From Coexistence to Conflict

in 19th Century Mount Lebanon

Mount Lebanon has been a troubled region throughout much of Lebanese history. Through most of the 19th century, the Maronite and Druze inhabitants of the Mount Lebanon region had successfully coexisted in an intricate inter-sectarian system. True to the words of Leila Fawaz, “Lebanon was at peace, as it had been for most of its history.” Excessive foreign intervention, however, caused the status in Mount Lebanon to move from coexistence to conflict, which ultimately led to the civil war of 1860.

The first step that led to the emergence of inter-sect rule in Lebanon was the gaining of autonomy by local rulers. Fakhr al-Din al Maani was the first prince in the region, and he was awarded that title and responsibility by the Ottomans as a reward for his loyalty to them. Prior to Fakhr al-Din, Lebanon did not have an autonomous ruler; it was fully controlled by the Ottomans. The Maanis, however, were not only supported by the Ottomans, but by the local citizens as well, and this common support for a single ruler helped bring about inter-sectarianism. The Druze-Maronite inter-sectarian system gained its roots during the reign of Fakhr al-Din II, who raised the Maronites to the same civil status as their Druze counterparts. This equal status allowed both sects to live peacefully among each other. Fakhr al-Din’s reign soon came to an end though in 1635, when the Ottomans, who had control over Lebanon at the time, captured and executed Fakhr al-Din for trying to expand the area under his control. By upsetting the balance between local and Ottoman rule, Fakhr al-Din brought about the end of his reign as prince. After two insignificant rulers, the princedom fell to the Shihab family, which would rule the Mount Lebanon region from 1697 to 1842.

During the long reign of the Shihab family, the Maronites had slowly started to gain power as the Druze began to weaken. The most notable of the Shihabs was Prince Bashir II. During his reign, Prince Bashir II developed a strong relationship with Sheikh Bashir Jumblatt. The Jumblatt family was originally of Sunni Kurdish descent and they later became accepted as part of the Druze community. After the end of the Maani dynasty, the Jumblatts took their place as lords of the Shouf and rapidly rose to power. Consequently, the Jumblatts were able to influence other areas of the region. In order to maintain his strong relationship with Sheikh Bashir Jumblatt, Prince Bashir II demanded taxes from the Maronites instead of the Druze. Therefore, the Maronite peasants revolted in what became known as the General Uprising. Five years later, when it appeared that Prince Bashir was leaning to the more powerful Maronites, a battle between Bashir Shihab and Bashir Jumblatt with their respective supporters erupted into the open. The Jumblatt forces were defeated and the Jumblatt family and their supporters were forced into exile. Meanwhile, foreign countries, namely Britain and France, had started making close ties with the religious communities in Mount Lebanon in an attempt to increase their influence in the Ottoman Empire. Britain and France’s relationship with the different religious sects played a pivotal role during the Egyptian invasion of the Mount Lebanon region.

In 1831, Ibrahim Pasha, the son of the Egyptian viceroy Muhammad Ali, took over the Mount Lebanon region. The Egyptians, supported by the French and Bashir II, encouraged Christian equality with Muslims and sometimes even favored the Christians. Ibrahim Pasha, working with Prince Bashir, made changes in the administration of Mount Lebanon, such as introducing universal conscription and attempting to disarm the local population. The Druze, however, resented these changes and refused to give up their weapons. Therefore, Ibrahim Pasha used a Christian army to fight against the Druze, an extremely critical decision which greatly affected the future of the region. Ibrahim Pasha would not remain in power long though, for he gained resentment not only from the Druze and Shiites, but from the Christians as well. With the aid of the European powers (all except France), Ibrahim and Bashir were exiled from the region and a new prince, Bashir III, was appointed. Although the Druze and Maronites worked together to rid themselves of Ibrahim Pasha, the tensions that had risen between the two sects during Pasha’s reign had not been erased.

When Druze notables returning from exile wanted their previous power restored, the Maronites refused, which led to clashes between the two sects. In 1841, the Druze attacked the Maronite town of Deir el-Qamr in the Shouf and the Greek Catholic town of Zahle. Deir el-Qamr fell to the Druze, and, with the help of the Ottomans, they disposed of Bashir III in 1842. Instead of appointing another ruler, the Ottomans took the advice of Austrian Chancellor Metternich and introduced the double qa’immaqamiyya, replacing one form of external rule with another. The new system split Mount Lebanon into a northern region and a southern region, the north controlled by a Maronite qa’immam and the south controlled by a Druze qa’immam. With the double qa’immaqamiyya, foreign intervention with Lebanese affairs became more direct. Before, the Mount Lebanon region at least had some sense of autonomy; now it had none. The double qa’immaqamiyya system was a failure, because there was a substantial number of Druze in the northern region and even a majority of Maronites in the southern region. In 1845, unrest in both regions began to take on shades of a civil war. The Europeans and the Ottomans tried to intervene again, but to no avail. All the conflict in the Mount Lebanon region eventually culminated in the brutal civil war of 1860, in which tens of thousands of people were slaughtered mercilessly.

The civil war of 1860 came as a result of foreign intervention in the region. Had the European powers not tried to take advantage of the situation in the Mount Lebanon region for their personal gain, it is highly likely the Druze and Maronite communities could have continued to coexist peacefully with one another. Although foreign intervention can sometimes produce positive results, history has proven that in Lebanon, that is not the case.

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