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The Shihâbî Amîrs of Lebanon, 1697-1842 AD

The Shihâbî Amîrs
of Lebanon
Bashîr I1697-1707
first Maronite Amîr, 1770
Bashîr II1788-1840
overthrown by Britain
& Turkey, 1840
Bashîr III1840-1842
direct Turkish Rule, 1842-1918;
French Rule, 1920-1943
Republic of Lebanon
Bishara al-KhuriPresident,
Camille Chamoun1952-1958
Fuad Chehab1958-1964
Charles Hélou1964-1970
Sulayman Franjieh1970-1976
Elias Sarkis1976-1982
Amin Gemayel1982-1988
Selim al-Huss1988-1989
Elias Hrawi1989-1998
Émile Lahoud1998-present
The Golden Age of Lebanon is considered by many to have come in the reign of the Amîr Bashîr II Shihâbî. The Shihâbîs were originally Sunnî Moslems, but they came to rule an area dominated by the Druzes, practioners of a religious off-shoot of Islâm and regarded by many Moslems as apostates from Islâm. When the Amîrs themselves converted to Maronite Christianity, this effected an alliance, sometimes uneasy, between the largest communities in Lebanon, the Maronites and the Druzes. Still symbolic of the success of this alliance and the prosperity of the period is the beautiful Bayt ad-Dîn (or Beit ed-Din, "House of Religion") Palace, begun by Bashîr II in 1788 and not completed for 30 years. Unfortunately, Bashîr II moved to consolidate his power through an alliance with Muhammad 'Alî of Egypt. This would have been an excellent strategy were it not for the intervention of Britain to drive the Egyptians out of Syria and restore Ottoman authority. Bashîr II was deposed in the process. The influence of France, especially, to protect the Christians in Lebanon, however, was not exerted successfully to preserve Lebanese autonomy, and tended to alienate the non-Christians anyway. After Lebanese independence from France itself in 1946, Bayt ad-Dîn became a residence for the President of the Republic. For many years Lebanon prospered as the "Switzerland of the Middle East," and Beirut as the "Paris of the Middle East"; but by the 1970's the communal differences that had been a source of strength when the communities needed to unite against outside persecution began to be a source of weakness, as sometimes had happened before, when the communities fell out among themselves and the issue came to be the distribution of political privileges and patronage to each "confessional" community. Things were particularly destablized by the large number of Palestinian refugees, who had no political standing in Lebanon at all, and whose activities against Israel drew Israeli retaliation on Lebanon. Since the Maronites were politically and economically dominant, everyone united against them and full civil war broke out in 1975. This ended up bringing the Syrians into Lebanon in 1976. The Druzes, and much of the anti-Maronite cause, were led by the charismatic Kamal Jumblatt, whose assassination in 1977, widely rumored to have been ordered by the Syrians, symbolically ended the first phase of the Lebanese "troubles." The shakeup of the civil war then brought to the surface something new:  The Shi'ite community, always the poor relation in Lebanese politics, predominant in the South and in the Beka'a Valley (areas originally peripheral to Mount Lebanon), had not only quietly grown into the largest community in Lebanon but now was throughly radicalized and activized, in a natural alliance with the Palestinians, and, ominously, with the more distant Shi'ite coreligionists, the Iranian Islâmic Revolutionaries.
The Israelis, who invaded Lebanon in 1982 to get rid of the Palestinians, more or less accomplished that task, with the PLO leaving for Tunisia, but then discovered, as the Syrians had already, that the communal rivalries of the Lebanese themselves, especially with the Shi'tes adopting Iranian suicide and terror tactics, made the place a tar baby for any outsiders who wanted to exert control by force. With the foreign powers chasened, the Lebanese began to patch things up with some needed political compromises; and as the 1990's progressed, some peace and prosperity seemed to be returning to the country. It remains to be seen, however, if a modus vivendi can be found to produce another golden age of communal alliance against the outside.

Maronite Patriarchs of Lebanon


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