07/22/2020, 15.12
LEBANON
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Lebanon, a national identity to conquer

by Fady Noun

To mark the centenary of Greater Lebanon, the university magazine “Travaux et Jours * dedicates a special issue to the genesis of the Lebanese state. "History is littered with destroyed nations," Mauriac writes, but the fact that Lebanon "is not eternal" does not mean that it is moribund.

Beirut (AsiaNews) - For the centenary of Greater Lebanon, the university magazine "Travaux et Jours * dedicated a special issue to the genesis of the Lebanese state. Its editor in chief, Antoine Courban, titled his editorial "Un identité nationale à conquer," setting the tone for the whole issue, affirming a fundamental truth: like any historical, political and social reality, Lebanon is a developing nation, it is not a fixed reality.

This introductory text reproduces a passage from a pastoral letter from Patriarch Elias Hoyek dating back to 1931. As he negotiated the creation of Greater Lebanon in Versailles he warned military chiefs and sovereigns of the time to be guardians of the common good and not personal interests:

He writes: “You who are heads of the country, you judges of the earth, you deputies of the people who live on behalf of the people, (...) are obliged, in your official capacity and according to your responsibilities, to seek the best interest of the public. Your time should not be dedicated to pursuing your own gain, your action is not for you, but for the state and for the homeland you represent. This distress signal was launched ten years after the announcement of General Henri Joseph Eugène Gouraud. Antoine Courban comments: "He (the Maronite patriarch) had percieved the danger of clientelism and bad government, of which, a hundred years later, we can observe the disastrous effects of the damage to our country".

The appeal of Patriarch Hoyek is still extremely timely. Is Lebanon ungovernable? Is it just a mistake of history? Faced with the ideologies that present it as "detached" from the French mandate, from a "natural" Syria, does Lebanon justify itself as an independent state?

Jacques Keilo, cartographer engineer, doctor of the University of Paris IV-Sorbonne provides a convincing response. This scholar of political geography maintains that the answer to this central question is – without a shadow of doubt - negative. Keilo aims - certainly within the limits of a newspaper article - to deconstruct the ideological discourse that seeks to dilute Greater Lebanon into a larger political entity that precedes it.

Using the two concepts of "continuation" and "succession", the researcher shows that the Syrian Arab Republic is "neither the continuation nor the succession" of this distant reality which is the ancient historical-geographical space called Syria and that, from Classical antiquity to the Ottoman Empire, it has various outlines. However, he admits that Lebanon and Syria are almost two, each in its own way, "cultural heirs" of this space, of which they reproduce certain characteristics, since geography necessarily conditions history.

In an article published in L'Orient-Le Jour ("The 'Phenicia”, Entering Historical Reality and Political Recovery, March 2, 2019), Keilo also applies the same reasoning to an ideology that some" Lebanese "have developed as an argument against the partisans of Greater Syria. It assures us, therefore, that it is equally false to inscribe the Lebanese in "continuity or succession" of historical Phenicia, as it is to include them in the continuity or succession of ancient Syria.

Lebanese and ‘Arabists’

These ideological historical constructions clashed, sometimes vehemently, between 1918 and 1920, the period immediately following the end of the First World War, the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire and the proclamation of Great Lebanon on September 1, 1920. In two articles distinguished, the historian Carla Eddé, vice-rector of the USJ and the essayist Youssef Moawadan analyze this pivotal period, each from a different perspective.

The doubts also come entirely from the mandated power. Carla Eddé speaks of the genesis of the Lebanese state as a "difficult learning in dissent and negotiation". We see in this period the "Lebanese" oppose the "Arabists", as well as the partisans of an Arab Syria and those of a Syrian Syria. "Shouldn't we commemorate the genesis of the Lebanese state in 1920? (...) A hundred years later, the issue is still dividing in Lebanon," notes the author of the article. So if we are not a mistake in history, after a hundred years of bad governance, we are certainly still an unfinished chapter.

For his part, addressing the topic from a purely Maronite perspective, Youssef Moawad evokes a population of survivors of the great famine of 1915-1918, who see Lebanon as "a country at hand". "The weight of the claims of the mountain Christians and of Beirut was decisive (in the decision to create the state of Greater Lebanon), writes Moawad. This helps to better understand why the figure of the Maronite patriarch of the time, Bishop Elias Hoyek, occupies a prominent place in the portrait gallery of the founding fathers of modern Lebanon".

"Travaux et Jours" a great undertaking

It should be recognized that the publication of Travaux et Jours, in this period of financial confinement and collapse, is a true result, which we must acknowledge to Antoine Courban. The magazine is also a tribute to a university that has continued since its inception in 1875, and particularly after the announcement of Greater Lebanon, to promote the values ​​of national unity and joint research.

It is not excessive to say that Saint Joseph University has contributed greatly to instilling in the generations that it has formed a spirit of national belonging to their homeland. In the same way, it has always promoted a culture of political unity and a constant and loyal attachment to a sovereign state. A heritage that should motivate the generation of October 17 even more to rectify the institutions and fight a clientelism that provokes discord and suffocates the State.

Pictured: General Henri Gouraud, who proclaimed Greater Lebanon, and Patriarch Elias Hoyek in Dimane, home of the Maronite patriarchs.

(*) The "Travaux et Jours" magazine can be purchased online at: https://www.usj.edu.lb/publications/catalogue/my-usjinfo.php?perpubid=2957

It is available in bookstores and / or on order.

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