Maarad Street, Beirut 1940 by  Lebretro

Maarad Street, Beirut 1940 by Lebretro

Decleration of the National Pact. Riad al-Solh (Left), Bshara al-Khoury (Right)

Decleration of the National Pact. Riad al-Solh (Left), Bshara al-Khoury (Right)

The office and residence of the High Commissioner of the Levant

The office and residence of the High Commissioner of the Levant

Pro-Independence Underground Newspaper Articles

Pro-Independence Underground Newspaper Articles

Beirut 1940 - 1949

Beirut & World War II 

1. Déjà vu

The end of the 1930's brought a dark nostalgia back to reality, with the brink of World War II, which unfolded in September 1939. Ras Beirut would again serve as a war haven for the empires. The French army deployed around 50,000 troops by early 1940, where a handful of trenches were dug in Ras Beirut's hills, due to their significant height, which gave an advantage to their occupants. Not so long ago, the Ottomans sacrificed Beirut to shield their imperial rule over the Levant. The French were just about to do the same. The daily Beiruti life in general began to change, deteriorating in the young eyes of the post Ottoman generation, in the build up to the Bread Crisis.   

2. 'deutschen Türen'

Imagine Hitler on the Manara, the comedy that was being reiterated in the Lebanese conscience was soon to become a reality, one that was too spontaneous to grasp. The French Army was heavily losing to Germany, which resulted in a German annexation of France's political hierarchy. Part of France was now called Vichy France, the remaining parts of the French mainland reconciled. The French Army divided in to the Vichy Army and the Free French Army. Beirut was automatically annexed under Vichy rule. Hitler was now metaphorically in Beirut. Ras Beirut became World War II's battlefront in the Levant as Britain and France heavily shelled Vichy troops stationed in Ras Beirut in 1941. Along the hustle, the land of Beirut thrived on one end and perished on the other. The National Museum of Beirut and other institutes such as al-Hayat Newspaper opened around that time. With the turbulent events on the political sphere, President Emile Edde resigned fearing for his life given that he was a far-right supporter of the French Mandate of Lebanon. This came as a result of the Vichy government consolidating power over France in 1940. 

3. the Bread Crisis

The spark of the Bread Crisis accumulated in January 1941, after France had announced that more than 30,000 French citizens would arrive from France to Lebanon and Syria in order to aid the solidity of the French Army in the Levant. The French were not willing on backing down to the increasing influence and interest of Nazi Germany in the Levant. This had been an evident matter given that many German politicians had scouted the Levant in the 1930's seeking to establish economic cooperation between Lebanon, Syria and Germany amid an economic crisis that had siphoned the Lebanese economy. Yet, the failure of the Lebanese government in solving the economic crisis would prove to be the main factor behind the Bread Crisis. 

4. The French Tug of War Over Lebanon 

Alfred Naqqash was appointed as President of Lebanon on the 8 April 1941 by the new Vichy High Commissioner of Lebanon, Genreal Henri-Fernand Dentz, after the resignation of Emile Edde. The lack of France's legitimacy on Lebanese soil gave a green light for Lebanese politicians to rig the path to independence. This was however far from swift given that Lebanon was in the center of a war between the Axis-Powers and the Allies, Vichy France and Free France. The Allies would soon prevail after the surrender of the Vichy troops in July 1941. General Charles de-Gaulle then visited Beirut after the Armistice Agreement of 1941. Voiding Naqqash's presidency, de-Gaulle appointed General Georges Catroux as his representative in Lebanon. 

Catroux would then re-nominate Naqqash as president and Ahmad al-Daouk as prime minister as a mean of breaking the political deadlock in Lebanon caused by the Edde-Khoury rally between Bshara al-Khoury and Emille Edde. The rally also allowed Naqqash to be a neutral buffer for Catroux, who would then extend Naqqash's presidency, however this would unexpectedly divert the Edde-Khoury rally towards Naqqash, which would also inevitably draw Riad al-Solh and many of the prominent Muslim politicians against al-Daouk.  The unforeseeable soon came to life on 26 November 1941 when Catroux on behalf of de-Gaulle proclaimed the Independence of Lebanon, following mass demonstrations mostly led by the Phalanges Party and the Najjadeh Party in a congregation of a new alliance between two ex-rival Maronite-Sunni leaders, Pierre Gemayel and Adnan al-Hakim.

5. The Proclaimed Lebanese Independence

President Naqqash would resume his presidency, while Ahmad al-Daouk would become prime minister on the 1 December 1941. The new government's role was to return normal life to Lebanon. However, France did not comply to Lebanon's proclaimed independence as it continued practicing its authority over Lebanon, by hegemonizing Lebanese politics. This became more evident especially when France trumped laws that legitimized Lebanese sovereignty, enacted by Naqqash and al-Daouk. However, the proclaimed independence that sufficed Naqqash and al-Daouk would prove insufficient to the Constitutional Bloc who protested against Catroux's proclaimed independence of Lebanon. Bshara al-Khoury and Riad al-Solh would unify their cause in rejecting this proclamation in a stance where al-Solh had famously said that such deceleration cannot not satisfy the Lebanese aspiration as such independence is no more than substituting the hegemony of Free France for Vichy France over Lebanon.

Despite this discontent, the greatest achievement of the Naqqash-Daouk government was attaining the recognition of Lebanon's independence by the Arab states, the United States, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, most of the Western world and the Asian states. This was even solidified given that a handful of the recognizing states exchanged ambassadors and established diplomatic missions with Lebanon. Two months into the al-Daouk government, the Bread Crisis was far from over as it seemed that nothing was being done by the government to put end to the turmoil. Anti-government protests erupted in Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon and Tyre as well as most of the other Lebanese cities. The rallies paved way for solidifying the relationship between al-Khouri and al-Solh, thus empowering overall influence of the Constitutional Bloc towards the next elections.

Towards the end of February, more protest demonstrations were organised by the Najjadah and the Phalangists this time. This made Naqqash and al-Daouk's position awkward especially after the French authorities stormed the streets and attacked the demonstrators. al-Hakim would even go to al-Daouk, demanding him to resign from his post under the grounds of 'not representing the Muslim interest in Lebanon'. The division led to a head-to-head battle between Daouk and both the Phalanges and the Najjadeh parties leading to the government dismantling all opposing political parties.

6. Pre-Independence Period

The skirmishes between the Lebanese government and the French on one hand against the Constitutional Bloc, and the other opposing political parties was an incentive to Britain increasing its influence in Lebanon. Britain would send General Edward Spears where he would meet with Catroux on the matter of Lebanon and Syria's controversial independence. It seemed that Spears was driving for Lebanon's independence as an indirect way of leveraging Britain's influence in the Levant over France's. Quite evidently, Spears would then choose al-Khoury as the right person to take Lebanon's presidency in the upcoming elections, after beginning to aid the Constitutional Bloc. For Catroux, al-Khoury was now seen as a British puppet, just as were other Arab politicians in other Arab states who were seeking their 'promised independence'. Britain was now deceitfully displaying itself as a nation that can fulfill its promise of true independence unlike Free France. The Constitutional Bloc's prominence was further strengthened with the reconciliation of Edde and al-Khoury, whom united the majority of the Maronites under one front towards the next elections.

On the Muslim side, the Muslim Bloc that united the Sunnis, Shias and Druze was led by Muhammad Jameel Beyhum in an attempt to call for equal distribution of power between Muslims and Christians. All parties pointed fingers at al-Daouk, calling for his resignation as the Bread Crisis had been anything but put to an end. This conglomeration also swept away the trust of the British from al-Daouk who they would then refuse to aid him towards the end of his term. On 26 July, al-Daouk resigned from his postilion as both the French and British seemed to have betrayed him, he would be succeeded by Sami al-Solh, a more favorable politician for both powers. The French however still did not let go of Naqqash. Towards the end of 1942, there was a growing incentive by Muslims in Lebanon to re-attempt a unification with Syria under one Arab state. This initiative was heavily rejected by Christians especially by right wing parties such as the Phalanges, who were now on the verge of a new confrontation with the Najjadeh. This undermined Sami al-Solh's government, which was slowly losing its public support. The Grand Patriarch Antonios Boutros Arida would also insist and demand Catroux on Naqqash's removal, indirectly leveraging al-Khoury's chances of being the next president. However, this Maronite coup would be undermined in August 1942, when de-Gaulle visited Lebanon whereby he unanimously postponed the elections until further notice, thus worsening Sami al-Solh's legitimacy and demoralizing Khoury's aspirations. 

The British would pursue their interest against France's will and would call for the elections to be held, forcing France to agree in January 1943. Later on in March Catroux replaced Naqqash with Ayub Thabet as president until the elections, the 1926 Constitution was re-established as Lebanon's legitimate constitution. Thabet would unfortunately appear to have an agenda that set out to diminish Muslim representation in the government. The decrees he passed, which empowered Christian representation, did not only enrage Muslims, but also Christians including al-Khoury's Constitutional Bloc. On 21 July 1943, Thabet was forced to step down and was replaced by Petro Trad as president under the orders of the new High Commissioner of the Levant, Jean Helleu. Trad then issued decrees reversing all the controversial steps taken by Thabet. Elections were set to be held on 21 September 1943, giving a glimpse of hope to the Lebanese people who would now have the choice of electing the man they deem right to lead Lebanon.    

7. Independence

On 21 September 1943, al-Khoury was elected as president and al-Solh was appointed as the prime minister, marking a victory for the Lebanese people over the colonial powers. The election united Lebanon under one nation far from sectarian conflict and fragility. The National Pact between al-Khoury and al-Solh in October 1943 consolidated Lebanon's unity. The National Pact was a matter of outweighing sectarian divisions between Muslims and Christians and nurtured the national spirit. 

On 8 November 1943, the new government amended the constitution and abolished the French Mandate by removing any clauses and references to France and its mandate. Marking the first true steps of true independence, the High Commissioner was enraged and ordered the arrest of the president, the prime minister, and many cabinet and parliament members, who were arrested around midnight. The arrested individuals were imprisoned and exiled in a old citadel located in Rashayya. The Lebanese people at this moment were all united as this aggression was seen as an act of aggression on Lebanon, which was now a sovereign state, and not a mandate under French rule. After the imprisonment of the Lebanese politicians, the people rallied to the streets demanding the release of their leaders. Many of the the Lebanese politicians and ministers that were not arrested reconciled in the house of the Speaker of Parliament Sabri Hamadeh in Bchamoun, and nominated Prince Majid Arslan and Habib Abou Chahla to carry out the functions of the government, thus establishing the Government of Bchamoun. The new government was placed in the home of Hussein al-Halabi, which was strategically placed in a position that was hard to raid by the French military. The amassing events stockpiled pressure on France from Lebanon on one end and the international community on the other. The majority of states denounced France's actions forcing it to comply with the demands of the international community. On 22 November 1943, France released the prisoners, marking the independence of Lebanon. 

8. Post Independence

The following year of 1944 would prove to be a turbulent one, where al-Khoury worked on legitimizing Lebanon's statehood outside, while al-Solh reconciled the internal unity. On 1 January 1944, France transferred full power to the Lebanese government. By the end of 1944, the United States and the Soviet Union have already recognized Lebanon's sovereignty, thus quashing France's special status in Lebanon. al-Solh's term ended in January 1945, where he was succeeded by Abdul Hamid Karameh. In March 1945, Lebanon was the founding member of the Arab League, which aimed to unite the Arab policy in order to empower Arab sovereignty and independence. Lebanon also became a founding member of the United Nations that year despite France's opposition. However back in Lebanon, an ever growing rift between Karameh and al-Solh was growing on the basis of the Franco-Syrian conflict. The majority of ministers and al-Khoury would side with al-Solh on the grounds that Karami was being uncooperative on all levels, leading to Sami al-Solh succeeding him on 22 August 1945. Sami al-Solh's cabinet however led to a period of inactivity due to his lack of administrative skills, as criticized by Britain for doing so. 

On 10 January 1946, Lebanon petitioned to the United Nations Security Council for French troops to withdraw, but failed achieving to do so following a veto by the United States and the Soviet Union later in February 1946. On 2 March 1946, France and Britain met and assessed the withdrawal of French soldiers from Lebanon, and the French army eventually withdrew on 31 December 1946. On 25 May 1947, the first Lebanese parliamentary elections after independence took place, resulting in a 60% majority of independent ministers. On 29 November 1947, the United Nation's Partition Resolution was established seeking to divide Mandatory Palestine, inevitably forcing many Arab states including Lebanon to wage war on Israel later in May 1948. The armistice agreement between Lebanon and Israel would then be signed in March 1949, following an exchange of invasions in North Israel by the Lebanese Army and the South of Lebanon by the Israeli forces. The 1948 Arab-Israeli Conflict would result badly to al-Khoury as Syria's failure in the war triggered a military coup led by Colonel Husni al-Zaeem on 31 March 1949, ousting President Shukri al-Quwatli and Prime Minster Jameel Mardam, both close allies of al-Khoury and al-Solh. This would begin the diversion of Lebanese and Syrian politics, which up to that point were much unilateral. The new Syrian regime would also lead to most political parties in the Levant to split and diverge, such as the Baath party and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.