Lebanon–Syria relations

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Lebanese–Syrian relations
Map indicating locations of Lebanon and Syria

Lebanon

Syria

Lebanon-Syria Relations refer to the political, economic, and social relationships between the countries of Lebanon and Syria. Under the Ottoman Empire, Lebanon and Syria were included within the area of Greater Syria. Following World War I, the League of Nations Mandate partitioned Ottoman Greater Syria under French control, eventually leading to the creation of nation-states Lebanon and Syria. Relations between the two countries have been strained, especially with the 29-year Syrian Occupation of Lebanon, accusations of Syrian intervention within Lebanese politics before and after withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, and suspicions of Syria assassinating Lebanese political figures like former prime minister Rafic Hariri. Syria has only officially recognized Lebanon's sovereignty recently.[1]

History[edit]

Greater Syria under Ottoman Rule[edit]

Greater Syria, as termed within the Ottoman Empire, was composed of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.[2] In the 1830s, Europeans could trade with Greater Syria through the thriving port city of Beirut.[3] Under the Ottoman Empire, Mount Lebanon (the region of the Lebanon mountain range) enjoyed political autonomy from the center because of its geographic isolation. Whereas Mount Lebanon enjoyed this independence from the Ottoman ruling center, Syrian cities maintained a closer political relationship to Istanbul. However, Ottoman officials still had to rely on local elites for policy implementation. Certain religious minorities within the Ottoman Empire, including the Druze and Maronite Christians, moved into Mount Lebanon because of its isolation. These sects shared political power, and Ibrahim Ali pushed for abolishment of special taxes on Jews and Christians. He also aimed to disarm locals but Druze populations refused; Ibrahim armed Christian troops to fight against these groups. When Ibrahim later tried to disarm these Christian groups, they pushed for the evacuation of Egyptian forces from Greater Syria. However, tensions between the two sects remained especially with Ottoman decrees of 1839 and 1856 ensuring equality for all religious groups. Druze and Sunnis saw Maronites and other Christians as “overstepping the bounds of what was permitted to minority subjects in a Muslim State”.[2]

Since the 1840s, violence between Druze and Maronites extended across Lebanese and Syrian regions.[4] In 1860, Druze populations attacked Christian villages and violence escalated into Damascus “where several thousand Christians were massacred and European consulates were burned”.[5] While Ottoman officials sent military to stabilize Damascus, and Fuad Pasha stated that the instigators of the massacres would be punished, European representatives met in 1861 in Damascus to design a government of Mount Lebanon that would protect Christian minority groups. Europeans agreed on a system (“mutasarrifiyyah”) where a Christian Ottoman subject from outside Lebanon would rule over Mount Lebanon. This led to further isolation of the Mount Lebanon region from Greater Syria and wider Ottoman rule. Peace remained until 1914 when the mutasarrifiyyah was disbanded; during that time of peace though, sectarian tensions remained because the mutasarrifiyyah served as a reminder of the religious divisions. These religious tensions served as a precursor to the greater involvement of European powers within Greater Syria politics that would eventually lead to the division of the area into French Mandates of Syria and Lebanon.

Separation into Nation-States[edit]

During World War I, Entente leaders drafted agreements over how Ottoman lands would be divided following the end of the war. The Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and Britain guaranteed French control over the Syrian coast and indirect control within inner Syria.[6] In 1920, following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Sevres placed Greater Syria under the control of France as a French territorial mandate. France identified itself as a protector of Christians (in particular Maronites) throughout the region.[7] To protect its power, France aimed to encourage “existing religious, ethnic, and regional differences within Syria”.[7] Political unity would threaten France’s military and political establishment within Greater Syria. These divisions included the 1920 creation of Greater Lebanon as a mandate separate from Syria. France ensured that the largest religious group within newly created Lebanon was the Maronite Christians. The remainder of Syria (while titled as a unified Syrian state) was further divided into 5 separate political entities (State of Damascus, State of Aleppo, Alawite State, Jabal al-Druze and Sanjak of Alexandretta) to prevent Syrian nationalist movements.[8] While Maronites hoped to create a Christian state with French-influenced culture, Sunni Muslims within the newly formed mandate wanted to re-bind Lebanon with Syria into Greater Syria.[9]

Following the end of the Great Syrian Revolt, France agreed to hold elections within both countries.[10] Even though the Revolt happened in Syria, it impacted constitutions in both Lebanon and Syria. France refused to change the borders of Lebanon even though several Sunni Muslim leaders still hoped for reunification with Syria.[11] Because Sunni Muslims supported nonsecterianism within Lebanese politics, their refusal to participate meant that it was easier for the French to set up a confessional system of politics. The use of confessional politics, which allowed Muslims to participate within the Lebanese government, reduced their desires to merge with Syria.[12] However, Muslims still pushed for Lebanon’s identity as an Arab nation whereas Christians identified with the Mediterranean. Voices criticizing the French borders still existed; Antun Sa'adah, founder of the Syrian Social Nationalist Party and a Lebanese Christian, criticized France for dividing Greater Syria.[13] However, he still wrote that Syria, with its distinct regional history, should remain separate. Writers like Sati' al-Husri believed that the only reason why Arab lands remained separate was because of foreign interference.[14] Other writers including Nabih Amin Fares, George Antonius, and Michel ‘Aflaq contended that colonial powers divided Arab land because unity would pose a threat to colonialist rule. Syrian Arab nationalists at first saw the Lebanese government as unconstitutional and unrepresentative because of the confessional system; however, they suspended these viewpoints in hopes of gaining independence through collaborating with Lebanese nationalist movements.[15]

Because France ruled both the Syrian and Lebanese mandates, impacts on France’s sovereignty in Europe reverberated within its territories.[16] The 1940 occupation of France led to economic downfall and the suspension of the constitution in both Syria and Lebanon. Because the mandates were vulnerable to invasion, Britain pressured France to allow both countries to hold elections. At the same time, nationalist movements aimed to “create nations” within the geographical boundaries of newly formed states including Syria and Lebanon.[17] In Lebanon, Christians grew to recognize Lebanon’s regional Arab identity while Muslims recognized Lebanon’s sovereignty as country separate from Syria.[18] At the same time, movements for pan-Arabism and Islamic solidarity still existed and gained traction within Lebanon, Syria, and the wider Middle East.[19]

Independence[edit]

In 1943, Syria and Lebanon achieved tentative independence from France.[20] In hopes of achieving full independence and the withdrawal of all foreign troops by 1946, nationalist movements made sure to align with each other under a vision of ousting France.[21] This included Syrian nationalists and Lebanese Arab nationalists assuring other Lebanese nationalists that French withdrawal would not lead to subjugation of Lebanon by pan-Arab or pan-Islamist movements. Any differences were pushed towards the future; achieving independence was the primary objective. Syrian and Lebanese governments and elites aimed to pose a “united front against France” (160). Tensions surfaced though when attempting to divide state revenues that historically the French combined in the Common Interests department.[22] Syrian and Lebanese representatives agreed to create the Higher Council of the Common Interests to oversee revenue distributions;[23] the Council would have been a joint Syro-Lebanese economic council.[24] While Lebanese leadership emphasized that the agreement respected Lebanese and Syrian independent sovereignty, radical Lebanese nationalists and the Maronite Patriarch Mar Antoine Butrus ‘Arida opposed the Council’s formation, stating that it would violate the Lebanese constitution since it formed two legislatures. The HCCI was still formed quickly since Lebanese and Syrian leaders were concerned with transferring army and police from France to the two newly independent countries.

The early years after Syrian and Lebanese independence constantly saw Lebanese leadership emphasizing its independence from Syria but reminding nationalists the necessity of working with Syrians in the transfer of power from France to Lebanon and Syria. For example, when Lebanese Minister Camille Chamoun claimed that Lebanon couldn’t independently sign a treaty with Syria without the approval of other Arab nations because of the Alexandria Protocol, outraged radical Lebanese nationalists called for an explanation from the Lebanese government.[25] The Lebanese government thus released a statement that emphasized its independence from Arab countries on treaty negotiations.[26] Maronite Archbishop Ignatius Mubarak, in his speech on Mar Maroun Day, thanked the Lebanese government for releasing its statement on the Alexandria Protocol and against Sham’oun’s claims. When French forces were bombing Syria, suspicions arose in the Syrian public that the Lebanese secretly approved of the military action and were even choosing to ally with France instead of Syria.[27] The Lebanese foreign minister had to release a statement emphasizing their alliance with the Syrian people, and that the Lebanese government had to restrain citizens from protesting against France in order to maintain greater peace. Lebanon also publicized its aid to Syria including monetary donations, firefighting units, and medical supplies. During this time period, Syria and Lebanon also worked together in gaining international support for foreign troop withdrawal from both countries.[28] The economic alliance between Syria and Lebanon against France ended with the division of the country’s finances in 1948.[29]

However, since 1942, Syria indirectly refused to accept the separation since the two countries became independent of each other.[30]

Lebanese Civil War and the Syrian occupation of Lebanon[edit]

According to historians William Cleveland and Martin Bunton, Beirut became an international banking center because of its “laissez-faire economic system”.[31] Business owners from Cairo, Damascus, and Baghdad moved to Beirut for economic opportunities. Despite Lebanon’s cultural liberalism and economic prosperity, sectarian tensions remained as citizens identified themselves through their sects. With Muslims calling for greater representation and with Cold War tensions, Lebanese leadership had to decide whether to ally with the West or with Egypt, Syria and its Arab history.[32] Christians wanted to continue alliances with the West but Muslims were drawn to Nasser’s pan-Arabism. Multiple factors including sectarian tensions and Palestinian refugee settlement in southern Lebanon contributed to the beginnings of the Lebanese Civil War.[33] In 1976, Syrian President Hafez al-Assad sent troops into Lebanon to fight PLO forces on behalf of Christian militias. This led to escalated fighting until a cease-fire agreement later that year that allowed for the stationing of Syrian troops within Lebanon. The Syrian presence in Lebanon quickly changed sides; soon after they entered Lebanon they had flip-flopped and began to fight the Christian nationalists in Lebanon they allegedly entered the country to protect. The Kateab Party and The Lebanese Forces under Bachir Gemayel strongly resisted the Syrians in Lebanon. Following the Israeli invasion into Lebanon in 1982, new Lebanese President Amin Gemayel sought the support of Syrian troops to stabilize the region. Syria fought Israeli troops after the latter's invasion of Lebanon.

In 1989, 40,000 Syrian troops remained in central and eastern Lebanon under the supervision of the Syrian government.[34] The Taif Accord, established in the same year, called for the removal of Syrian troops and transfer of arms to the Lebanese army. Syrian troops would supervise this transfer and militias would also transfer their arms to the Lebanese army. General Michel Aoun, appointed as acting Prime Minister by Gemayon, sought independence from Syrian forces at all costs. Aoun led attacks against Syrian troops that resulted in heavy civilian casualties. While he was Maronite Christian, Aoun's expeditions led Christian militias to fight against Aoun’s troops. The fighting ended with Syrian troops' “all-out attack” on Aoun’s forces and bases.[35] With the placement of a more pro-Syria leadership in the Lebanese government, Syrian troops began to follow the Taif Accord which called for an Arab Deterrent Force to maintain peace. However, Syrian troops made the majority of the Arab Deterrent Force and Lebanese citizens felt that their country had lost its sovereignty.[36] Full withdrawal of Syrian troops though happened in 2005; Syrian President al-Assad had hoped to impose his power over Lebanon, Jordan, and the PLO.[37] However, his involvement in the Lebanese Civil War carried a negative impact on his leadership; Syrian citizens questioned his decisions. According to Naomi Joy Winberger, “After years of intervention and subsequent occupation, Syria suffered reduced stature in each domain [international and regional political standing]”.[38]

Contemporary Relations[edit]

Syrian workers in north Lebanon, 2005

The 2005 assassination of Rafic Hariri and 21 others led to suspicions that the Syrian government played a role with his death because of Hariri’s opposition to Syrian intervention in Lebanese politics.[39] As Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hariri pursued reconstruction of Lebanon following the aftermath of the Lebanese Civil War. In 1998 he resigned but returned in 2000, expanding the tourism industry. His reconstruction efforts gained international praise for rebuilding Beirut and the country. However, he also gained his critics for government corruption and increasing the country’s debt. In 2004, his resignation was attributed to his protest of Syrian intervention in Lebanese politics. At any rate, in 2005, his assassination led to mass protests for Syrian withdrawal of troops from Lebanon. The Syrian government denied any involvement of Syrian leaders in Hariri’s death but scheduled final withdrawal by April 30, 2005.[40] In 2007, the United Nations Security Council established the Hariri tribunal to investigate the deaths of Hariri and 21 others.[41] At first, the tribunal incriminated several Syrian security officials. However, investigations later pointed to Hezbollah members. Like the Syrian government, Hezbollah denies any involvement in the deaths of Hariri and others. They instead blame the assassination on an Israeli plot, even providing evidence. There are concerns that revealing the truth of who assassinated Hariri might lead to regional instability.[42]

Tensions between Lebanon and Syria were reflected even in pop culture; when Lebanese singer Fairuz sang in Syria’s capital Damascus, several Lebanese politicians and citizens criticized her decision.[43] Fairuz responded that Damascus was a cultural center that “will remain a role model of art, culture and authenticity for the coming generations”.[43]

At a meeting in Paris during the first Summit of the Union for the Mediterranean, the new President of Lebanon, Michel Sleiman, and Syria's President, Bashar al-Assad, agreed to establish diplomatic relations and to open a new page in the relations between the two countries. On 13 August 2008, the diplomatic relations were established between the two countries.[30][44] In December 2008, the Syrian Embassy was opened in Beirut for the first time since both countries gained their independence during the 1940s. In March 2009, Lebanon opened its embassy in Damascus. On 19 December 2009, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri visited Syria, and stayed in Damascus for 3 days of meetings with President Bashar Al-Assad.

During fighting in Syria against the al-Assad government, clashes spilled into Tripoli, Lebanon in February 2012.[45] Pro-Syrian forces fought against opposition to the al-Assad presidency in the Bab al-Tabbaneh, Jabal Mohsen clashes, leading to the deaths of three people and more injuries. Tripoli has a majority Sunni Muslim population but also secular pro-Assad Alawites. One Sunni cleric alleged that the Syrian president sent forces into Tripoli to introduce unrest within the region. March 2012 discussions on the national level include concerns that toppling the al-Assad regime would result in regional instability for Lebanon and Iraq.[46] There are already an estimated 20,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon while Syria demands Lebanese search for Free Syria Army members hiding along the border.[47] The influx of Syrian refugees has increased local tensions between sects in Lebanon. In November 2011, the Syrian army had installed landmines along the border to prevent people from fleeing into Lebanon. Gulf states have offered Syrian rebels $100 million to pay salaries and the United States is providing communications equipment. The rebellions and Syrian government response have killed thousands of Syrians.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Ten steps to Syria-Lebanon ties BBC News
  2. ^ a b Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  3. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  4. ^ Quataert, Donald (2006). The Ottoman Empire, 1700 - 1922 (2. ed., repr. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 69. ISBN 978-0-521-54782-6. 
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  6. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 163. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  7. ^ a b Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed. ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 218. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  8. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed. ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 219. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  9. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 225. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  10. ^ Thompson, Elizabeth (2000). Colonial citizens : republican rights, paternal privilege, and gender in French Syria and Lebanon. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 50. ISBN 0-231-10660-2. 
  11. ^ Thompson, Elizabeth (2000). Colonial citizens : republican rights, paternal privilege, and gender in French Syria and Lebanon. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 51. ISBN 0-231-10660-2. 
  12. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed. ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 227. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  13. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed. ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 234. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  14. ^ Chaitani, Youssef (2006). Post-colonial Syria and Lebanon: the decline of Arab nationalism and the triumph of the state (Reprinted. ed.). London: I.B. Tauris. p. 1. ISBN 9781845112943. 
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  17. ^ Quataert, Donald (2006). The Ottoman Empire, 1700 - 1922 (2. ed., repr. ed.). Cambridge [u.a.]: Cambridge Univ. Press. p. 192. ISBN 978-0-521-54782-6. 
  18. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed. ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 229. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  19. ^ Cleveland, William L. (2009). A history of the modern Middle East (4th ed. ed.). Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press. p. 237. ISBN 978-0-8133-4374-7. 
  20. ^ Traboulsi, Fawwaz (2007). A history of modern Lebanon (1. publ. ed.). London: Pluto Press. p. 107. ISBN 978-0-7453-2438-8. 
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  23. ^ Chaitani, Youssef (2006). Post-colonial Syria and Lebanon : the decline of Arab nationalism and the triumph of the state (Reprinted. ed.). London: I.B. Tauris. p. 21. ISBN 9781845112943. 
  24. ^ Chaitani, Youssef (2006). Post-colonial Syria and Lebanon : the decline of Arab nationalism and the triumph of the state (Reprinted. ed.). London: I.B. Tauris. p. 23. ISBN 9781845112943. 
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  43. ^ a b Sinjab, Lina (7 February 2008). "Lebanese diva opens Syrian hearts". Retrieved 8 April 2012. 
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  47. ^ Alami, Mona (March 2012). "Tensions mount on Syria-Lebanon border". Retrieved 8 April 2012.