The State of Greater Lebanon

Beirut 1920-1929

The State of Greater Lebanon

1 Declaration

The State of Greater Lebanon (Lebanon) was declared by the French on the 1st of September 1920. The new state was very fragile, and its future was uncertain. Many saw that Lebanon should be part of a greater Arab state unification with Syria and Transjordan. Yet, this was a time of opportunity for many who sought to quickly climb the social hierarchy. Lebanon was not yet legitimately recognized by the rest of the world. Theoretically, the French did not yet have an official mandate over Lebanon, but the consent of the Lebanese to the French administering Lebanon's internal affairs would reasonably suffice.

On the other hand, the French will reasonably unstable. The French army began facing loses against the Ottomans, especially in Aleppo Vilayet,during the Battle of Marash. This forced the French to fortify in Lebanon to prevent the Ottomans from annexing more land. The meddling of the French with the Ottomans would displace more Armenians, increasing the Armenian influx towards Beirut. 

2 The Beirut Stock Exchange

In the later part of 1920, the High Commissioner of the Levant, Henri Gouraud passed a decree to establish the Beirut Stock Exchange. This move was welcomed by many Beirutis, most notably Omar Muhieddine Beyhum-Itani, Zakaria al-Nsouli and those who were merchants and tradesmen. The stock exchange would initially be limited to gold and the Franc. The founding of the Beirut Stock Exchange eased the bureaucracy of setting up institutes in Beirut. The French bureaucracy was significantly more lenient than that of the Ottomans. Omar Muhieddine Beyhum al-Itani would become the mayor of Beirut towards the end of 1920.

3 real estate wars

Omar Beyhum would emerge as a key businessman during this decade. In the end of 1920, he opened the first retail store in Bab Idriss, trading local and imported garments. This monopoly would allow him to flourish in wealth and expand his business empire. In 1921, Omar would join Farid Choucair and Michel Cheeha to establish the Beirut Real Estate Company. To compete, Ahmad al-Daouk founded the National Commercial and Real Estate Society along Michel al-Khattar. Ahmad would allow his business to issue credit to people who sought a land they could not afford. This triggered a real estate rivalry between the two individuals. 

The Beirut Traders Association was established later on in 1921, as an economic entity that represents the voice of Beiruti merchants. The association would dominate the Beiruti economic sector, but would join Omar and Ahmad. They, along prominent Beiruti merchants would register their businesses under the Beirut Traders Association. The association would expand its interest beyond Lebanon, allowing its registered members to trade abroad of Lebanon. This initiative boomed the Beiruti commercial sector. 

4 Formalizing the French Mandate

In 1922, the French acquired international recognition and we granted official mandate over Lebanon. The French did not hesitate and began ratifying the laws of Lebanon. In March, the French passed a series of laws to change the constitutional powers of Beirut's municipal council. One notable amendment was passed on the 10th of March allowing the Lebanese government to suspend Beirut's municipal council subject to certain conditions. The French would then forge a municipal election in which brought Badr Arsalan Dimashkieh as the new mayor of Beirut. The municipal and parliamentary election were highly controversial given that many candidates were forced by the French to withdraw. The most notable example was Muhammad Jamil Beyhum Itani, a noble Beiruti who's candidacy was rejected given that he was a Syrian unionist.


Subsequently, the French passed laws giving new powers to the governor of Beirut who would now officially be known by the title of 'Muhafez'. The Muhafez basically had the same powers as the Sanjakbey during the Ottoman times. Later on that year, Omar Muhammad Bey al-Daouk founded the Commission of Education which sought to teach poor Muslim villages in particular. In 1923, a decree was passed with the initiative of sending young Lebanese abroad to study and specialize in certain fields. In 1924, the French and Lebanese agreed on building the Beirut City Hall, in order to accommodate both the Muhafez of Beirut and the Mayor of Beirut. All of Beirut's administrative offices would be relocated within the city hall as well. 

5 a divided lebaNON

It was found that Henri Gouraud received a message from the French foreign minister Aristide Brian stressing on 'Christian Lebanon' being France's 'long standing influence in the Orient'. The message would officialize a decree making Lebanon politically equal to Syria under the French mandate system. The message also noted that Lebanon's Christian identity should not be wavered by the outnumbering Muslim Arabs encompassing it. The creation of the new Lebanese constitution would be done under French hegemony, the set date of enacting would be on the 23rd of May 1926. Bshara al-Khoury, Emile Edde and Charles Debbas would be part of the new emerging elite. These were figures would later become Prime Ministers and Presidents of Lebanon. 

Beirut was enraged, Muslims and Christians coexisted in Beirut for centuries. The French were now discriminating along dividing lines. This sparked protests around Lebanon calling for unity with Syria. In Nabatieh, Sheikh Ahmad Rida and Ahmad Aref al-Zain launched an Arabist movement denouncing the French mandate.In Baalbek, the municipality called for union with Syria and withdrew from constitutional consultations. In Sidon, the French were accused for creating a 'Christian State' rather than a 'greater' Lebanon. 

6 Silencing the Voice of Beirut

Beirut's voice would contradict that of the other Lebanese cities. The Beiruti authority would now fully propagate France's agenda. The French excluded any pro-Syrian politicians from all political structures within Beirut. In 1926, the French passed a decree placing the Muhafez and Mayor of Beirut under the authority of the Minister of Interior. The Lebanese Senate (Majlis ash-Shuyukh) was subsequently established on the 23rd of May 1926. Mysteriously, British Doctor and founder of the School of Dentistry at the American University of Beirut Arthur Dray, was murdered later that year in circumstances unknown till today. Dray was an occupant of the Rose House, in the Manara neighbourhood, overlooking the unfolding events from a noteworthy vantage point.

These changes, irrespective of them benefiting the Christians or Muslims, pushed many of Beirut's elite, Lebanese politicians and other influential figures to hold the 'Conference of the Sons of the Coast' and 'Damascus Conference' summits in Damascus,1928. Among those people were ironically Omar Beyhum, Ahmad al-Daouk, Riad al-Solh and Abdel Hamid Karami. The conferences conferred the interest of a significant proportion of Lebanon that sought to unify with Syria as one nation, this became known as 'Pan Syrianism'.

The Lebanese Senate would be annulled by the French in 1927, under the grounds of creating a 'political imbalance' among the misrepresented Lebanese. This was a contradicting reasoning given that the structure of the Senate provided proportional powers among the Druze, Sunnis and Shias in regards to their Maronite and Christian counterparts. 

7 Permanent Division

In 1928, the French held a conference in Paris to permanently pass the newly drafted Syrian constitution. The constitution would take all measures to ensure that the voice of Pan Syrianism would be mitigated. The French officially expressed that there would be no unification of Greater Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and Transjordan as one unified Arab state. Beirut, on its behalf would begin shaping unique political movements distinct from that of Syria, Palestine and the rest of its pre-1920 boarders. By now Beirut's communities have also been divided, leading to them living in separate parts of the city.

The Armenian refugees, would settle on the Beiruti outskirts (modern day Burj-Hammoud). They would receive citizenship and political rights under an Act enacted on the 15th of March 1928. The Jewish community settled in Wadi Abu Jamil,and started thriving. At around 6000 Beiruti Jews, the community's presence became well-known. The Jews significantly contributed in Beirut's commercial sector given their small size in numbers. Their wealth allowed the construction of the Maghen Abraham synagogue in 1925. It would remain a reminant of their legacy to this very day.