Syrian Protestant College, Ras Beirut, 1901

Syrian Protestant College, Ras Beirut, 1901

Italian Shelling of Beirut 1912

Italian Shelling of Beirut 1912

Beirut Port 1910, Police Station

Beirut Port 1910, Police Station

Beirut 1910-1919

Economic Famine

The Final Grasp

The first decade of the 20th century was one of bipolar nature for Beirut. The city had managed to carry on its economic growth. Beirut majorly withstood the aftermath of the Mount Lebanon Civil War in 1860. The year of 1910 was one of hope, the Syrian Protestant College (later renamed the American University of Beirut) had acquired advanced medical equipment, allowing it to teach dentistry and medicine at a very-high standard. Yet the decade of 1910 would prove to be anything but hopeful. Beirut would be bombarded with very rigid conditions, dictated by a spiraling world crisis.

The Battle of Beirut

On the 29th of September 1911, Italy launched a surprise war on the Ottoman Empire in an attempt to annex the Libyan coastline. The war meddled with geopolitics, and created the perfect conditions for a World War on the Ottomans. The war was significant due to it being the first in which aerial warfare took place. Beirut would get its fair share of the war when the Royal Italian Navy bombarded Beirut later in 1912. In return, the unready Ottoman fleet sailed off Beirut's shores to face their enemy. The battle would take the lives of around 100 Beiruti citizens and end in favor of the Italians who went on to pillage the Ottoman ports in Beirut. This caused heavy collateral damage and demolished parts of Ain el-Mreisseh. 

The ruthless shelling also affected parts of Beirut's commercial district, which roughly lied on modern day London street, equidistantly parallel to Emir Fakhr al-Din street and Omar al-Daouk street. The bombardment was so uncoordinated that even Howard Sweetser Bliss, who was the President of the Syrian Protestant College that time, feared for his life and the destruction of the college. The pillaging of sea-trade routes created food shortages in Beirut. This would later on contribute to the Great Famine of Mount Lebanon. As a result, Ahmad Mukhtar Beyhum al-Itani (mayor of Beirut) would meet with Hüsayn Kassem (Wali of Beirut) to discuss the implementation of an Ottoman decree ordering the deportation of all Italian citizens within the Ottoman boarders. They would commence, deporting roughly 1000 from Beirut Vilayet

Treasonous Manifesto

Paris became an Arab common-ground during the 1900's. Anyone opposing the Ottoman regime would escape to France to avoid prosecution. Among those were Christian Beirutis who escaped their inevitable fate of execution. In 1913, a chain of secret summits were held between the elite of Arab nationalists and socialists, whereby they shared their distress regarding the Ottoman hegemony over the Arab World. The great minds of the invisible hand would play out in this meeting, devising the possible outcomes of bringing the Ottoman downfall. This was self explained, the Ottomans that time attempted obsoleting the Arabic language among the Arab people. This sparked outrage, possibly one that became a key rudiment leading to the Ottoman downfall. The worst was yet to come. 

unleashing gog

1915 was perhaps the darkest year in Beirut's pre-civil war history. By now, World War I has meddled with the globe for a year, but Beirut would face a more painful unfolding. Jamal Pasha became the 'viceroy' of Beirut. He was ruthless and merciless, sentencing anyone  he saw 'treasonous' to death. Unjustified arresting became common. The bloodshed of fear would pour onto the streets of Beirut during the spring of 1915. Gog was set free in Beirut, launching an execution spree of innocent citizens and apostles of freedom.

Beiruti, Muslim or Christian, or Druze... no one was spared from Jamal Pasha's wrath. One martyr by the name of Salim al-Jazairy taunted Jamal calling him a 'pig'. Another martyr that left a legacy was Beiruti Omar Hamad who yelled hailing the Arab Nation and damned the Turks before being executed. There was for once a sense of Arabism, an Arab cause among all. A cause that might have been sacrificed for, only to bring out the unintended result of Greater Lebanon and the rest of the Sykes-Picot crafted states in 1920. Le Place des Canons in central Beirut would then be renamed to Martyrs Square following the second execution wave in 1916. A symbol marking an eternity of honor and sacrifice for the cause.

The Great Famine

The Great Famine emerged in 1915. The famine would claim the lives of a staggering 210,000 people. Facing survival, Beirut turned from a peninsula surrounded by life to an arid island. The absence of ports and sea-trade routes, deprived the people from fish. The Ottomans confiscated all sheep and cattle in Mount Lebanon to feed the belly of a shrinking Ottoman army. By this time, the Beiruti mayorship had moved to Omar Muhammad Bey al-Daouk who carried out an unprecedented moved in Beirut and Mount Lebanon's recent history. Omar would strike a deal with a Syrian merchant, allowing him to bring in a mammoth's scale of tahini (sesame seed condiment) to the vilayet. He would give it out to the poor for free while charging the buying price for the financially stable people. The Beiruti elite also gathered great amounts of aid to assist the people of Mount Lebanon. Beirut would survive the three year famine with minimal losses. Mount Lebanon would witness the horrific death of half its children.

A Beiruti Execution

On the 11th of November 1918, World War I ended. The famine also began to deteriorate as the European embargo on Beirut was lifted allowing goods to sail into the city. Omar received a message from the Hashemite King of Damascus, where he was asked to declare a free Arab State in Beirut. Omar then consulted the defunct Ottoman Wali of Beirut Ismaeel Hakki, asking him to withdraw his forces from Beirut peacefully. Hakki debated with his equal Hüsayn Kassem. Omar then offered citizenship and protection to the Wali, welcoming him to stay in Beirut. Facing imminent prosecution by the French, the Wali refused Omar's offer fearing that the Ottoman authorities would kill him.

The empire finally withdrew from Beirut on the 1st of October 1918, leaving behind a treasury for Beirut and a protocol for the mayor. Omar would then declare the Arab State in Beirut. The French mandate would then outweigh the short lived Arab regime in Beirut, especially after the elimination of the Damascene Hashemite King later that year. As for Beirut, this was a time of freedom that would also be short lived. The French would appoint Marshal Foch as the first High-Commissioner over Beirut. The reconstruction of Beirut began in late 1919 where Foch street was built in the honor of Marshal Foch. The fate of Beirut was yet again uncertain.