Lebanon, One Hundred Years of Mandates

Gelbert Achkar
Lebanese Academic and Journalist

Macron is striving to breathe life into the coalition and the two mandates, in an endeavor to reinforce a third mandate, that of the French Mediator.

In the aftermath of the First World War, 1918, the British forces occupied Damascus while the French occupied Beirut. The British tried to give Syria to Faisal, the son of Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca, as a compensation for their false promise to proclaim his dynasty as kings of an Arab kingdom that includes all Arab lands in West Asia. The promise that did not hold them back from secretly agreeing with the French on the sphere of influence on these large swaths of lands (Sykes-Picot Agreement, 1916.) This promise didn’t deter them from promising the Zionists to pave the way toward the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine (Balfour Declaration, 1917). The French insisted on their full sovereignty over all the Syrian territories, according to the agreement. Consequently, the British forces retreated from Syria in 1919. Shortly after, the French expelled Faisal, who was then proclaimed by the British as king of Iraq.

Worse still, the two colonial states were not satisfied with defining their mutually agreed upon sphere of influence on the region, but also divided Palestine and Syria. On the one hand, the British established an Emirate of Transjordan and handed it over to Faisal’s brother Abdullah. On the other, the French went too far by dividing “Syria and Lebanon” into six entities. In September 1920, the French established “The State of Greater Lebanon,” “the State of Damascus,” “the State of Aleppo,” “the Alawite State,” and, in the following year, the “Jabal Druze State,” as well as the “Sanjak of Alexandretta.” Moreover, The French expanded the “Greater Lebanon State” as much as possible within the limits they believed would not undermine the Maronites’ dominance in ruling the new state, a predominance in which the colonial state considered a guarantee of the continuity of its mandate within the framework of the sectarian political system it laid its foundations.

However, the rivalry between the French and the British colonists continued to exist. The British took advantage of the French retreat in the Second World War to intervene further in Lebanon and stir up its independence from France. Furthermore, London forced the French authorities in Lebanon to release Bechara El-Khoury, Riad El-Solh, and their companions who were arrested for defying its mandate. Not to mention that Camille Chamoun, the second president of the independent Lebanese Republic, was known for his strong ties with the British, as he served as ambassador to the United Kingdom after the independence and until 1946. However, the defeat of the British, French, and Israeli Tripartite Aggression against Egypt in 1956, owing to the US political pressures, constituted a critical juncture where the influence of the two European colonial powers was substituted by the influence of the American imperialist superpower.

One of the consequences of this juncture is that the Americans landed their troops in Lebanon in 1958, to prevent the toppling of its regime and the Nasser’s Egypt to extend its hegemony over Lebanon through neighboring Syria, in which Cairo gained the upper hand following the merge of the two countries in the “United Arab Republic.” The Lebanese civil conflict ended with the handover of the presidency to the commander of the Lebanese Forces, Fuad Chehab, after Washington and Cairo agreed on compromising to support his rule. Thus, Lebanon moved from a dual French-British mandate to another dual American-Egyptian mandate. A situation kept in existence until the defeat of Egypt and Syria in the Six Days War in 1967, decisively tipped the balance to the sole American mandate.

However, The rise of the “Palestine Liberation Organization” LPO role in Lebanon, especially after being expelled from Jordan in 1970, put Lebanon back in the balance-of-power game, this time between the American mandate and the Palestinian mini-state that grew within Lebanon and was supported by a bunch of competing Arab countries. A fragile balance which soon collapsed in the war that broke out in Lebanon in 1975. But then the Syrian regime intervention in the following year with the green light from America and Israel to save their Lebanese allies has brought about a new dual mandate. The Riyadh Agreement in the fall of 1978, has established a Syrian, Saudi, and American mandate over Lebanon, but did not last, as Washington support to the then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat’s initiative, to follow the path of unilateral settlement with the Zionist state, starting from 1977, has fanned the flames of mandates over Lebanon again. A status quo remained during the era of Elias Sarkis and until the Zionist invasion of the country in 1982.

The rivalry between the French and the British colonists continued to exist. The British took advantage of the French retreat in the Second World War to intervene further in Lebanon and stir up its independence from France. 

On the other hand, Washington tried to consolidate its hegemony through the presidency of Amine Gemayel, after the collapse of the direct Zionist mandate project following the assassination of his brother Bashir and the occupation faltered. But the reign of Gemayel has ended in a deep crisis after Damascus reinforced its grip on Lebanon. Michel Aoun, the then commander of the army, tried to take the opportunity to seize power and expel the Syrian forces from Lebanon and wage the “Liberation War,” which he declared in a Don Quixote way more than a Bonaparte way, (even though Walid Jumblatt dubbed him then as “Napolaoun”,) in rejection of Taif Agreement that was concluded in 1989. However, Aoun did not realize that the Syrian regime had changed its course toward a realignment with America and its ally Saudi Arabia, and Taif Agreement was a form of this new juncture, reinforced by Damascus involvement in the coalition led by Washington against Iraq the following year, Consequently, Aoun was defeated in 1990, and received no support, and he was forced to flee the country.

Since then, Lebanon has entered the “Reconstruction” phase, which lasted until 2002 with a renewed consensus on a dual mandate between a Saudi/American party, whose main representative was Rafik Hariri, in addition to a Syrian party, represented by Ghazi Kanaan, head of the Syrian intelligence in Lebanon and the High Commissioner of Damascus. This phase of “Reconstruction”, together with the Syrian-Saudi-American consensus, ended when the George W. Bush administration began preparing for the occupation of Iraq. Although the Syrian Baathist government did not hesitate to participate in a US-led war to expel the forces of its “frenemy”, the Iraqi Baathist government, from Kuwait, it could not have participated in a war aiming to overthrow the Iraqi regime and bring a “consensual democracy” under U.S. mandate, as this would pose a direct threat to it. Consequently, the Syrian-Saudi-American alliance collapsed in Lebanon, and Washington, with the help of Paris, passed Resolution 1559 at the UN Security Council in 2004 (Moscow and Beijing abstained to vote to pass it), calling for The Syrian forces to leave Lebanon and the disarmament of Hezbollah. The latter was created after the Zionist invasion, under the direct supervision of Iran, and after the Taif Agreement, it reached harmony with the Syrian regime and its ally Amal Movement, so as not to interfere in the rule of Lebanon in exchange for allowing it to continue to build its mini-state within the Lebanese state, while countering the Zionist occupation in southern Lebanon, in line with Damascus strategy.

Rafiq Hariri

The assassination of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, was a direct result of the failure of the Washington/Riyadh-Damascus Accord. However, the effect of the assassination backfired on those who ordered it and those who carried it out, leading to a popular tsunami of protests that forced Damascus to withdraw its forces under the Security Council resolution. But the influence of the Syrian government continued through a tripartite alliance that brought together “Amal Movement”, its Lebanese partner, “Hezbollah”, Iran’s arm in Lebanon, and Michel Aoun, who, after returning from his French exile, turned from excessive hostility to Damascus and Hezbollah to allying with them. According to the new circumstances, Hezbollah ended its abstinence from officially participating in the rule of Lebanon.

The failure of the 2006 Israel–Hezbollah War led to the rebalancing and renewal of the coalition governance under two mandates that are no longer in harmony. This situation continued until the outbreak of the war in Syria following the “Arab Spring” of 2011, which resulted in a significant weakening of the Syrian regime’s grip over Lebanon in parallel with its absolute weakening, along with the simultaneous rise of Iran’s domination of both Syria and Lebanon, after its intervention to save the Assad regime while strengthening its mandate over Iraq following the withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Iraq in late 2011. The status quo continued with the approval of President Obama’s administration, who was keen on reaching a nuclear deal with Tehran, which was concluded in 2015.

Donald Trump’s assuming the U.S. presidency has caused a re-escalation of tensions in Lebanon’s dual mandate, as he is known for his toughness against Tehran and his rejection of the nuclear deal. On the other hand, the Saudi ally, Crown Prince Mohammed ibn-Salman, tried to force Saad Hariri to stop cooperating with Hezbollah by detaining him in Riyadh. French President Emmanuel Macron then intervened to get Hariri out of the kingdom, and get him back to Lebanon and into the coalition formula. Macron played the role of a mediator between the two mandates, seeking through their balance to strengthen the French mandate. His position was part of a general approach of mediating between Tehran and Washington, to the extent of trying to organize a meeting between Trump and Iran’s foreign minister during the G7 summit in the French city of Biarritz last summer.

The assassination of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, was a direct result of the failure of the Washington/Riyadh-Damascus Accord.

While the popular movement opposed to the Lebanese regime, which arose through the “October 17 Uprising,” envisaged that the explosion of the port of Beirut on August 4 would pave the way to topple the ruling coalition and its mandates. Macron is striving to breathe life into the coalition and the two mandates, in an endeavor to reinforce a third mandate, which is that of the French Mediator. Thus, came the commemoration of one hundred years of mandates over Lebanon, under the supervision of the representative of the First mandate, which he aspires to renew at the beginning of the new era. The story of the mandate over Lebanon is very long, let us hope that it will not be a never-ending story.

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