World War I
The outbreak of World War I in August 1914 brought Lebanon further problems, as Turkey allied itself with Germany and Austria Hungary. The Turkish government abolished Lebanon's semiautonomous status and appointed Jamal Pasha, then minister of the navy, as the commander in chief of the Turkish forces in Syria, with discretionary powers. Known for his harshness, he militarily occupied Lebanon and replaced the Armenian mutasarrif, Ohannes Pasha, with a Turk, Munif Pasha.
In February 1915, frustrated by his unsuccessful attack on the British forces protecting the Suez Canal, Jamal Pasha initiated a blockade of the entire eastern Mediterranean coast to prevent supplies from reaching his enemies and indirectly caused thousands of deaths from widespread famine and plagues. Lebanon suffered as much as, or more than, any other Ottoman province. The blockade deprived the country of its tourists and summer visitors, and remittances from relatives and friends were lost or delayed for months. The Turkish Army cut down trees for wood to fuel trains or for military purposes. In 1916 Turkish authorities publicly executed twenty-one Syrians and Lebanese in Damascus and Beirut, respectively, for alleged anti-Turkish activities. The date, May 6, is commemorated annually in both countries as Martyrs' Day, and the site in Beirut has come to be known as Martyrs' Square.
Relief came, however, in September 1918 when the British general Edmund Allenby and Faysal I, son of Sharif Husayn of Mecca, moved into Palestine with British and Arab forces, thus opening the way for the occupation of Syria and Lebanon. At the San Remo Conference held in Italy in April 1920, the Allies gave France a mandate over Greater Syria. France then appointed General Henri Gouraud to implement the mandate provisions.
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The Mandate Period
On September 1, 1920, General Gouraud proclaimed the establishment of Greater Lebanon with its present boundaries and with Beirut as its capital. The first Lebanese constitution was promulgated on May 23, 1926, and subsequently amended several times; it was still in effect as of late 1987. Modeled after that of the French Third Republic, it provided for a unicameral parliament called the Chamber of Deputies, a president, and a Council of Ministers, or cabinet. The president was to be elected by the Chamber of Deputies for one six-year term and could not be reelected until a six-year period had elapsed; deputies were to be popularly elected along confessional lines. The first and only complete census that had been held in Lebanon as of 1987 took place in 1932 and resulted in the custom of selecting major political officers according to the proportion of the principal sects in the population (see The Basis of Government, ch. 4). Thus, the president was to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies a Shia Muslim. Theoretically, the Chamber of Deputies performed the legislative function, but in fact bills were prepared by the executive and submitted to the Chamber of Deputies, which passed them virtually without exception. Under the Constitution, the French high commissioner still exercised supreme power, an arrangement that initially brought objections from the Lebanese nationalists. Nevertheless, Charles Dabbas, a Greek Orthodox, was elected the first president of Lebanon three days after the adoption of the Constitution.
At the end of Dabbas's first term in 1932, Bishara al Khuri (also cited as Khoury) and Emile Iddi (also cited as Edde) competed for the office of president, thus dividing the Chamber of Deputies. To break the deadlock, some deputies suggested Shaykh Muhammad al Jisr, who was chairman of the Council of Ministers and the Muslim leader of Tripoli, as a compromise candidate. However, French high commissioner Henri Ponsot suspended the constitution on May 9, 1932, and extended the term of Dabbas for one year; in this way he prevented the election of a Muslim as president. Dissatisfied with Ponsot's conduct, the French authorities replaced him with Comte Damien de Martel, who, on January 30, 1934, appointed Habib as Saad as president for a one-year term (later extended for an additional year).
Emile Iddi was elected president on January 30, 1936. A year later, he partially reestablished the Constitution of 1926 and proceeded to hold elections for the Chamber of Deputies. However, the Constitution was again suspended by the French high commissioner in September 1939, at the outbreak of World War II.
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World War II and Independence, 1939-41
After the Vichy government assumed power in France in 1940, General Henri-Fernand Dentz was appointed high commissioner of Lebanon. This appointment led to the resignation of Emile Iddi on April 4, 1941. Five days later, Dentz appointed Alfred Naqqash (also given as Naccache or Naccash) as head of state. The Vichy government's control ended a few months later when its forces were unable to repel the advance of French and British troops into Lebanon and Syria. An armistice was signed in Acre on July 14, 1941.
After signing the Acre Armistice, General Charles de Gaulle visited Lebanon, officially ending Vichy control. Lebanese national leaders took the opportunity to ask de Gaulle to end the French Mandate and unconditionally recognize Lebanon's independence. As a result of national and international pressure, on November 26, 1941, General Georges Catroux, delegate general under de Gaulle, proclaimed the independence of Lebanon in the name of his government. The United States, Britain, the Soviet Union, the Arab states, and certain Asian countries recognized this independence, and some of them exchanged ambassadors with Beirut. However, even though the French technically recognized Lebanon's independence, they continued to exercise authority.
General elections were held, and on September 21, 1943, the new Chamber of Deputies elected Bishara al Khuri as president. He appointed Riyad as Sulh (also cited as Solh) as prime minister and asked him to form the first government of independent Lebanon. On November 8, 1943, the Chamber of Deputies amended the Constitution, abolishing the articles that referred to the Mandate and modifying those that specified the powers of the high commissioner, thus unilaterally ending the Mandate. The French authorities responded by arresting a number of prominent Lebanese politicians, including the president, the prime minister, and other cabinet members, and exiling them to the Castle of Rashayya (located about sixty-five kilometers east of Sidon). This action united the Christian and Muslim leaders in their determination to get rid of the French. France, finally yielding to mounting internal pressure and to the influence of Britain, the United States, and the Arab countries, released the prisoners at Rashayya on November 22, 1943; since then, this day has been celebrated as Independence Day.
The ending of the French Mandate left Lebanon a mixed legacy. When the Mandate began, Lebanon was still suffering from the religious conflicts of the 1860s and from World War I. The French authorities were concerned not only with maintaining control over the country but also with rebuilding the Lebanese economy and social systems. They repaired and enlarged the harbor of Beirut and developed a network of roads linking the major cities. They also began to develop a governmental structure that included new administrative and judicial systems and a new civil code. They improved the education system, agriculture, public health, and the standard of living. Concurrently, however, they linked the Lebanese currency to the depreciating French franc, tying the Lebanese economy to that of France. This action had a negative impact on Lebanon. Another negative effect of the Mandate was the place given to French as a language of instruction, a move that favored Christians at the expense of Muslims.
The foundations of the new Lebanese state were established in 1943 by an unwritten agreement between the two most prominent Christian and Muslim leaders, Khuri and Sulh. The contents of this agreement, later known as the National Pact or National Covenant (al Mithaq al Watani), were approved and supported by their followers.
The National Pact laid down four principles. First, Lebanon was to be a completely independent state. The Christian communities were to cease identifying with the West; in return, the Muslim communities were to protect the independence of Lebanon and prevent its merger with any Arab state. Second, although Lebanon is an Arab country with Arabic as its official language, it could not cut off its spiritual and intellectual ties with the West, which had helped it attain such a notable degree of progress. Third, Lebanon, as a member of the family of Arab states, should cooperate with the other Arab states, and in case of conflict among them, it should not side with one state against another. Fourth, public offices should be distributed proportionally among the recognized religious groups, but in technical positions preference should be given to competence without regard to confessional considerations. Moreover, the three top government positions should be distributed as follows: the president of the republic should be a Maronite; the prime minister, a Sunni Muslim; and the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies, a Shia Muslim. The ratio of deputies was to be six Christians to five Muslims.
From the beginning, the balance provided for in the National Pact was fragile. Many observers believed that any serious internal or external pressure might threaten the stability of the Lebanese political system, as was to happen in 1975.
Lebanon became a member of the League of Arab States (Arab League) on March 22, 1945. It also participated in the San Francisco Conference of the United Nations (UN) and became a member in 1945. On December 31, 1946, French troops were completely withdrawn from the country, with the signing of the Franco-Lebanese Treaty.
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At the end of World War I, the Allied forces put Lebanon under French military occupation.
In 1923, the League of Nations (forerunner to the United Nations) formally gave Lebanon and Syria to France. The Maronite Christians, pro-French by tradition, welcomed this development. During the next 20 years, while France ruled, the Maronites were favored.
However, the redefinition of Lebanon changed the demographic makeup of the country. Muslims and Christians were about equally divided, and many residents didn't want to be ruled by France or to be independent. They wanted to be part of a larger Syrian or Arab country.
To ease tensions, the constitution provided that the president would normally be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the chamber a Shi`ite Muslim.
Under French rule, education, public utilities and communication improved. Beirut prospered as a trade center. As the middle class of Beirut grew, so did a frail sense of common national interest and a desire for more independence.
But France was having troubles at home. Its neighbor Germany had slipped into the rule of the Nazis. When France fell to Germany in 1940 during World War II, British and Free French tropps occupied Lebanon. These troops proclaimed Lebanon and Syria independent, but because their own status was so precarious, the Free French continued to occupy Lebanon.
In 1943, they allowed elections to take place. Under the new president, the legislature adopted changes in the constitution that did away with French influence. The French objected. On Nov. 11, 1943, the French arrested almost the entire Lebanese government, leading to war. The British intervened, and the French restored the government and transferred power to it.
In 1945, after more insurrection and as World War II reached its climax, the British and French began withdrawing from Lebanon. By 1946, the withdrawal was complete, and Lebanon became officially independent.
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Source: Federal Research Division - Library of Congress
(Edited by Thomas Collelo, December 1987)
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© 1997-2001 by Ayman Ghaziayman@ghazi.de Last changes: September 30, 1997