

[38] Chamoun, accepted, unlike other Arab leaders, the “Eisenhower Doctrine” and engineered the defeat the leaders of the opposition in the parliamentary elections of 1957.

ATTIÉ, The Struggle in the Levant, op. cit. pp. 108-121 and pp. 141-148.





About Sects and Supermarkets



Ahmad Beydoun



Free trade cannot be considered as a moral value. It consists of a set of behaviors subjected to some defined rules and that is supposed to promote the growth of the global wealth. On the part of the consumers, free trade is supposed to insure best quality/price ratio by promoting competition that leads to reducing rates of profit and to continuous enhancement and diversification of commercialized products and services. On the part of the investors, competition promotes concentration of capital: a must for providing adequate investments in research, innovations in equipment and thus increased productivity that imposes a widened distribution. Once the national markets prove too narrow for the increased offer of products and services, pressures are exerted in order to open new markets by overcoming national constraints, thus unifying progressively the world market. The necessity for the partners to apply commonly accepted rules, while engaging in this process, implies that free trade has to be a fair trade. The assumption that global growth should be beneficial to all the involved societies means that free trade has only a practical and conditional value.


In fact, unless the growth related to free trade is perceived by the concerned parties as fairly beneficial to those who accept the rules of trading practices, it would be exposed to more or less violent contempt.


Actually, in the free trade game, the players happen to be of various sizes. When the game is intended to resemble to a repetitive wrestling round where light weight wrestlers have to compete against heavy weight champions, it would not be considered as a fair play, at least not by all the parties. The small players would be tempted then to break the rules. They would use any unlawful instrument they can reach to compensate for the obvious inferiority of their muscular system in this imposed combat.


Conversely, if free trade is proved to be, rather than an unbalanced competition, similar to a multilateral business where every partner is allowed to expect benefits (or losses) more or less proportional to his contribution, then all the parties would be legitimately expected to stick to the prefixed rules.


We live in a world where economy and economic identities have become infinitely more global than other collective practices and identities. Moreover, the globalization of the production and distribution of goods and services and of the financial transactions has resulted in weakened power of decision and weakened authority of the national State, thus fueling sub-national identities such as sectarianism, ethnical fanaticism, tribalism, etc. This process is much more visible in the countries of the South where benefits from the global free trade are still to be proved.


Of course, these elements are not representative of the complete picture. Sects, ethnic groups and even tribes, while facing other groups of the same types in a single society, perceive badly their weakness on the international scene where they spontaneously tend to situate the main battlefield. Most of them recall than the fact that they are equally sub-national and transnational. Thus they aim to create each its “Internationale” hoping to prevail or, at least, to prove present on both the national and the international scenes. This results often in aggressive networks, religious or ethnical, and sometimes ends, under certain conditions, in local and/or international terrorism.


On the global scale, free trade is never a mere economic practice. When an international firm creates a huge supermarket in a remote city of a southern country, this makes thousands of people happy. A supermarket is an air conditioned space coupled with a parking area and where a car owning consumer finds almost all what he needs for his and his family’s daily life. Moreover tens of unemployed people in the city may find a job in the new supermarket and thus join the happy people group.


Nevertheless, the supermarket ends in ruining dozens of small businesses. A superficial observer would see no big issue in this. He would argue that we have here a small number of unhappy people facing a huge number of happy people. Unfortunately, this would be a truly immature vision of the situation.


In fact, in a so-called traditional society, an owner of a small business is never a mere small business owner. Having never completed his “Great Transformation” (Karl Polanyi), he never isolates his economic status from his overall persona. Normally, a business owner belongs to an extended family or even to a bigger tribe where the sense of solidarity is far from vanishing, especially in an era where the so-called “modern” group identities, patiently founded under the authority of the always questioned and often unstable national State, are dangerously challenged by the globalization processes. Also, the above-mentioned small business owner always happens to be a member of a religious sect that is, in general, more effective in handling and publicizing his complaint. He may even recall his national identity consciously as he might be of the fact that the supermarket came from abroad.


The xenophobic and eventually violence generating feelings that are fueled by these combined affiliations may be widely contagious. Large sectors of the happy consumers and even a number of the happy new employed people may develop a schizophrenic attitude and, while they are still happy about the supermarket, they might be deeply affected by the mobilizing complaint of the ruined people. Similar to the small business owner which in no way can be reduced to this aspect of his condition, a consumer, in this  kind of society, is never a mere consumer and new employed individual would hardly become a mere new employee. For instance, the sectarian solidarity is, in general, highly more mobilizing and militant than the simple affiliation to a certain category of consumers.


The anger generated by the creation of the supermarket may not target the supermarket itself. The latter would continue to flourish, attracting new customers. Some of the unhappy fellows would convert to other types of activity or become dependant on their relatives or community. Hoping to live happy there ever after, others would go as legal or illegal immigrants to where the supermarket came from. Through tricky and complicated mutations accorded to selected cultural factors and patterns, the specific and local resentment their case generated would likely integrate in a overall weltenshauung incriminating the world system and its main players that are supposed to have given birth to the supermarket.


What conclusion can be drawn from this realistic – though imagined –  story? Should we advise the multinational society to give up the idea of creating supermarkets in remote cities of the southern world? The answer is no because this would be a loss for both the city and the company. Should we ask the company to tackle directly the problem of the small merchants it had ruined by opening the supermarket? Such a procedure may be taken into consideration, but it could prove to be unrealistic and furthermore too simplistic for such a multidimensional situation. It would be more accurate to build on a basis of awareness of the fact that the supermarket problem is nothing but a microscopic expression of a set of huge questions. The most

important of these questions may be the following: under what conditions the global free trade can be considered as a fair trade? Given the above developed analysis, those conditions seem not to be purely economical. They are also political, social and cultural. It will never be possible to apply simple economic calculus of costs, prices and profit to the economic transactions between the north and the south of the planet, basing on this sole type of facts, prospects of peace and security. It will never be possible to build peacefully a unified world market while we pretend to ignore the conflicting relationship between the unified market and the culturally and politically fragmented world. Ignoring this relationship means denying to the majority of the world societies the right to keep their economic behaviors integrated into their whole cultural life. Even though this may change in due time, the change cannot be imposed by aggressive methods. Furthermore this change appears as an illegitimate request, especially with regard to the fact that, while a simplified universal culture is spread everywhere, the unified market is still largely contributing to the fragmentation of the political and cultural landscape of the world.


The main source of conflicts and violence in today’s world is the fact that the ongoing unification of the world market does not meet elsewhere political, social and cultural conditions adequate to its implications. Parallel to the global market, we find a fragmented world that the market unification makes even more fragmented. What else could be expected when the State’s authority is weakened and when the sub-national communities feel threatened and left alone?


By defying existing national sovereignties, precarious social structures and deeply rooted cultural patterns, the new global economy, based on free trade, triggers defensive reactions. Should these reactions be violent, they would not be legitimately attributed to an intrinsically violent culture. Rather, they would seek their basis in a reinterpretation of an ambivalent culture. Ambivalence never has been proper to a culture nor to a group of cultures. Unless very poor and deprived from historical traditions, a culture is always ambivalent. When the outside or inside pressures exerted on a cultural community are strong enough, they may lead to violent reformulation of its sets of behaviors and its value systems.


This reformulation is never embraced unanimously by the entire cultural group. Usually it involves a small minority that polarizes sympathy in certain milieus of the group and a more or less active refusal in others. Nevertheless, this minority, if deeply engaged in its violent option, can become equally dangerous for the rest of the group and for the outside parties it may target. This is exactly what terrorism is all about.


Condemning terrorism should not prevent us from unveiling its roots. Fighting crime never prevented scholars from developing a whole psychology and a whole sociology of crime. This effort helps going beyond mere condemnation and repression, knowing that – though necessary – they never would be enough to defeat crime. In the case of terrorism, deep inquiry about its roots may lead to ways (surely long, painful and costly ways) to uproot it. As a start, we must leave behind us the sterile dichotomy of Good and Evil.


The roots of present day terrorism have to be looked for in the nurturing soil of the confrontation above mentioned that characterizes our present day world. In order to uproot terrorism, we must tackle, in national and international arenas, the whole set of economical, political, social and cultural problems triggered by the multiple processes of globalization. Free trade could become a moral value, only if it becomes fair trade and if it is coupled with the reinvention of our world starting with that of the international relations system.

The History of Lebanon  as Mirrored by its Confessional Communities[1]




                                              by Ahmad Beydoun




The Lebanese state was born in 1920 by a French decree. It surrounded the old Ottoman Mutasarrifiya of Mount Lebanon with a territorial belt made of several parts of the neibhouring two ex-vilayets of Beirut and of Damascus: to the west, a number of coastal cities and towns including the capital, Beirut; to the east, the ‘four cazas’ icluding the Bekaa valley and the west side of the arid mountains separating it from the outskirts of Damascus; to the south, the region called Jabal Amel expanding from Sayda to the Palestinian borders; and, to the North, the regions of Miniya, Dinniya and Akkar expanding from the outskirts of the city of Tripoli to the heights of the Northern Bekaa .


In accordance with divergent political choices, the old Lebanon (mainly christian) and the newly annexed cities and territories (predominantley muslim) adopted, grosso modo, vis-à-vis their historical identity,  two divergent strategies. Without giving up a certain idea of regional autonomy, the annexed regions adopted mainly a centirifugal attitude, tending to dilute their historical identity in the  framework of a claimed Arab Greater Syria. In faithfulness to pre-war claims for its territory enlargement, the Old Lebanon adopted a centripetal and ‘imperialistic’ attitude, tending to transmute in an historical whole the newly created political entity. Thus  the emergence of a commonly accepted concept of the new Lebanon among which the Lebanese could struggle and negotiate had to await some substantial changes in the terms of the initial confrontation between the afore mentioned strategies. These changes were imposed, along the  next decades, by a series of new regional conjunctures as well as by the evolving experience of the Lebanese state itself.


Furthermore, the research into the problems of identity as perceived by the contemporary Lebanese historians had to be postponed until its object was actualized.This object can be called, and rightly so, “the history of Lebanon”. I am referring to the history of Lebanon of today in its totality.


The writing of the Lebanese history – polemic and contradictory but yearning for completion and thoroughness – started accumulating, admittedly slowly and hesitantly, during the ten years prior to the Lebanese war, and took a coherent shape during the years of this war.


What should be underlined at first, in this regard, is the fact that the historical investigation which had been mainly concerned with old Mount Lebanon, has expanded to regions forgotten, for decades, by historians. Also, with this expansion came the introduction of university education to sectors of population which, until the sixties, had been deprived of this opportunity. This twofold process, however, is not sufficient enough an explanation to account for the new interest and orientation of this historical research. Notably, the region we presently call Southern Lebanon but historically known Jabal Amel (which dwelled in official and historical oblivion for decades) had had a major share of this newly developed interest of contemporary historians and the awakening of old established ones. This region witnessed the birth of new versions of its past history. These versions appeared within the course of a newly vitalized Shiite Movement, and were consecrated to preserve the rights and exclusivity of the Amelite past, while simultaneously forging a common unified concept with the perceived Lebanese past.


Other regions extending between Northern Bekaa and Akkar, and sharing with the South an undeniable priority in their demands for developmental and political attention, were less fortunate in exciting the newly developed interest of this historical research. Little effort in this regard is noted. Although the coastal towns, including the Capital, had a lesser share of official and historical neglect than other regions, they nevertheless had a considerable share in this new interest.


As for Mount Lebanon it is most striking that the amount of effort consecrated to recording and rewriting its history never waned. After the Battle of the Mountain in 1983, a profusion of newly written publications started to surface trying to portray a particular historical image of Mount Lebanon. This image was in close adherence with the Druze version of the history of this region. During a relatively short period of time, the number of publications by Druze authors, rewriting and documenting the history of their community, doubled in number. However, it is worth noting that prior to the battle of 1983, these publications were rare; most of them did not restrict themselves to the Lebanese historical frame, but went further and beyond  to renumerate and establish the histories of the Druze community in general within and beyond the scope of Lebanese history.


Eventhough some of these publications tended to be more quibbling than their Shiite counterparts, yet as a whole, they contributed to the establishment of one solid fact, namely that a unique version of the history of Mount Lebanon  began to face serious questioning of validation.


Whatever the nature of these new publications, they  joined a long list of recently published and unpublished university theses of diverse quality and value. This veritable heap of historical research, despite its many shortcomings and discrepancies, dared to challenge the established published histories which were presented as the national history of the country.


This renewed emergence in the written history of regions and/or confessional communities which, so far, had been in the shadows of indifference, was accompanied by a corresponding adjustement of their perspective. Going back to 1948, we find that the goals of Arab nationalism were embraced by some intellectual groups and social classes who were denied their due participation by the governing alliance, self- proclaimed as the guardians of the Lebanese independence. These groups, disenchanted and frustrated in their own land, looked for a wider arena to which they can relate  and a latitude for self expression. The ideals of the Greater Syria or Arab Nationalism provided the horizons with which these groups could identify, which they did, with definite and intentional neglect for the histories of their own regions. As a matter of fact, if one looks for any written historical documentation of these regions during the fifties and the early sixties of the last century, one is apt to encounter difficulty in finding such records. However, by the year 1961, the Pan-Arab and Pan-Syrian ideals began loosing their appeal to be replaced after 1967 by an established interest in the Palestinian issue and the Palestinian ideal of an independent State. This ideal attracted the Palestinians, whose struggle for a statehood was at its peak, and provided a new framework for the relationship of the Palestinians with Arabism. Such a framework was emphatically colored by a definite Palestinian particularity. Consequently, this phenomenon, together with the decline of the gelateneous ideal of Arabism and the consequent ebb of the ideal of Arab unity, led the different Lebanese communities whose acceptance of their Lebanese identity was since the 1920’s conditional at best , to re-examine their position vis-à-vis the ideal of Lebanese Nationalism.


Naturally, history provided a wide domain for such re-examination. This re-examination reached an unprecedented level of collective awareness, and remains to be so. For example, the Shiite historians  went on describing the Lebanon of 1920 as an illigitimate child of the partition plan executed by the European colonialism. Yet, this Lebanon kept haunting their version of Amelite history like a ghost of a certain intangible conscience. Their versions of history portrayed Lebanon as a mythical land where the Metoualis were struggling, since the time of Fakhr-al-Dine II, to occupy their legitimate place under the sun. However, by the onset of the seventies, the Jabal Amel, which had become South Lebanon, started looking at its history with a strong and clear inclination to accept Lebanon as its final destination.


Yet, one matter should be made clear. This tendency to incorporate the particular histories of the different Lebanese regions into one common perspective was not effective except after a re-definition of the idea of Lebanon. We should not delude ourselves by thinking that the regions that were annexed to Lebanon in 1920, became automatically part of the pre-existing Lebanese ideal. On the contrary, the Lebanese ideal which the newcomers adopted was alien to the Lebanese traditional Nationalism. Therefore , the relationship between the old and new Lebanese ideals was coflictual and almost mutually exclusive. It may be that the effort to tie histories of Mount Lebanon and Jabal Amel as two basic components of a unified structure was of concern only to a handful of historians. But, in reality, the arena of written history was the stage of a very decisive battle, the battle of identities, the onset as well as the perpetuation of which was, and still is subject to economic and political circumstances. This historic battle provided the meaning and the justification of the economic competition and political struggle of these regions. The reaction of the traditional Lebanonism to this new development testifies to the important role of this confrontation. One could detect, on each front, a definite setback which was manifested in the re-surgence of accute confessional narcissism, thought to have been surpassed. This narcissism claimed among its victims the long established historians who had had spent the wealth of their experience and knowledge in laying the bedrock for the establishment of a nation.


Outside this framework which is outlined by ideological confrontation, no matter how little was the significance of the names involved,  we cannot rationalize how the Shiite movement “the Deprived”, the Sunni movement of “Participation” and the Maronite anti- Palestinian movement reached a quasi-consensus after 1976; It looked as if the “Lebanese Idea” had already been established as a limit to the struggle of the conflicting parties none of them was willing to question.


Thus, a new concept of Lebanon, incomplete, relative and contradictory as it is, was not formed in an atmosphere of reconciliation. As a matter of fact, this new concept if materialized, has done so through the incessant demands and the inflexible attitudes of the parties in conflict and through the violent confrontations of the combatants. Historical narratives were one of the stages on which this difficult birth took place. In fact, all the past stages and arenas on which this new concept of Lebanon has evolved were finally unified in one common space: the civil war.


Examples upon which an analysis of contemporary Lebanese historians writings is based, may be chosen in accordance with a variety of considerations. Among these considerations is the fact that the chosen historical periods or events are points of contention between our historians. It could be valid, for example, to choose Phoenicia or the Mardaite episode as a basis for dicussing the question of origin and history. Also it is quite acceptable, when trying to trace the cristallization of the nation, to substitute Bashir II for Fakhr al-Deen II, eventhough they are considered to be of opposite significance. It could be also possible to adopt examples of less prominence with outlines not so clearly defined ( the Mamluk period or the relationship between the Lebanese chiefs and al-Jazzar ), or address several different questions to the same example. Therefore, the researcher keeps some freedom to choose from the different samples of historical facts. But, what gives priority to a chosen sample is, first and foremost, its relevance to the problems addressed. In short, the sample of historical facts should provide the researcher with the means to build up a clear outline and even a clearer comparative analysis sufficiently endowed with evidence. For example, no Lebanese aware of the general Lebanese debate can recall the era of Fakhr al-Deen II without recalling the polemics over the genesis of the Lebanese State, insofar as it is an authority having unifying institutions and a guarantee to independence. Of course, a Lebanese can call Fakhr al-Deen the founder of this State or can deny him this role. It is sufficient for this kind of research to point out that this problem is the primary theme for reflection when discussing Fakhr al-Deen.


At first glance, one could not relate with certainty the story of the devastation of the Kisrawan in the late 13th and the early 14th century to the problems related, in collective imagination, to the geography of the Lebanese land with its mountainious outcorps, surface undulations, and the resulting distribution of its population groups. But an exercise in interpretation of the different histories of that devastation will reveal this relationship. Another example: the Mardaites who were a virtual image of a collective origin , are in fact the conceived origin of one community. Inspite of that, and using their histories or “narratives”, it is possible to build up reflected images of the origins and histories of other communities. This is due to the fact that each confessional community is willing to spare nothing so as to keep the opposite community from giving a priority or an overall significance to its supposed origin. This fact might give rise to positive reassurance since it indicates, at first glance, a tendency to overcome the barriers of divisions, and achieve some basic homogeneity among the different communities under the authority of a central entity. But a second glance is alarming since it reveals that this central authorative entity is not evolving from a unifying common historical need; it is simply an image previously  structured through the imagined eternity of one community or the other.


Furthermore no one unifier exists for the different portraits which form the history of Lebanon as written by the different historians. If a unifier does exist, then it will be so in a negative sense. Lebanon exists and so does its history  for the single purpose of being the object of the many conflicts of the different parties involved. Through the writings of Lebanese historians (with some exceptions), the different confessional communities are mostly depicted to be on a constant watch vis-à-vis each other. Moreover these communities will identify themselves with the different groups who had inhabited our land earlier to project this confrontation backward in time and establish its continuity. Even when a long period of time separates two eras on which opposite communitarian identifications are focused, the confrontation is still possible. It is then embodied in a competition for present significance and legitimicy, and each of the concerned eras is claimed to be source of.


Naturally, there will be times when the different communities will co-exist peacefully on one land, and others when they would probably be unified against a common danger. But the continuity of their existence as well as the subjectivity of the historians when dealing with a history of a community to which they belong, both manage to preserve the parallelism between the communities in their historical imagination. This parallelism gains a deep rooted meaning which is fixed in the framework of an almost stationary time. On one side, one could always find a party who is willing to preserve the country within its encompassing cultural milieu and will, in the process, fight its enemies whether from off-shore (Crusaders) or from beyond the desert (Moguls); While another party will embrace these invaders and meekly ride in their coat tails. On the opposite side, we find a party who is anxious to preserve the independence of the green mountain vis-à-vis the desert and call upon the fruits of overseas civilizations, and even plough these seas in defiance to the encircling nomad milieu; meanwhile, another party keeps trying to stiffle this open cultural diversification by expounding ideas of a futile unity with the wider milieu of sand and people who walked away from their tribal camps undeservedly or by sheer accident. Thus, nothing would happen in a thousand years to the everlasting conflict between those two imagined profiles except to wither for a while, be rekindled anew, or be kept in abeyance.


So, what we easily note in the works of most of our historians is their mad rush to accomplish the operation of “the reversal of time” described by Henry Corbin in his analysis of another culture. Actually, the main driving motive force in these works is to accumulate examples upon examples proving the worthlessness of time. For these historians the only time worthy of note is a time spanning for thousands of years constant and consistent, a time as close as possible to eternity. This tendency to diqualify the effectiveness of time is an expression of a real survival instinct which manifests itself by a fixation at the moment of origin. Time for our historians seems intrinsically corrupt and impure, since it distances them from the moment of birth of the group. That moment in their mind personifies all the intrisic virtues of the group which were attained at that first moment perceived as a moment of perfection. Consequently, all the times  which follow will retain a value proportional to how much they reveal or relate to the regained identity of the group’s first origin. Thus, the present moment dwells in the solid past which is repeated through it while it reveals it. As for the present by itself, it is a dark nothingness which would lead the group, should they surrender to it, to extinction.


We should point out, in this regard, that what we call “the origin” is not necessarilly an instant or an atom of time with geometric coordinates; for the formation of the origin is something told by raconteurs. Normally, it is a complex sequence of events which provides the group with the time element necessary for self expression through their diverse achievements. It is possible also that this time identity or self expression will cover the whole span of a golden era from the beginning to the end . In an effort to condense it, this golden era will be simplified into a synchronized image, thus eliminating its time dimension.


It is likely, also, that the origin will be manifested through a set of traditions which may be called a heritage that gives through its constant and everlasting presence, the semblance of being eternal.


This thought of the origin, hence, has many shapes. We are mostly inclined to state, by preponderence of evidence we have gathered, that the visions of the contemporary Lebanese historians are conform to the Islamic or traditional Arabic conception of time, whether these thoughts were expounded by Christian or by Moslem authors. We have developed this belief after comparing these visions with the ideas portrayed by specialists like Henry-Charles Puech on Christian matters and Louis Gardet and Henry Corbin on Moslem matters. Analyzing the discourse of the Lebanese historians, we come across cyclic course of time which reverts to its origin much rather than a rectilinear and progressive one, the begining of which can be traced back to the instant of Redemption.


It is necessary to study closely the particularities of the images which are developed by historians whose principal objective is to maintain the historical continuity of their community, people or country. Doing that, we detect the need for a myth of origin, in the general sense, which is commonly used by historians to enable them to form the historical time of their community. We know that this need was felt by Claude Levi-Strauss in the core of the Savage Thought. Francois Furet uses it as the basis for defining the status of the 1789 French Revolution in the minds of the contemporary French people. But in the case of the Lebanese historians, one can observe the proliferation of the many forms of identity presentation. This proliferation expresses three important matters. First, the basic need for self defense felt by some traditional groups, who view the modern forms of solidarity as an encroachment on their “space”. Second, the persistence of community cohesion to such an extent as to render the individual (in this case our historian) incapable or unwilling to adopt a personal stance, reducing him to the position of the spokesman/poet of his community. Third, the emergence of a unified authority (the State), subject to dispute among the different communities. As afore mentioned, this emergence permits a deeply modified form of the old intercommunal conflicts.


The second trait that should be stressed in this context is the social backwardness of the individuals. This condition must be stressed because it embodies the dialectic of the traditional groups and the modern State. Since the individuals we refer to, here, are the historians, the above mentionned condition explains the marginality of the so called scientific position in the writing of our History. In the final analysis, the individual in its abstract form, objective science and the universality of the State are all but different facets of one coherent reality. We prefer to give the Arab name Su’luk to these individuals whose individuality cannot master its proper concept. Each one of these individuals is a reject of a group, or a singular residue of the various clashes between forms of traditional solidarity and modern institutions. To this effect, these individuals maintain a concrete essence difficult to be categorized. The difference between the individual-citizen and the individual-su’luk is that the former is the product of advanced societies, while the latter is the reject of a disjointed society incapable of mastering its own image.


The idolization of collective identities, a condition mostly prevalent in the Lebanese case, forms an obstacle in the way of the blossoming of a consistent social history. The Lebanese produce, in this field, is still rare, even in the present generation of historians, including those who came to history from Marxist background or have some familiarity with the French school of the Annales or the German School of Frankfurt. Few have succeeded to avoid the essentialization of the traditional collectivities or have fully integrated the idea of social change as an original process and not mainly as a series of occasions for recurrent myths of origins to be reincarnated. For the assertation of an identity is nourished by the dream of its remaining in an unchanging state. This dream vacillates between hiding and declaring itself, thus obliterating what is social; since the underlying point of view of social history implies giving credit and worth to what is changing and contingent. On the contrary, as far as the logic of identity is concerned, the past or simply the point in time of origin formation is the source of every value. Not only does this logic undermine the possibility to take seriously into account the evolving realities of the past, it cannot support an objective and practical analysis of the present and keeps the future from being an object of valid evaluation. Instead, the social ideologies generated by the logic of identity inflate the group awareness with mythological ideals. Therefore, these ideologies prevent the development of creative thinking; instead they impel intellectuals to store and decorate.


However, this conservative attitude does not exclude considerable efforts to come to terms with the imperatives of the modern world. But these efforts are scarcely expended without reluctance. Deep inside, the adaptation process is felt as a tissue of necessary concessions and compromises rather than a free choice. In the Lebanese context, I designated, years ago, this ambiguous tendency to bend with the wind as “the shyness of the communities”. The results of the set of practices related to this tendency accumulated, through the decades, to form a fundamental dimension of the contemporary Lebanese society. The development of this dimension made possible the problematic, yet wide, integration of our society in the modern world.




The difficulty we point out in recovering an historical personality that could justify the present and situate it in an appropriate way demonstrates an aspect of the real ambivalence of Lebanon’s history. This history does not exclude either the tenet of internal unity nor that of conflict or breakdown into units; that of the necessary hegemony of one partner, nor of a balanced entente; that of enfeoffment nor of autonomy. Another difficulty arises from a perception of history that tends for the wrong reasons to confuse the successive layers of the past, making it difficult to distinguish at least four strata of the historical development of a Lebanese reality.


  • The history of a land begins with history itself. Throughout the whole of antiquity, the present Lebanese coastline formed the central, but scarcely individualized, part of a more vast whole which, seen from within, shows both disunity and homogeneity. From outside, it is the inevitable route of successive conquests which shook this region, from Spain to the borders of India, passing through Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia; it could not prevent conquerors from passing through; it suffered their repeated attacks and had to change masters after each tempest. The contours and the situation of our land came to serve as framework for its vocation. From these action-filled centuries the words of our contemporaries reconstruct, for our awareness as Lebanese living today, mixed images of commerce and craft, colonies and navigators, alphabets, deities and finally heroic resistance contrasting with long periods as vassals.
  • The history of communities is unclear untill the fifth century CE, when, in the mountains and distant regions of the Near East, different sects came into being, in opposition to Byzantine orthodoxy. It reached a watershed with the arrival of Islam, which soon formed its own schisms. For both Islam and Christianity, theological-political differences apparently follow the lines of ethnic and tribal splits. Another set of factors tends to isolate the sects in opposition to the authorities in the mountain regions, while the orthodox of both religions can continue to inhabit the coastal centres. The constitution of sects goes on through the centuries; it is punctuated with movements of populations often for political, but sometimes also economic and demographic reasons. The Crusades and their immediate consequences, and also the Mongol invasions, brought about big changes in the community map of present-day Lebanon. But while the number of Muslim communities has remained constant since the eleventh century, new Christian communities were still being formed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, under the influence of the missions, and even in the twentieth following movements of immigration. Nevertheless, it must be noted that the Sunni Muslim community, too, only reached a status similar to that of the others after the collapse of the Ottoman empire.
  • The history of a multi-confessional society was only inaugurated in the seventeenth century: in spite of many previous cases of local confessional mixtures, or of partial domination of one community by notables from another, until that date the sects in the mountains led parallel and separate lives. The immigration of Maronites into the Druze Shouf, from the seventeenth century on, prepared by their peopling of the Kisrawan during the sixteenth, marked a new phase and the formation of a new type of inter-communal relationships. One must, however, avoid hasty judgements. Until the early years of the nineteenth century, the Maronites were not yet completely integrated in the Druze mountain. The emir had been a Christian for several decades, but on the social level, the Druze notables always held the pride of place. The christian community of the south was far from feeling at ease in the homes held at the pleasure of these overlords. But the community became progressively richer and more numerous and better settled. And when, thanks to local political circumstances and new international economic conditions, the Christian definitely held the balance, this change had to initiate twenty years of civil strife before it could be translated into a new political system. The Mutasarrifiya enjoyed its relative civil peace in exchange for the visible influence of the “Great Powers” and the wide-ranging prerogatives of the foreign governor.

On the social level, the characteristics of the Mountain dwellers’new society were confirmed: this was a multi-confessional society whose unity was no longer situated at the apex, but where the Maronites’hegemony expressed the true equilibrium – or absence – of the new formula. Once again, the multilateral and henceforward organic accord could be applied only thanks to the clearly superior weight of one party.

  • The history of a State and a people in formation. In 1920, the Mutasarrifiya was clearly still the instigator and, for the distribution of power, the model. But the formula had just undergone a radical change at its very basis. The area of the new State became almost three times greater than  that of the former province, the population twice the size. The annexed regions (apart from a section of the coast) had had only sporadic historical contacts with the mountain. In fact for two regions to belong to one and the same Ottoman vilayet (province) generally presented only a week guarantee of social fusion. The Lebanese emirs’seizure of the Bekaa, Jabal Amel or Akkar had never been maintained for long, and had left few traces. Each of these regions had its denominatial character, its dynasties of Muqatiji, sometimes of several centuries duration; in short its own history. If one insisted on relating these to a historical whole (while admitting this whole scarecely constituted a ‘nation’), one had to think of the Syro-Palestinian whole. The annexation of these regions (and the predominantly Islamic cities of the coast) necessarily aroused defiance and resistance. That did not mean that other solutions could have achieved unanimity: to such an extent it is true that the very idea of ‘nation’ (and thus of ‘Nation-State’) was still uncertain. The need for the projected State to have ports and grain-producing land was only too well emphasized; the established populations in the coastal cities and the regions concerned were in practical terms disregarded. This state of affairs, which after all was in no way abnormal, imposed itself on the awareness of the victors all the more naturally because, at the beginning of the summer of 1920, the balance for power was definitely broken in favour of the Franco-Christian party. The treatment the Lebanese question then received was one case among many known to history, where the advantages obtained by a victory make it impractical and even inconceivable to give a forecast. Greater Lebanon was declared on September 1, 1920.




Many a time, Karl Marx used to utter the saying that “the Dead seizes the Living”. Perhaps we know more than he did that to have the Dead serve the Living is one of the most unreacheble dreams, but, at the same time, one of the most legitimate of them. How free would our relationship with history and with ourselves be if we put our Dead in our service or at least stand on equal footings with them? Is it possible for a Lebanese, historian or not, to daydream a more beautiful dream?


















[1] Conference on Lebanon, University of Sydney, Australia, July 2002.