Political comment, Syrian history

19th century colonisation: the Syrian empire, the plight of the Christians cont., mandates, elections and all

The tribes

A point of information! In the last entry I described how Britain allied with the Turkish sultan to drive Ibrahim Pasha and his Egyptian army from Syria. I just want to point out, that through a large part of the 1830s Britain had enjoyed an extremely lucrative relationship, with said emir; both in Syria and Egypt, where plans for the Suez canal took shape.

I can only conclude, that the historians are correct, when they write, that Britain’s grievance was with the French, rather than the Pashas. By this time Ibrahim Pasha was unpopular due to the increases in taxes, required to improve Syria’s infrastructure and I dare say financial future.

I will write more about the trading, which took place in the region later. For now it is good to carry on with an overview of the ”tribes” (named as such cos Syria was pretty feudal in the 1800s). Judging from its parliamentary system, Lebanon remains so even now.

Just a quick reminder, that Syria included Palestine and Lebanon in the 1800s. Some of the place names referred to in the blog are now in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine or, where the west refers to as Israel and where I refer to as the Israeli bit of Palestine.

Adversity and friendship

As I said in the last entry, there is a long history of retaliation between the Christians and Muslims in Syria, though this is not straight forward. I just discovered the journal of George Robinson, written between 1837 and 1844, as he travelled through Syria, he writes, how, when necessary the Druze children attended Maronite schools.

It is glaring, that much of the sectarianism stems from poverty and outside interference, both in the 1800s and previously; as from religion. Mr. Robinson met Ibrahim Pasha and spent time in Deir al Qamar. He travelled from there to Beirut and describes the beauty of the region, the quality of the air and the view from the Mediterranean.

Christian orthodoxy

The last entry focused on the Druze and Maronites but they were not the only social groupings in the country, their importance stems from attempts to control Mount Lebanon. David Rodogno gives an account of the different people, who occupied Mount Lebanon during the period; their numbers include Greek orthodox Christians.

The ”Greek war of independence” against the Ottomans, in the 1820s and 1830s, no doubt brought back memories of past struggles for the Greek orthodox population of Syria.

The Byzantium (or late Roman) period saw many changes throughout Europe and the advent of Christianity brought its own divisions, as people split from the church of Rome. The Byzantines had colonised parts of Syria and Turkey, including Aleppo and Constantinople (now Istanbul). in 969 ad.

As Christianity took hold people adopted various faiths. H.E.Baynes, in his book about Byzantium, describes the Syrian born Deacon Romanus ”the Melode” a poet, who wrote beautiful hymns, spoiled only by an ”excess of eloquence”. I write this only to show life was not all doom and gloom but rather a cultural exchange.

Back to reality

Mr. Rodogno writes, how during the war between the Maronites and Druze in 1860, other Christians fearing for their lives, fled to other parts of Syria or left the country. He describes, the looting and burning of property and how many, including Greek orthodox, arrived at Damascus, inspiring a backlash by the population there.

Eventually there were international talks, as to whether the French should send in troops. This would have resulted in more bloodshed as they overtly supported the Maronites as the British and the Turkish portes (governments) supported the Druzes. Fortunately for both sides, the Ottomans brought about a peace treatybut the political games continued. Luckily the peace treaty (such as it was), remained in tact for a time.

Election news from Lebanon

I just took a quick look, on wikipedia, at the list of presidents and prime ministers, that have governed Lebanon, since the mandates, after the 1914-1918 war and since they began to vote. The president is usually Christian and the prime minister Muslim (Sunni).

At the moment the Lebanese administration is attempting to elect a new president. The process began in April and ground to a halt, as the administration cannot agree on a replacement. Apparently all the religious groups have a say as to who should be president; a political minefield.

Looking at the list of past presidents, which include Protestants, though they are mainly Catholic Maronites, from powerful families. During the mandates, the prime minister was often Maronite and the president French. I can see why the decision is hard, as former presidents appear to be quite diverse in their allegiances and their aspirations; their Christian base appears to be secondary to their politics.

Since they have been mentioned, it is worth giving a quick overview of the mandates. The Sykes-Picot agreement divided the Syrian empire between France and Britain, whereby the former got Lebanon and Syria and parts of Turkey. The latter got Palestine, Iraq and a  part of Jordan. Iraq and the Turkish region were not part of  Syria, by this time. Now Syria is the size of Scotland and I believe Lebanon is only a little bigger than London.

I did notice a picture of the Saudi ambassador with the Maronite Patriarch. If Saudi is softening in its relations with Iran and vice-versa, then we may have a bit of peace. Why don’t they all go off and join the new currency, that is on the cards? All in all Islam’s (and I mean governments’) fear of communism is probably outweighed by its fear of losing its bucks (or roubles, ha ha)

Politics

Was Mr Cameron attempting to match Mr Blair, when he spoke out against the Egyptian Brotherhood? The brotherhood, that actually won an election and were ousted forcibly. A strange choice for a so-called believer in democracy. Mr Blair certainly won that round as he defended Russia’s stance on religious extremism. Could he be buttering up the enemy to cut a deal around the new currency??? Watch this space.

I attended a political talk on ”The Crisis In Capitalism”, on Thursday, which was also a book signing by the author Dan Glazebrook. He cited a ”hit list”, drawn up by the CIA, some years ago, which included Syria and Lebanon. During the discussion I rejected the view, that Lebanon was a target, due to the fact,  it was a tax haven, in the 1960s and that the Christian population is extremely wealthy, suggesting their funding might come from overseas.

Mr Glazebrook’s premise was, that Britain (USA if you prefer the name of the ”boot boy”), wanted rid of Hizb’allah (no doubt about that). As a political force, they are the main Lebanese faction to stand against the Israelis. I believe the party was formed for that purpose; I read this in an article in ”New Worker”, written by a Muslim woman and communist, who suggested they did well as political representatives in South Lebanon.

The view was not contradicted by a recent edition of ”From Our Own Correspondent” on BBC radio 4, which had, some years ago suggested, that Christians in the region often vote for Hizb’allah because they are organised, as a local government.

There is, of course, the issue of their radicalism and when I visit Lebanon next, I will attempt to find out, how they are regarded by the more moderate Shia population. Hizb’allah is backed by Iran, which as a country is the obsession of the British left, not to mention the British government.

When I wrote the reminder above, about Syria including Lebanon in the 1800s, I realised it is Britain’s worse nightmare, that the two countries unite. After all Britain and its cohorts went to great lengths to divide them in the first place.

In a way the presence of Syrian troops stationed in the 1980s, kept Lebanon united and when President Bashir Assad withdrew them in 2005,  it began to fall apart, as the fighting began in Tripoli and continues to this day. I suspect President Hafez had a strong sense of empire and saw them as one country and rightly or wrongly, acted accordingly.

No to NATO!!

There will be a NATO summit held in Newport and Wales is none to pleased. We plan to oppose this debacle. If you are interested see www.nonatonewport.org for further info.

 

 

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