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Home > History of Lebanon > Independence

Introduction | Phoenicia | Greek & Roman Periods | Arab Period | Ottoman Rule
French Mendate | Independence | Civil War | Today | Chronology of Key Events

The history of Lebanon during the 1943-76 period was dominated by prominent family networks and patron-client relationships. Each sectarian community had its prominent family: the Khuris, Shamuns, Shihabs, Franjiyahs, and Jumayyils for the Maronites; the Sulhs, Karamis, and Yafis for the Sunnis; the Jumblatts, Yazbaks, and Arslans for the Druzes; and the Asads and Hamadahs for the Shias.

The Khuri Era, 1943-52

Lebanon's first president after independence was Bishara al Khuri, elected in 1943 for a six-year term; reelected in 1949 for a second term, he became increasingly imperial in his actions.

 

Independence

1. The Khuri Era, 1943-52
2. The Shamun Era, 1952-58
3. The Rise of Shihabism, 1958-64
4. The Hilu Era, 1964-70
5. The Franjiyah Era, 1970-76
6. Summary

According to his opponents, his regime was characterized by a narrow political structure supported by a strictly sectarian framework, and it did little to improve the economy. In June 1952, an organization called the Social National Front (SNF) was formed by nine deputies led by Kamal Jumblatt (also given as Junblatt), head of the Progressive Socialist Party; Camille Shamun (also given as Chamoun), former ambassador to Britain; Emile Bustani, a self-made millionaire businessman; and other prominent personalities. This front dedicated itself to radical reform, demanding that the authorities end sectarianism and eradicate all abuses in the governmental system. The SNF founders were encouraged by people claiming to be dissatisfied with the favoritism and corruption thriving under the Khuri regime.

On May 17, 1952, the front held a meeting at Dayr al Qamar, Shamun's native town. The meeting was attended by about 50,000 people and turned into a mass rally. The speakers criticized the regime and threatened rebellion if the president did not resign. On July 23 the Phalange Party (see Glossary), led by Pierre Jumayyil (also given as Gemayel), also voiced its discontent with the regime. On September 11 the SNF called for a general strike to force the president to resign; the appeal brought all activities in the major cities to a standstill. This general strike is sometimes referred to as the "Rosewater Revolution" because of its nonviolence. President Khuri appealed to General Fuad Shihab (also given as Chehab) the army chief of staff, to end the strike. However, Shihab refused to become involved in what he considered a political matter, and on September 18, Khuri finally resigned.

The Shamun Era, 1952-58

On September 23, 1952, the Chamber of Deputies elected Camille Shamun to succeed Khuri. In the spring of 1953, relations between President Shamun and Jumblatt deteriorated as Jumblatt criticized Shamun for accommodating himself to the traditional pattern of Lebanese politics and for toning down the radical ideals that had led to the change of government in 1952. The balance between religious communities, provided for in the National Pact, was precariously maintained, and undercurrents of hostility were discernible. The Muslim community criticized the regime in which Christians, alleging their numerical superiority, occupied the highest offices in the state and filled a disproportionate number of civil service positions. Accordingly, the Muslims asked for a census, which they were confident would prove their numerical superiority. The Christians refused unless the census were to include Lebanese emigrants who were mainly Christians, and they argued that Christians contributed 80 percent of the tax revenue.

The 1956-58 period brought many pressures to bear on Lebanon. First, there was general unrest in the Arab world following the Suez Canal crisis and the abortive attacks on Egypt by Britain, France, and Israel. More specifically, however, political struggles occurred in two fields: rivalry among Lebanese political leaders who were linked to religious or clan groups and their followers; and the ideological struggle causing polarization between Lebanese nationalism and growing pan-Arabism.

President Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt became the symbol of panArabism after the 1956 Suez crisis and the 1958 merger of Egypt with Syria to form the United Arab Republic. He had great influence on Lebanese Muslims, who looked to him for inspiration. In this period of unrest, the Lebanese authorities, most of whom were Christians, insisted on two things: maintaining the country's autonomy and cooperating with the West. Christians considered their friendly relations with the West as the only guarantee of Lebanon's independence. President Shamun's refusal to respond favorably to pan-Arab pressures was in direct opposition to the stand of several prominent Sunni leaders, who devoted themselves to Nasser and the pan-Arab cause.

In 1957 the question of the reelection of Shamun was added to these problems of ideological cleavage. In order to be reelected, the president needed to have the Constitution amended to permit a president to succeed himself. A constitutional amendment required a two-thirds vote by the Chamber of Deputies, so Shamun and his followers had to obtain a majority in the May-June 1957 elections.

Shamun's followers did obtain a solid majority in the elections, which the opposition considered "rigged," with the result that some non-Christian leaders with pan-Arab sympathies were not elected. Deprived of a legal platform from which to voice their political opinions, they sought to express them by extralegal means. The conflict between Shamun and the pan-Arab opposition gained in intensity when Syria merged with Egypt. Pro-Nasser demonstrations grew in number and in violence until a full-scale rebellion was underway. The unrest was intensified by the assassination of Nassib Matni, the Maronite anti-Shamun editor of At Talagraph, a daily newspaper known for its outspoken panArabism . The revolt almost became a religious conflict between Christians and Muslims.

This state of turmoil increased when, in the early hours of July 14, 1958, a revolution overthrew the monarchy in Iraq and the entire royal family was killed. In Lebanon jubilation prevailed in areas where anti-Shamun sentiment predominated, with radio stations announcing that the Shamun regime would be next. Shamun, realizing the gravity of his situation, summoned the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, and France on the morning of July 14. He requested immediate assistance, insisting that the independence of Lebanon was in jeopardy.

Furthermore, he invoked the terms of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which Lebanon had signed the year before. According to its terms the United States would "use armed forces to assist any [Middle East] nation... requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism." Arguing that Lebanese Muslims were being helped by Syria, which had received arms from the Soviet Union, Shamun appealed for United States military intervention. The United States responded, in large measure because of concern over the situation in Iraq and the wish to reassure its allies, such as Iran and Turkey, that the United States could act. United States forces began arriving in Lebanon by mid-afternoon of July 15 and played a symbolic rather than an active role. In the course of the 1958 Civil War, in which United States forces were not involved, between 2,000 and 4,000 casualties occurred, primarily in the Muslim areas of Beirut and in Tripoli. At the end of the crisis, the chamber of Deputies elected General Fuad Shihab, then commander in chief of the Lebanese Army, to serve as president.

The Rise of Shihabism, 1958-64

President Shihab, having cultivated nonpartisanship during the 1958 Civil War, enjoyed considerable support from the various political factions. However, his initial appointment to the cabinet of a large number of Muslim leaders, such as Rashid Karami, Sunni leader from Tripoli, whom he asked to form a reconciliation government, led to sharp reactions by the Phalange Party. Shihab was obliged to reapportion the balance in the cabinet on the basis of "no victors, no vanquished." He instituted electoral reform and increased the membership of the Chamber of Deputies from sixty-six to ninety-nine, thus enabling leaders of the various factions in the civil war to become active members of the legislature. He was determined to observe the terms of the National Pact and to have the government serve Christian and Muslim groups equally. This policy, combined with Shihab's concept of an enlightened president as one who strengthened the role of the executive and the bureaucracy at the expense of the zuama (sing., zaim), or traditional leaders, was later referred to as "Shihabism." Shihab also concentrated on improving Lebanon's infrastructure, developing an extensive road system, and providing running water and electricity to remote villages. Hospitals and dispensaries were built in many rural areas, although there was difficulty in staffing them.

In foreign affairs, one of Shihab's first acts was to ask the United States to withdraw its troops from Lebanon starting on September 27, 1958, with the withdrawal to be completed by the end of October. He pursued a neutral foreign policy with the object of maintaining good relations with Arab countries as well as the West. Many observers agree that his regime brought stability and economic development to Lebanon and that it demonstrated the need for compromise if the Lebanese confessional system of government were to work. At the same time, however, it showed that in times of crisis the only solution might be to call on an outside power to restore equilibrium. x

The Hilu Era, 1964-70

Shihab was succeeded by Charles Hilu (also seen as Helou), who was selected president by the Chamber of Deputies on August 18, 1964. President Hilu, a journalist, jurist, and diplomat, was known for his high moral and intellectual qualities. Despite his efforts to promote Lebanon's development, during his tenure the Arab Israeli June 1967 War, in which Lebanon did not participate, had serious repercussions on all aspects of Lebanese life. The most significant impact was the increased role of Palestinian guerrilla groups in the struggle against Israel and the groups' use of Lebanon as a base of operations. The Palestinian presence impinged on the effort to maintain the confessional balance, for it tended to pit Muslim Lebanese against Christian Lebanese. On the whole, the former group initially viewed the Palestinian guerrillas as upholding a sacred cause that deserved full-scale support. The latter, who strongly favored Lebanese independence, tended to be more concerned with the effects of unrestricted guerrilla activity on Lebanese security and development. They feared both Israeli reprisals and the general undermining of governmental authority within Lebanon if curbs were not imposed on the guerrillas. The Hilu government did its best to satisfy the conflicting demands made on it by guerrillas, Arab governments, Israel, and the internal political and religious elements.

The Chamber of Deputies elections of 1968 and the subsequent disagreements over forming a cabinet had already receded into the background when Israel launched a raid on Beirut International Airport on December 28, 1968. This attack set the stage for the government crises that marked Lebanese life for the next five years, until the Arab-Israeli October 1973 War. Moreover, it highlighted the delicate balance of internal political forces in Lebanon and the connection between that balance and the extent to which Lebanese identified with the Arab position in the ArabIsraeli conflict.

Periodic clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army continued throughout the late spring, summer, and fall of 1969. In the late summer of 1969, several guerrilla groups moved to new bases, better located for attacks against Israel. Israel regularly raided these bases in reprisal for guerrilla raids on its territory. In October the Lebanese Army attacked some guerrilla camps in order to restrict their activity, an action that led to several demonstrations in support of the guerrillas.

On November 2, 1969, the Lebanese commander in chief and Yasir Arafat, the head of Al Fatah, the leading faction within the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), agreed in Cairo to a cease-fire. The secret Cairo Agreement set limits on Palestinian guerrilla operations in Lebanon and helped to restore calm.

The Lebanese government's efforts to curtail guerrilla activities continued through late 1969 and 1970. Migration from southern Lebanon, particularly of large numbers of Shias, increased, primarily because of inadequate security against Israeli shelling and raids along with lack of economic opportunity. In Beirut the migrants, estimated to exceed 30,000, often could not find adequate shelter and met with indifference on the part of predominantly Christian military leaders. These problems resulted in occasional clashes between the migrants and government forces.

To deal with the problems caused by the fighting in the south, a governmental committee was formed, and funds were allocated for Al Janub Province. On January 12, 1970, the government announced a plan to arm and train Lebanese civilians in southern villages and to fortify the villages against Israeli raids. This action was apparently the result of an intentional government policy to avoid committing the army to action in southern Lebanon, presumably for fear of polarizing the religious groups that composed the army-mainly Christian Maronite officers and Muslim or Druze enlisted personnel. But the problem was exacerbated by increasing activity by Palestinian guerrillas operating from southern Lebanon into Israel and by Israeli reprisals.

On January 7, 1970, General Emil Bustani, the army commander, was replaced by General Jean Njaim, suggesting a government effort to take a harder line toward the guerrillas and to defend southern Lebanon more actively. Clashes between the army and the guerrillas recurred, but southern Lebanese villagers continued to protest governmental inaction. After several bloody clashes between the guerrillas and the Lebanese Army and a nationwide general strike in May 1970, the government approved additional appropriations for the defense of the south, and it pressed the guerrillas to abide by the Cairo Agreement and to limit their activity.

The Franjiyah Era, 1970-76

By the summer of 1970, attention turned to the upcoming presidential election of August 17. Sulayman Franjiyah (also cited as Franjieh), who had the backing of the National Bloc Party and the center bloc in the Chamber of Deputies, was elected president by one vote over Ilyas Sarkis, head of the Central Bank, who had the support of the Shihabists (those favoring a strong executive with ties to the military). Franjiyah was more conservative than his predecessor, Hilu. A Maronite leader from northern Lebanon, he had a regional power base resulting from clan allegiance and a private militia. Although Franjiyah had a parochial outlook reflecting a lack of national and international experience, he was the choice of such persons as Kamal Jumblatt, who wanted a weaker president than Sarkis would have been. Franjiyah assumed office on September 23, 1970, and in the first few months of his term the general political atmosphere improved.

The expulsion of large numbers of Palestinian guerrillas from Jordan in late 1970 and 1971, as a result of severe clashes between the Jordanian army and the PLO, had serious repercussions for Lebanon, however. Many of the guerrillas entered Lebanon, seeing it as the most suitable base for launching raids against Israel. The guerrillas tended to ally themselves with existing leftist Lebanese organizations or to form various new leftist groups that received support from the Lebanese Muslim community and caused further splintering in the Lebanese body politic. Clashes between the Palestinians and Lebanese right-wing groups, as well as demonstrations on behalf of the guerrillas, occurred during the latter half of 1971. PLO head Arafat held discussions with leading Lebanese government figures, who sought to establish acceptable limits of guerrilla activity in Lebanon under the 1969 Cairo Agreement.

The Chamber of Deputies elections in April 1972 also were accompanied by violence. The high rate of inflation and unemployment, as well as guerrilla actions and retaliations, occasioned demonstrations, and the government declared martial law in some areas. The government attempted to quiet the unrest by taking legal action against the protesters, by initiating new social and economic programs, and by negotiating with the guerrilla groups. However, the pattern of guerrilla infiltration followed by Israeli counterattacks continued throughout the Franjiyah era. Israel retaliated for any incursion by guerrillas into Israeli territory and for any action anywhere against Israeli nationals. An Israeli incursion into southern Lebanon, for example, was made in retaliation for the massacre of Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich in September 1972. Of particular significance was an Israeli commando raid on Beirut on April 10, 1973, in which three leaders of the Palestinian Resistance Movement were assassinated. The army's inaction brought the immediate resignation of Prime Minister Saib Salam, a Sunni Muslim leader from Beirut.

In May armed clashes between the army and the guerrillas in Beirut spread to other parts of the country, resulting in the arrival of guerrilla reinforcements from Syria, the declaration of martial law, and a new secret agreement limiting guerrilla activity.

The October 1973 War overshadowed disagreements about the role of the guerillas in Lebanon. Despite Lebanon's policy of noninvolvement, the war deeply affected the country's subsequent history. As the PLO's military influence in the south grew, so too did the disaffection of the Shia community that lived there, which was exposed to varying degrees of unsympathetic Lebanese control, indifferent or antipathetic PLO attitudes, and hostile Israeli actions. The Franjiyah government proved less and less able to deal with these rising tensions, and by the onset of the Civil War in April 1975, political fragmentation was accelerating.

Summary

Lebanon's history from independence can be defined largely in terms of its presidents, each of whom shaped Lebanon by a personal brand of politics: Sheikh Bishara al-Khoury (1943- 52), Camille Chamoun (1952-58), Fuad Shihab (1958-64), Charles Helou (1964-70), Suleiman Franjiyah (1970-76), Elias Sarkis (1976-1982), and Amine Gemayel (1982-88). From the end of the term of Amine Gemayel in September 1988 until the election of Rene Moawad in November 1989, Lebanon had no president.

The terms of the first two presidents ended in political turmoil. In 1958, during the last months of President Chamoun's term, an insurrection broke out, aggravated by external factors. In July 1958, in response to an appeal by the Lebanese Government, U.S. forces were sent to Lebanon. They were withdrawn in October 1958, after the inauguration of President Shihab and a general improvement in the internal and international aspects of the situation.

President Franjiyah's term saw the outbreak of full-scale civil conflict in 1975. Prior to 1975, difficulties had arisen over the large number of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon and the presence of Palestinian fedayeen (commandos). Frequent clashes involving Israeli forces and the fedayeen endangered civilians in south Lebanon and unsettled the country. Following minor skirmishes in the late 1960s and early 1970s, serious clashes erupted between the fedayeen and Lebanese Government forces in May 1973.

Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Muslim and Christian differences grew more intense, with occasional clashes between private sectarian militias. The Muslims were dissatisfied with what they considered an inequitable distribution of political power and social benefits. In April 1975, after shots were fired at a church, a busload of Palestinians was ambushed by gunmen in the Christian sector of Beirut, an incident widely regarded as the spark that touched off the civil war. Palestinian fedayeen forces joined the predominantly leftist-Muslim side as the fighting persisted, eventually spreading to most parts of the country.

Source: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress and Wikipedia.

Introduction | Phoenicia | Greek & Roman Periods | Arab Period | Ottoman Rule
French Mendate | Independence | Civil War | Today | Chronology of Key Events


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