Modern History of the Arab Countries. Vladimir Borisovich Lutsky 1969
The British intervention and Mohammed Ali’s capitulation in 1840 marked the beginning of a new period in the history of the Arab countries, a period when foreign capital was rapidly gaining ground. This period may be considered the beginning of the colonial and economic enslavement of the Arab countries. It culminated in the conversion of the Arab countries into colonies, a process that took place in the next historical stage-during the formation and domination of monopoly capital.
The application of the Anglo-Turkish Trade Treaty of 1838 to Egypt and Syria gave British goods and those of other capitalist countries access to the Arab markets. Between 1840 and 1850, imports to the Ottoman Empire of British goods alone increased almost threefold (from £1,440,000 to £3,762,000). The inflow of European goods resulted in the decline of the old industrial centres, and the ruin of handicrafts and the domestic industries. It also impeded the development of the national manufactories which were unable to withstand the competition of European factory production.
At the same time, the development of foreign trade led to the rise of trading cities and the strengthening of the compradore bourgeoisie. It also stimulated the growth of the means of communication (the building of the Suez Canal, a port at Alexandria and a road between Beirut and Damascus).
Under pressure from foreign capital, farming in the Arab countries began to assume a commodity character. It began specialising in the production of a small number of commodity crops. In Egypt this was cotton and sugar cane, in Syria and Palestine it was cotton, cereals and wool, and in the Lebanon raw silk. The development of commodity production, however, did not lead to the establishment of capitalist relations. The peasant became dependent on the world capitalist market and at the same time retained his dependence on the feudal lord.
The Arab countries were incorporated in the world capitalist market as an agricultural and raw material appendage to European industry. Economic relations were based on unequal exchange, which in itself was a sign of the exploitation of the Arab countries by industrial capital.
In 1856, foreign capital began to enslave the Arab countries by the export of capital, mainly in the form of loans to Egypt and Turkey and the construction of means of communication.
Signs of the new were appearing in Turkey itself. A small strata of national bourgeoisie, as yet mainly commercial, had come into being. Feudal relations in the village were collapsing. A movement for national liberation was growing in the Turkish ruled Balkan provinces, where the development of capitalist relations had begun earlier than in Turkey. Greece and Serbia had actually fallen away from the Ottoman Empire. To prevent the complete collapse of the empire and the fall of the Sultan’s authority, the more farsighted members of the feudal and bureaucratic ruling class set to work to draw up a new plan of reforms. They realised that the reforms of Mahmud II alone could not save the empire and that new, resolute changes were needed.
The initiator of the new reforms was Reshid Pasha, liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs and Westerner. His programme was a modest one. It did not endanger the feudal mode of production and fully preserved the absolute power of the Sultan. In effect, it was an attempt at compromise between the outlived feudal-theocratic monarchy of the Sultan, on the one hand, and the growing commercial bourgeoisie and the liberal-minded landowners, on the other. Based, as it was, on the interests of the ruling class, it reflected to a considerable extent the aspirations of the Turkish bourgeois elements.
The defeat of the Turks by Mohammed Ali’s troops convinced the Porte of the urgent necessity of new reforms. On November 3, 1839, four months after the battle of Nezib and Mahmud II’s death, the new Sultan, Abdul Mejid (1839-61), called a meeting of higher dignitaries, foreign diplomats and representatives of the merchant class at his Palace of Roses (Gul-Han). At this meeting the contents of the manifesto called hatti-sherif Gulhane were read out. The manifesto enunciated the programme of reforms known as the tanzimat el-khairiye (charity reforms), from which the whole reformative period in the history of the Ottoman Empire received the name tanzimat.
The manifesto proclaimed: “The whole world knows that in the first years of the Ottoman Empire the famous laws of the Koran and the Empire were respected by all. Therefore, the state grew in strength and grandeur and all its subjects without exception lived in the highest degree of prosperity.”
Reforms dictated by the new conditions of economic and social life were portrayed in the manifesto as a return to the old laws and institutions of the Ottoman Empire, to its “golden age.” The manifesto also noted that for various reasons “in the last 150 years, people have ceased to observe the holy code of laws and the rules proceeding from it. And the former might and prosperity of the Empire has declined into weakness and poverty.”
The manifesto then undertook “to extend the blessings of good administration to all the regions of the Empire by means of new institutions.”
The new institutions were to ensure the following:
The guarantee of personal immunity and property inviolability in the Ottoman Empire, where everyone’s life depended on the unrestricted arbitrary powers of the satraps and pashas, was of great significance. By its guarantee of property rights, the hatti-sherif Gulhane created the conditions for bourgeois accumulation. This guarantee applied to all subjects regardless of their religion. This was especially important, because the bourgeoisie in the empire was mainly of another nationality and belonged to the persecuted Christian religion – Armenia and Greeks in Turkey proper, Armenians and Arab Christians in Syria, Maronites in the Lebanon, Copts in Egypt, and so on.
The manifesto specified concrete measures to ensure personal immunity and property inviolability, namely, the introduction of public trials, [That is why each defendant will be tried publicly according to our holy law after the investigation and until the correct verdict has been passed nobody has the right to kill openly another by poison or any other means.] banning of the old practice of confiscating a criminal’s property, [Each will own all forms of property and will dispose of it freely without hindrance of any kind. Thus, for example, the innocent heirs of the criminal will not be deprived of their legal rights and the property of the criminal will not be confiscated.] and the convening of a consultative legal council to draw up new laws.
Fixed tax rates and a fixed budget were introduced and the farming out of taxes (iltizam) and the system of selling government posts, which had led to the same extortionate practices as tax-farming, were abolished.
Universal military service and regular conscription were instituted. A recruiting law was promulgated, reducing the period of military service to 4 or 5 years and fixing military conscription in the provinces in proportion to the number of the population.
Despite its moderation and half-measures, the hatti-sherif Gulhane encountered strong opposition among the most reactionary feudal lords, courtiers and religious authorities. Sultan Abdul Mejid himself, who had been forced to sign the manifesto, was unable to conceal his disapproval of the projected reforms. He regarded the tanzimat as a compromise to which he had agreed against his will and whenever the opportunity offered, did all in his power to hinder its implementation. Most of the contemplated reforms, therefore, even the mildest of them, remained ink on paper, whether they were made law or not.
The tanzimat, however, did have some results. In the first place, an attempt was made to divide functions, to separate civil from military administration and create a new legal procedure. The recruiting law promulgated in 1843 introduced universal military service and reduced its term to 5 years. A radical change was made in the army. The infantry and cavalry were reorganised along French lines and the artillery along German lines. From then on the Turkish army was composed of six corps, two of which were stationed on the Balkan Peninsula, two in Asia Minor, one (with its headquarters at Damascus) in Syria and Palestine and one (with its headquarters at Baghdad) in Iraq.
In 1840, Sultan Abdul Mejid began the work of instituting judicial reforms, which dragged on for many years. The drawing up of a new criminal, trade and civil legislation and the laying of the foundations of a new judicial system continued throughout the period of the tanzimat.
Mahmud lI himself had made an attempt to regulate tax gathering. In 1838, he had established a fixed salary for the officials, and then abolished several government monopolies which had led to all sorts of abuse. The tax-farming system was liquidated in 1840 and the provincial pashas were deprived of the right to gather taxes. This task was handed over to special tax collectors, who came under the control of the central finance department. Actually, this measure was carried out only in the towns. The attempt to abolish the farming out of agricultural taxes fell through and the powerful tax farmers continued their old practices.
The administrative reform, which was linked up with the division of civilian and military authority, clearly defined the duties of the wali (governors) and the qa’im ma’qams, who governed the vilayets and sanjaqs respectively. They were granted only civil powers and could be removed at any time. The elayets, which had previously been feudal patrimonies of the pashas, were turned into subdivisions of a united state body. The departments of state became specialised. Special consultative organs were attached to the governorships. These were administrative councils (mejliss idareh) made up of representatives of the bureaucracy, clergy, landlords and merchants. A special official (defterdar), who was independent of the wali, was entrusted with the collection of taxes and the finances of the vilayet. The malmudirs or muhassils, who headed the tax department in the sanjaq, were independent of the qa’im ma’qam, but dependent on the defterdar.
Greater consideration was given to education during the period of the tanzimat. A law was issued in 1845 introducing free and compulsory education. Although this law, like many others, remained largely unimplemented, it had favourable results. The collegiate mosques were placed under the control of the state. Secular secondary schools were founded where the pupils studied history, geography and elementary mathematics. Special medical, engineering, law and military schools were established at Istanbul. And in 1847 a Ministry of Education was founded.
An attempt was made in 1845 to set up special commissions in each elayet “to investigate the causes of the decline in farming.” These commissions were to discuss agricultural problems such as the land tax, road building and irrigation. Their activities, however, were doomed to failure since the main “cause of the decline in farming,” the feudal system, remained untouched.
Such were the reforms carried out in the first period of the tanzimat (1839-56). They gave greater scope for the development of the local bourgeois elements, but were not enough to change the social system. They did not undermine the feudal mode of production or the feudal state, nor did they create the conditions for the development of a national capitalist industry, for repelling the economic aggression of foreign capital. The reforms gave the bourgeoisie certain personal privileges but did not give it political rights. All the power in the empire remained in the hands of the old bureaucracy.
After the evacuation of Mohammed Ali’s troops, Syria and Palestine again reverted to Turkish rule. The Porte immediately began to normalise the administration of these far-flung provinces. New laws were gradually introduced despite the opposition of the reactionaries. The governors of the elayets in Syria and in other parts of the empire were deprived of military and financial prerogatives. Special financial officials, defterdars and muhassils, who depended directly on the Ministry of Finance, were appointed. But the tax-farming system was retained. After the institution of military reforms, a corps of the new regular army, the Arabistan ordus, was quartered in Syria. This was a regular army under the command of a field marshal (mushir), who was independent of the civilian authorities, but subordinate to the Ministry of Defence.
In 1841, a new territorial division was introduced in Syria. The pashaliks of Saida and Tripoli were merged into one elayet and its centre was transferred to Beirut. Palestine was divided into a special sanjaq of Jerusalem under the control of the Beirut governor.
All these relatively insignificant administrative changes did not affect the core of the feudal system in Syria. However, they deceived the peasants, who regarded them as a promise of liberty. The uprisings against Egyptian rule and the active part played by the Syrians in expelling the Egyptians from Syria and Palestine had given the Syrians more confidence in their strength. On the other hand, the restoration of Turkish rule did not ease the lot of the Syrian people. All this served to create the prerequisites for a new upsurge of the liberation struggle. A series of anti-feudal uprisings took place in Syria, the most serious of which were the Aleppo uprising of 1850 and the Hauranian uprising of 1852-53.
The anti-feudal movement was especially strong in the Lebanon. The big Druze feudal lords returned to the Lebanon after the dethronement and banishment of Emir Beshir II in 1840 and began to solicit for the return of their former estates and political privileges. The Maronite peasants offered resistance to the Druzes, on whose lands they had settled during the reign of Emir Beshir II. The ensuing struggle created a tangle of conflicts. The real class differences, complicated by the conflicts between the Druzes and the Maronites, were supplemented by the rivalry between England and France, who backed the opposing religious and political groups. England supported the Druzes and France, the Maronites.
In October 1841, the British-armed Druze feudal lords instigated a revolt against the Porte’s appointee, Emir Qassim, who was Beshir II’s cousin. They managed to involve the Druze peasants, who were dependent upon them. The insurgents laid siege to the Emir’s palace. They broke into the Maronite villages, slaughtered the population, burnt homes and seized lands and orchards. The Maronites organised self-defence detachments and at times successfully repulsed the attacks of the Druzes. Several Maronite detachments penetrated into the Druze villages, where they organised pogroms. This mutual extermination continued for six weeks. The Druzes finally gained the upper hand and took over the southern Lebanon.
The Porte used this as an opportunity to send its troops to the Lebanon. Emir Qassim was deposed, arrested and sent to Istanbul and the Lebanese principality was turned into an ordinary Turkish province with the Turkish general, Omar Pasha, as governor.
Omar Pasha launched reprisals against the Druze feudal lords, who prevented him from pursuing his centralising policy. In March 1842, he summoned eight Druze sheikhs to his castle at Beit-Ed-Din, arrested them and sent them to Beirut under heavy guard. After their arrest the Maronite§ who had fled from the southern Lebanon during the massacre of 1841 returned to their home villages, lands and orchards.
The actions of the Turks caused disapproval among the Powers that were striving to consolidate their positions in the East. They sharply protested against direct Turkish rule and demanded that the Lebanon’s autonomy be restored. France, who supported the Maronites, insisted on the return of Beshir II (Shehab) and, to back up her demand, sent a squadron to Beirut. England again sided with the Druze feudal lords who had fought against the Shehab family.
Under pressure from the Powers, the Porte held a referendum in the summer of 1842 in the Lebanon. The results showed that the Maronites were in favour of restoring the Lebanese principality with a Christian governor from the Shehab family. The Druze feudal lords pretended to submit to the Porte and during the referendum voted for direct Turkish rule. However, in October 1842, they again rose in rebellion, demanding the release of the arrested sheikhs and the resignation of Omar Pasha. But they were defeated once again. Omar Pasha crushed the Druze irregulars and burnt the ancestral castle of the Junbalat family.
In 1843, however, the Porte was finally compelled to relinquish its plans for the direct rule of the Lebanon. Under pressure from the Powers it agreed to hand over the administration of the Lebanon to two qa’im ma’qams from among the local feudal lords. A Christian was appointed qa’im ma’qam over the Maronites and a Druze over the Druzes. The Shehabs were removed for good. This “solution” only confused matters further in the Lebanon and fanned the flames of discord between the Druzes and the Maronites. A Turkish pasha aptly termed the solution “an organised civil war
There was no uniform religion in the Lebanon. Nearly all the people in the north, in Kesruan, were Maronites. The majority. in the central part of the Lebanon, Metn, were also Maronites, but Druze villages were scattered here and there among the others. The peasant population in the southern part, Shuf, was mixed, and consisted of both Druzes and Maronites. The feudal claimants to power in Shuf were Druzes. When functions were divided between two qa’im ma’qams, Kesruan went to the Maronite qa’im ma’qam and the other regions were declared “mixed.”
A new conflict arose between the Druzes and the Maronites over the mixed regions. The Christians of the mixed regions, anxious to retain their lands, felt they should subordinate directly to a Christian qa’im ma’qam. The Druze feudal lords said there could not be two governors in one district and that the Maronites of the mixed regions of Shuf should submit to the Druze qa’im ma’qam. In the end, in September 1844, they agreed to a compromise suggested by the French consul, which only widened the “organised civil war.” Two elders, or wakils, one for the Christian and one for the Druzes, were appointed in each of the mixed villages. The Maronites of Shuf were subordinate to the Druze qa’im ma’qam, but could lodge complaints against him through their wakil before the Christian qa’im ma’qam.
The Druze sheikhs returned to their former estates immediately after the southern Lebanon had been handed over to the Druze qa’im ma’qam. The Maronite peasants began to prepare for an uprising. This time the religious form of the conflict was soon discarded and the uprising acquired a clearly ,defined class character. Unlike the uprising in 1840-41, when the Maronite peasants fought under the leadership of the feudal sheikhs and priests, the insurgent, detachments were now made up entirely of peasants. “The Christians began to form levies with platoon and company commanders, and so on. But not a single sheikh or emir dared command the levies,” wrote an eyewitness.
A secret committee at Deir El-Kamar, which had branches in all the big settlements of the southern Lebanon, stood at the head of the movement. But the peasants did not fully grasp the class aims of the struggle. Their hatred for the Druze feudal lords extended to all the Druzes in general, thereby antagonising the Druze peasants and calling forth a wave of Maronite pogroms.
An uprising began in May 1845 and spread to all parts of the Lebanon. It was followed by a general slaughter of the Druze peasants, who in return began slaughtering the Maronites. Tens of Druze and Maronite villages were sacked and completely destroyed.
The anti-feudal character of the movement forced the Turkish authorities to change their policy. Although in the struggle for the centralisation of .the empire the Porte had come out against the Druze feudal lords, who wanted to retain their former political rights, it continued to uphold the interests of the feudal class as a whole. In 1841 and 1842, the Porte had put down the mutinies of the Druze sheikhs against the unity of the empire, but in 1845, it helped the same Druze sheikhs suppress an uprising of the Maronite peasants against the feudal system. With the help of the Turkish forces the Druzes emerged triumphant. The Druze qa’im ma’qam continued to govern the southern Lebanon and the estates remained in the hands of the Druze sheikhs.
The uprising then spread to the northern Lebanon, where the Maronite peasants rose in rebellion against the bishops and nobles of their own sect.
By the autumn of 1845, the Turkish troops had subdued and disarmed the Lebanon. A new administrative regime was organised with the help of the foreign consuls. While preserving the system of dual control, two qa’im ma’qams for the whole area and two wakils for each village, the foreign consuls demanded the formation of a council to assist each qa’im ma’qam. The council was to have judicial functions and also the right of control over the collection and assessment of taxes. The council was to be made up of ten members: two Maronites, two Druzes, two Sunnites, two Greek Orthodox and two Melkites (Greek Uniates). This,however, did not do away with the main conflict between the peasants and the feudal lords. At the same time it deepened religious discord, caused fresh strife between different religious groups and gave the foreign Powers a permanent excuse for meddling in Syria’s internal affairs.
Missionaries provided another means of foreign penetration in the Arab East. In the 1840s they revived their activities which had abated at the beginning of the century. The missionaries opened schools and charity organisations in Syria and Palestine, zealously spreading Christianity and with it the influence of the countries they represented.
The first and most active missionaries in the East were the Lazareths and Jesuits. Supervised by the Vatican and vigorously supported by France, they had a wide network of schools and seminaries at their disposal. In 1846, the Pope restored the Latin Jerusalem patriarchate, which had existed at the time of the Crusades.
The first Americans, Presbyterians, appeared in Beirut in 1820. By 1860, they had over 30 schools and a printing’ shop and in 1866 they opened the Syrian Protestant College later to become the American University.
In 1849, Russia set up a Russian Orthodox mission in Jerusalem. She did not have any directly aggressive plans in Syria and Palestine, but merely wanted to strengthen her influence over the Greek Orthodox population of the Balkan Peninsula.
England,. who was eager to make the best of Mohammed Ali’s defeat, was not to be left behind. She staked on two cards at once. On the one hand, she backed the Protestants and the plans for German colonisation in Palestine, an Anglo-Prussian diocese being established in Jerusalem in 1841. On the other hand, England encouraged the plans for Jewish colonisation and initiated all sorts of Zionist projects.
The Jewish population of Palestine in the middle of the 19th century hardly. numbered 11,000. Many of them were pilgrims and had settled here for religious purposes. During the Eastern crisis of 1839-41 the British reverted to Bonaparte’s plans for the creation of a Jewish state in Jerusalem. In 1838, Lord Shaftesbury and then Gauler and the British consul in Palestine, James Finn, put forward a number of projects for the transfer of the Jews to Palestine and the creation there of a Jewish state under British protection. These plans were welcomed by Lord Palmerston, who regarded them as a guarantee of the safety of imperial communications. Sir Moses Montefiore, a British banker related to the Rothschild family, also supported these plans. Montefiore visited the East several times and even bought an orange grove near Jaffa in 1855, but was unable to attract a single Jewish colonist.
The plans of the Anglo-Prussian diocese also fell through.
The rivalry of the Powers in the East was reflected in the endless bickering between the various missions over the “holy places,” the distribution of the money and gifts received from pilgrims, and so on. One such seemingly insignificant conflict, the argument over repairs to the roof of the Holy Sepulchre and the keys to the Bethlehem shrine, grew into a serious international crisis and gave rise to the Eastern war of 1853-56.
Although Turkey was among the victors and included in the concert of European Powers, the war had a disastrous effect on the Ottoman Empire. In 1854, to cover its military expenses, the Porte concluded its first foreign loan, which marked the beginning of Turkey’s financial enslavement. Ultimately, the Powers established a kind of joint protectorate and dictated a new programme of reforms to the Turkish Sultan, which completely cleared the way for the penetration of foreign capital in Turkey.
Under pressure from the European Powers, on February 18, 1856, shortly before the conclusion of peace, the Sultan issued a new imperial rescript (hatti-humayun). Formally, the imperial rescript confirmed the main stipulations of the hatti-sherif Gulhane (noble rescript) by continuing the tanzimat policy. Actually, things were different. The Powers regarded the hatti-humayun of 1856, unlike the hatti-sherif of 1839, as an international obligation and it was mentioned thus in Article 9 of the Paris Peace Treaty signed on March 30, 1856. Actually, the Sultan could neither annul nor alter it without the approval of the Powers. If the first manifesto deprived foreign diplomacy of an excuse to interfere in the Ottoman Empires internal affairs, the second encouraged it.
In the hatti-humayun of 1856, unlike the hatti-sherif Gulhane, the stress was on religious equality and various economic undertakings. This played into the hands of the European Powers, who demanded that the rights be extended to cover their subjects and commercial agents, most of whom came from the Christian (Armenian and Greek) merchant class.
The Porte made its first concessions to the Powers during the Eastern war, when it attempted to apply the recruitment laws to the Christians and with this in view on May 7, 1855, abolished the kharaj. This move met with opposition both from the Moslem reactionaries, who were displeased that “infidels” should be allowed to serve in the army and to receive arms, and from the “infidels” themselves, who refused to serve in the Turkish army. In the end the Porte exempted the Christians from military service, having introduced in its stead a special tax called bedel el-askari (military exoneration tax), which was really the same as the kharaj only under a different name.
Apart from the kharaj, in the Ottoman Empire there were many other medieval taxes, which continued to grow from year to year. The introduction of state monopolies on salt and tobacco in 1862 increased the burden and prices of these products rose. The tax farmers continued to collect the taxes. The tax-farming, system was abolished in 1857, but not for long.
On April 21, 1858, a land law was issued, legally abolishing the military fief system and the peasants’ dependence on the former timariots. Actually, the system had been liquidated long before the law was issued. The peasants, however, were as usual deprived of land. The new law did not give the peasants land, it merely granted the leaseholders of the state lands the right to buy the lands for a large sum. The land law widened the category of privately owned lands, promoted the development of private landownership and made it a part of commodity circulation. At the same time, the law retained many restrictions on the use of the land, which hampered economic initiative. In 1867, a new law was passed granting foreigners the right to acquire and own land in the Ottoman Empire.
Apart from the land legislation, the laws on the Ottoman Bank (1856) and the granting of concessions, in the second stage of the tanzimat, laws were promulgated on the rights and position of religious communities and on Ottoman citizenship (1869). Criminal and civil codes were compiled. A law on the secularisation of the waqfs (1873) remained ink on paper. A law on the elayets was passed on November 8, 1864, introducing a new administrative division of the empire and reorganising local administration.
On the whole, the reforms of the second period of the tanzimat weakened the Porte and accelerated the penetration of foreign capital. The European capitalists received bank, railway and other concessions, the right to buy land, and so on. Thus, the hatti-humayun (imperial rescript) of 1856 and the laws issued after it turned the Ottoman Empire into a semi-colony of the European capitalist Powers. It ushered in , the second period of the tanzimat, when Turkey and her Arab domains were plundered and enslaved by foreign capital.
Soon after the publication of the hatti-humayun of 1856, a new crisis arose in Syria. The immediate cause was the publication of the hatti-humayun, which the Lebanese peasants interpreted as a sign of their social equality and exoneration from feudal obligations.
The growth of foreign trade and marketable agricultural produce in the forties and fifties of the 19th century intensified the exploitation of the Lebanese peasants. Discontent in the villages grew. The peasants wrote complaints against the growing extortions and abuses. At the beginning of 1858, at a big gathering in the village of Zuk, where about 300 persons had gathered from different villages of Kesruan (northern Lebanon), all the complaints were made up into a single petition, which a special delegation handed over to the Beirut Governor, Khurshid Pasha. The peasants demanded the liquidation of all feudal obligations. The Pasha politely, but firmly refused to comply with their demands. The peasants then began to prepare for an uprising. They fetched the weapons they had hidden twelve years ago and began to form insurgent detachments.
In January 1859, an armed uprising headed by the village blacksmith, Taniyus Shahin, flared up. The uprising wasof a purely class character. Having driven the Maronite feudal lords out of Kesruan and seized their land and property, the insurgent peasants set up their own rule and the Porte was compelled to acknowledge Shahin as qa’im ma’qam.
The Kesruan uprising had a revolutionary effect on the other regions of the Lebanon. The disturbances spread to Latakia and the central Lebanon and involved the Maronite peasants of the Druze qa’im ma’qamate, where the peasants; actively supported by the Maronite clergy, began to prepare for an armed uprising against the Druzes. The Druze feudal lords in their turn began to arm the Druze irregulars.
In the spring of 1860, the uprising grew into a new Druze-Maronite massacre. The provocative actions of the French consul in Beirut were partly to blame for this. Marx noted that “French agents who were bestirring themselves to bring about a politico-religious row ... on the Syrian coast,” [New York Daily Tribune, August 11, 1860.] were involved in the bloody events in Syria.
On May 22, 1860, a group of ten or twelve Maronites fired on a group of Druzes at the entrance to Beirut, killing one and wounding two. This is all that was needed. Druzes and Maronites began slaughtering each other and fires and pogroms swept through the Lebanon. In a mere three days (from May 29 to 31, 1860) 60 villages were destroyed in the vicinity of Beirut. In June, the disturbances spread to the “mixed” neighbourhoods of the southern Lebanon and Anti Lebanon, to Saida, Hasbeiya, Rasheiya, Deir El-Kamar and Zahle. The Druze peasants laid siege to Catholic monasteries and missions, burnt them and killed the monks.
In July 1860, in Damascus, with the connivance of the military authorities and Turkish soldiers, Moslem fanatics organised pogroms, killing Christians and setting fire to churches and missionary schools. This lasted for three days (from July 9 till July 11). But thanks to the popular Algerian hero, Abd el-Kader, who lived as an exile in Damascus, a mass extermination of the Christians was averted. He defended the Christians during the pogroms and placed his palace at the disposal of the victims of fanaticism.
The bloody events of 1860 cost the Syrian people dear. Over 20,000 Christians were killed and 380 Christian villages, 560 churches and 40 monasteries were destroyed. The Druzes and Moslems also suffered heavy losses.
The pogroms and the Druze-Maronite massacre gave the French Emperor Napoleon III the long-awaited excuse for intervention. The French ruling circles felt that the right time had come to gain complete possession of Syria. Napoleon III’s desire to raise his prestige as “the most Christian king” and internal and foreign policy considerations also played an important role. In July 1860, he suddenly spoke out in defence of the Syrian Christians and made known his intention of sending troops to Syria.
France’s plans put the Powers and Turkey on their guard.
Sultan Abdul Mejid tried to prevent the French expedition by sending one of the empire’s highest dignitaries, Fuad Pasha, to Damascus. Having received emergency powers, Fuad organised an exemplary mass execution in Damascus. On his orders 111 persons were shot, 57 hanged, 325 sentenced to hard labour and 145 were banished. Fuad Pasha hoped to please France by punishing only the Moslems. The Turkish troops quickly “restored law and order’’ and stopped the pogroms. But the Bonaparte press continued to rage, describing Fuad’s repressions as a mere “comedy” and demanding that the executions be doubled.
England and Russia, who were reluctant to permit the capture of Syria by the French, insisted on the convocation of an international conference to tie Napoleon down. On September 5, 1860, six Powers, England, Russia, France, Austria, Prussia and Turkey, signed an agreement restricting the size of the French occupation corps to 12,000 men and its stay in Syria to 6 months. Moreover, the signatory Powers sent special commissioners to Syria to make an on-the-spot investigation of the causes of the Syrian events, expose the culprits, punish them and “prevent a repetition of such events” by the institution of the Lebanese statute (reglement organique). After the setting up of an international commission the French idea of sending troops to Syria lost all meaning.
On the very eve of the signing of the agreement, however, at the end of August 1860, French troops landed at Beirut. In September, they made a tour of the country subdued by the Turks. Having performed this “feat of arms,” the French generals then directed their ardour against the “insurgent” fellaheen of the northern Lebanon. The leader of the Maronite peasants was forced to flee to the mountains. Yusef Karam, the feudal leader who with France’s help had suppressed the uprising in Kesruan and returned the land to the Maronite sheikhs, became qa’im ma’qam.
Napoleon III attempted to evade the agreement of September 5, 1860, and keep his troops in Syria under the pre-text that the situation in the area was still “insecure.” But England and Austria threatened war and demanded the immediate withdrawal of the French forces. In the end, a withdrawal date was fixed for June 5, 1861, by which time the French expeditionary corps was embarked on ships and sent home. The French attempt to take over Syria had fallen through.
In June 1861, after lengthy arguments, the international commission worked out a new reglement organique of the Lebanon. It was drawn up in the form of a convention and signed by Turkey and the Powers on June 9, 1861, in Constantinople. The Mountain Region (excluding the sea-coast) became an autonomous region with a Christian governor at its head. The governor was independent of the Beirut and Damascene pashas but directly subordinate to the Porte. The system of two qa’im ma’qams was abolished. The governor (mutasarrif) was chosen and appointed directly by the Porte. An administrative council composed of 12 men was set up under the governor. Each of the six religious groups inhabiting the Lebanon (Maronites, Druzes, Sunnites, Shi’as, Greek Orthodox and Greek Uniates) elected two members to the council. The council received the right to distribute taxes, to control their gathering and expenditure; it also had the right to consult on any question. The region was divided into six mudiriyas with mudirs at their head. Three of them were Maronites, one a Druze, one a Greek Orthodox and one a Greek Uniate. The sheikhs of the nahiyas and villages, the judges and scribes were subordinate to them. The statute determined the degree of power to be exercised by each religious group. District councils were formed under each mudir.. A special police force and judicial system were created for the Mountain Region with Deir El-Kamar as its centre. The governor had the right to disarm the population of the Lebanon and call in Turkish forces. The Lebanon undertook to pay an annual tribute to the Porte.
The reglement organique was introduced preliminarily for a period of three years. In September 1864, the Powers and Turkey signed a convention which confirmed the permanent character of the statute and made minor changes in it. Another Maronite district was formed and the council under the governor was reorganised (it now had twelve members-four Maronites, three Druzes, three Greek Orthodoxes and Greek Uniates, one Sunnite and one Shi’a). The reglement organique of the Lebanon remained in this form up till 1914.
The development of foreign trade led to the emergence in Beirut of a significant strata of the commercial bourgeoisie. However, feudal oppression, the age-long enmity between the tribes and the feudal cliques, between the numerous religious groups and sects hindered the development of trade and the formation of a single national market. In the struggle of the commercial bourgeoisie for Syrian unity many outstanding ideologists came to the fore. They called for religious tolerance, the unification of all Syrian Arabs regardless of their religious or tribal affiliation.
The most outstanding Syrian bourgeois ideologist in the sixties of the 19th century was Butrus el-Bustani (1819-1883). A Christian, he had studied at a Maronite seminary and knew many languages. In 1840, he became acquainted with the American missionaries and adopted the Presbyterian faith. He advocated patriotism and called for Syrian unity. He castigated religious intolerance and fanaticism, religious strife and enmity, superstitious beliefs, feudal separatism, the corruption of the Turkish authorities and the enslavement of women. He was a tireless enlightener,, teacher, publicist and writer. He founded in Beirut the first national Arabic school (1863) and published two weeklies in the Arabic language-Nafir Suriya (Clarion of Syria) in 1860, and El-Janna (Paradise), and the magazine El-Jinan in 1870, publications that for the first time acquainted Syrian readers with political, cultural and literary questions. He worked a great deal to develop a new literary Arabic language and to spread the European sciences among Arab intellectuals. He compiled a big dictionary of the Arabic language and an Arabic encyclopaedia in seven volumes (Dairat El-Ma’arif). His cousin, Suleiman el-Bustani, continued the encyclopaedia after his death and translated Homer’s Iliad into Arabic.
Butrus el-Bustani’s closest friend and associate was Nasif Yazeji (1800-1871), the court poet of Beshir II. He also made a great contribution to the revival of the literary Arabic language and Arabic literature. A Christian like Bustani, Nasif Yazeji opposed religious fanaticism and called on the Arabs to unite in brotherhood on the basis of their common heritage.
Bustani and Yazeji rallied the most progressive Syrian intellectuals of the time. In 1857, their followers founded in Beirut the Syrian Scientific Society, which for the first time in Syrian history united Arab intellectuals irrespective of their religion. But foreign missionaries were not admitted to the Society. Bustani and Yazeji, confined themselves to the enlightenment movement and regarded enlightenment as the only means of struggle against feudalism.
Political problems were advanced by the new generation. At clandestine meetings of the Syrian Scientific Society, which in 1868 revived its activities that had been interrupted by the events of 1860, discussions on cultural renaissance were replaced by fervent calls to struggle for independence. At one such meeting, Nasif Yazeji’s son, Ibrahim Yazeji, recited patriotic poems, which had a wide circulation in Syria and the Lebanon. In his poems Ibrahim Yazeji sang of the glorious past of the Arabs, castigated fanaticism and called upon the people to shake off the Turkish yoke. This was a passionate call to rise in the name of the Arab nation. “By the sword may distant aims be attained. Seek with it, if you mean to succeed,” Yazeji said.