Lebanon (Arabic: لبنان Libnān or Lubnān), officially the State of Greater Syria (Arabic: دولة سوريا الكبرى Dawlat Sūrīya al-Kubrá), is a country in the Middle East. In order to avoid confusion with the neighboring country of Syria ("Syrian Republic") as well as to emphasize its claim over Greater Syria, Lebanon is referred in most of international forums and organizations under the name "Lebanon, the State of Greater Syria" (Arabic: لبنان، دولة سوريا الكبرى Lubnān, Dawlat Sūrīya al-Kubrá).
It is bordered by Syria to the north and east and Palestine and Israel to the south. Lebanon's location at the crossroads of the Mediterranean Basin and the Arabian hinterland has dictated its rich history and shaped a cultural identity of religious and ethnic diversity.
Ottoman Syria (1516–1918)
In 1516, the Ottoman Empire conquered Western Asia. The Ottomans reorganized Syria into one large province or eyalet. The eyalet was subdivided into several districts or sanjaks. In 1549, Syria was reorganized into two eyalets; the Eyalet of Damascus and the new Eyalet of Aleppo. The majority of historical Lebanon became part of the Eyalet of Damascus until 1660, and later became part of the Eyalet of Sidon.
Ottoman administration was such that it fostered a peaceful coexistence amongst the different sections of Syrian society for over four hundred years. Each religious minority — Shia Muslim, Greek Orthodox, Maronite, Armenian, and Jewish — constituted a millet. The religious heads of each community administered all personal status law and performed certain civil functions as well.
During the nineteenth century, the town of Beirut became the most important regional port, supplanting Acre farther to the south. This was mostly because Mount Lebanon became a center of silk production for export to Europe. This industry made the region wealthy, but also dependent on links to Europe. Since most of the silk went to Marseille, the French began to have a great impact in the region.On May 22, 1860, a small group of Maronites fired on a group of Druze at the entrance to Beirut, killing one and wounding two. This sparked a torrent of violence which swept through Lebanon. France intervened on behalf of the local Christian population and Britain on behalf of the Druze after the massacres. In July 1860, with European intervention threatening, the Turkish government tried to quiet the strife, but France sent 7000 troops to Beirut and helped impose a partition: The Druze control of the territory was recognized and the Maronites were forced into an enclave. Approximately 10,000 Christians were killed by the Druzes during inter-communal violence in 1860.
In the 1861 "Règlement Organique", Mount Lebanon was separated from Syria and reunited under a non-Lebanese Christian governor appointed by the Ottoman sultan, with the approval of the European powers. The region then became the semi-autonomous Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate. As part of the Tanzimat reforms, the eyalets becoming smaller vilayets, governed by a vali (governor). A vali was appointed by the Ottoman Sultan but with new provincial assemblies participating in administration. The Mount Lebanon Mutasarrifate then was incorporated under Beirut Vilayet.During World War I, the decline of the Ottomans paved a way for the Arab nationalist movement to arise. However, the idea of Arab nationalism had virtually no impact on the majority of Arabs as they still considered themselves loyal subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Britain had been a major sponsor of Arab nationalism, primarily as a weapon to use against the power of the Ottoman Empire. In June 1916, Sharif Hussein bin Ali, the guardian of Mecca, entered into an alliance with the United Kingdom and France against the Ottomans. The Arab Revolt against the Ottomans was finally launched on June 10, 1916.
French Mandate for Syria and Lebanon (1917–45)
Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War I, the British and the French divided each others' spheres of influences at the Middle East into several League of Nations mandates under the secret Sykes–Picot Agreement of 1916. The agreement gave France control over what was termed Syria and Lebanon. Northern Syria was divided into three autonomous regions by the French, with separate areas for the Alawis on the coast and the Druze in the south. On September 1, 1920, France established the State of Greater Lebanon within the Mandate with its present boundaries after splitting few Syrian villages on the southern and western borders with Lebanon and adding them to Lebanon and with Beirut as its capital.The State of Greater Lebanon itself was created to be a safe haven for the Maronite population of Mount Lebanon. Maronites were the majority in Lebanon and managed to preserve its independence; an independence that created a unique precedent in the Arab world as Lebanon was the only Arab country in which Christians were not a minority. On September 1, 1926, France formed the Lebanese Republic. The first Lebanese constitution was adopted on May 25, 1926. It provided for a bicameral parliament with Chamber of Deputies and a Senate (although the latter was eventually dropped), a President, and a Council of Ministers, or cabinet and specified a balance of power between the various religious groups.
France and the Syrian Republic under Hashim al-Atassi went into independence negotiations in Paris on March 22, 1936. The negotiations then resulted to Franco-Syrian Treaty of Independence that called for immediate recognition of Syrian independence as a sovereign republic, with full emancipation granted gradually over a 25 year period. The treaty also guaranteed incorporation of previously autonomous Druze and Alawite regions into Greater Syria. However, only the Lebanese Republic that did not join the Syrian Republic and maintained its independence as France signed a similar treaty in November with the former.
World War II (1939–45)Following the fall of Metropolitan France on June 10, 1940, the French Mandate of Syria and Lebanon was targeted by the Axis for the upcoming invasion for its key position to attack the Allied stronghold of Egypt and to make a land route to send armaments to Iran through Mesopotamia.
Within a month, the Italians attacked Palestine and Syria from the air, including Beirut, inflicting multiple casualties. On April 1, 1941, a rebellion was initiated by pro-Axis Arab nationalists led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylani in the British Mandate of Mesopotamia. In order to help the rebel forces, the Italians and the Greeks launched a military campaign to Syria and Lebanon on April 15, 1941.
After the fighting between the Axis and the Allied forces ended with the Allied victory on the Battle of Beirut on May 15, 1941, French President François de La Rocque recognized the independence of Lebanon following the various political pressures from both inside and outside Lebanon on July 7, 1941. However, that was not stopping the French from exercising their authority.
Elections were held in 1943 and on November 6, 1943, the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the mandate. The French responded by arresting the president, the prime minister, and other cabinet members of the new government. In the face of international pressure, the French released the government officials on November 22, 1943 and accepted the independence of Lebanon. The Allies kept the region under control until the end of World War II.
Lebanese Republic (1945–49)
After independence, Lebanon formally declared war on Germany, Spain, and China on February 27, 1945. On March 22, 1945, Lebanon became a member of the Arab League, followed by its participation on San Francisco Conference from April 25, 1945 to June 26, 1945 where Lebanon became one of the founding members of the United Nations. On December 31, 1946, French troops withdrew completely from Lebanon, with the signing of the Franco-Lebanese Treaty.
On March 2, 1947, Antun Saadeh, the leader of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, returned to Lebanon from his exile in Patagonia. The Social Nationalist Party is a nationalist party that had been active since the 1930s which endorsed an open hostility to the French rule in Syria and Lebanon and advocated national self-determination of the Greater Syrian nation from Syria to Palestine.
Due to its radical political stance, the party was banned by the French in 1936, forced Saadeh to impose self-exile to South America and Japan. During his stay on Japan between 1941 and 1942, Saadeh met prominent Japanese Pan-Asianists, such as Matsui Iwane and Nakano Seigo, who later bolstered his interest in a Greater Syrian national revolution and to rebuild the SSNP after the war.
After his return, Saadeh reorganized the Syrian Social Nationalist Party in Beirut in 1947. Saadeh called for the unification between Syria, Lebanon, and Mandatory Palestine into one national state called Greater Syria, a position that heavily opposed by the ruling Constitutional Bloc government in Lebanon. With the establishment of the State of Israel following the termination of British Mandate in Palestine in 1948, Saadeh and the party's anti-Zionist stance hardened.
In May 1948, the Lebanese Republic as member of the Arab League supported neighboring Arab countries against Israel on the War on Palestine of 1948. While some irregular forces crossed the border and carried out minor skirmishes against Israel, it was without the support of the Lebanese government and Lebanese troops did not officially invade. Lebanon agreed to support the forces only with covering artillery fire, armored cars, volunteers and logistical support.
In November 1948, the SSNP trained military volunteers to be sent to the battlefield, armed with firearms that were purchased from Japan. However, by March 1949, the Lebanese Republic and the State of Israel declared armistice; this armistice soon followed by Syria in July 1949. Saadeh’s volunteers thus were unable to join the war. In return, Saadeh planned a revolution to overthrow the government of the Lebanese Republic.
State of Greater Syria (1949–present)
Antoun Saadeh Era (1949–78)
On July 24, 1949, the Syrian Social Nationalist Party launched a coup against the government of Prime Minister Riad al-Solh. Within 48 hours, Beirut was controlled by the SSNP paramilitaries. Many leaders of the Lebanese Republic immediately fled to Hejaz to escape the persecutions from the SSNP government.
On July 26, 1949, the SSNP-led Syrian Revolutionary Council (مجلس الثورة السورية Majlis ath-Thawra as-Sūrīyah) proclaimed the establishment of the State of Greater Syria. Saadeh was elected as the regime's first president, prime minister and the titular Supreme Commander of the Syrian Revolution on September 1, 1949. By 1950, all political parties, including the Communists and the Kataeb, were banned, the 1926 constitution was annulled, freedom of expressions was curtailed, several newspaper publishers were closed down and many military officers were purged and executed.
Among early policies of the new regime was the modernization of the country's newly-reorganized military, the Greater Syrian People's Army (الجيش الشعبي السورية الكبرى Al-Jaysh ash-Sha'bī as-Sūrīyah al-Kubra, "JSSK"). The army was equipped by firearms, artillery, medium tanks and military technologies purchased from Japan between 1949 and 1951; the first Middle Eastern nation to do so. By 1956, the JSSK was one of the strongest militaries in the Middle East.
Saadeh had seriously contemplated a plan to incorporate the territories of Syria, Israel, and Palestine into Greater Syria by force. He had to choose either to invade eastward and occupy Damascus, the claimed capital of Greater Syria, or invade southward and drive the Israeli forces from Galilee; he chose the latter.
On March 1950, one year after the armistice between the Lebanese Republic and the State of Israel, the JSSK crossed the border and invaded Galilee. By June 1950, the JSSK captured Tel Aviv, forcing the Israeli government to evacuate farther south to the Negev. Conflicts soon escalated and complicated as the Palestinian Army also crossed the ceasefire line and captured West Jerusalem in July 1950.