history of Lebanon

history of Lebanon

Lebanon, like the other Levantine (Palestine, Israel, Jordan, Syria) states, is located in the heart of what is commonly referred to as the cradle of civilization. This is the area where the first non-nomadic communities emerged. Throughout history, Lebanon has been home to several significant cultures and has served as an important hub connecting the east and west. Phoenicia arose in what is now known as Lebanon around 1500 BCE. The Phoenicians made great contributions to art and culture, most notably the development of the first alphabet. By 539 BCE Phoenicia came under Persian rule and the Phoenicians began losing their influence in the region. With the arrival and spread of Islam in the 7th century CE, Lebanon came under rule of the Muslim empires. After centuries of competition by various empires, the Ottoman Empire gained control in 1516 CE.

During World War I, the Ottoman Empire aligned with the Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Bulgaria. The Allied Powers (France, Britain, Russia, and United States) supported Arab uprisings against the Ottomans throughout the empire that would ultimately lead to its weakening and complete dissolution. Throughout the war and after the victory by the Allied Powers, a series of private agreements resulted in the division of the area into sovereign states with mandate rulers.

In 1915, the High Commissioner of Egypt, Sir Henry McMahon, engaged in secret correspondence with Hussein Bin Ali, the Sharif of Hejaz and Mecca. Sharif is a title meaning noble that is conferred upon descendants of the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson, Hassan Ibn Ali. McMahon agreed to Great Britain’s eventual recognition and support of an Arab state whose boundaries would be determined by Hussein. These exchanges, now known as the Hussein-McMahon Correspondence (or, alternately, as the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence) lasted from July 14, 1915 to January 30, 1916. In exchange for Arab support of the war efforts through revolts against the Ottomans, the British would recognize Arab independence. This commitment, however, was not honored.

Meanwhile, also in 1915, British parliamentarian, Sir Mark Sykes, and a French diplomat, Francois Georges-Picot, looking toward a collapsed Ottoman Empire, carved up the Middle East into hypothetical spheres of influence under either British or French control. The Sykes-Picot agreement, drafted in secret unbeknownst to other politicians or world leaders, would give the northern part of the Middle East, consisting of Christian enclaves in Syria and Lebanon to France, while Great Britain would have authority over southern territory including Palestine and Iraq.

In 1917, however, British Foreign Minister Arthur James Balfour promised the Zionist Federation of Great Britain “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” The Balfour Declaration of a homeland for the Jewish Diaspora in what was believed to be a preemptory concession to the United States’ President Woodrow Wilson whose support for Arab independence was at odds with the Sykes-Picot redesign of the Middle East.

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