Lebanon marks 100 years in turmoil

Video Credit: Reuters - Politics
Published on August 27, 2020 - Duration: 07:24s

Lebanon marks 100 years in turmoil

The deadly Beirut port blast on August 4 this year set the tone for a subdued 100 year anniversary for the state of Lebanon.

Megan Revell looks back at a century of hope and despair.


Lebanon marks 100 years in turmoil

Greater Lebanon was established in September 1920 in a post-war redrawing of Middle Eastern borders.

[Assistant Professor Nadya Sbaiti from the American University of Beirut, saying:] "So, historians often locate the sort of problematic origins if you will to Lebanon's political system at various points some of them will point to 1920 and the construction of Greater Lebanon being carved in a particular way out of Syria." [Salah Tizani, one of Lebanon's first TV celebrities, saying:] "There were people who went to bed one day thinking they were Syrians or Ottomans, and the next day they woke up to find themselves in the Lebanese state.

They asked what was this?

A Lebanese state?

We don't want that." United on the surface, deep divisions rumbled below.

[Newsreel, reporter saying:] "Crowds in the streets of Beirut seem to be born on a wave of a cheerful enthusiasm which contrasts sadly with reports of riots in unrest in the Lebanese capital." [Assistant Professor Amine Elias from the Lebanese University, saying:] "In 1943, the Lebanese were convinced that they could be now an independent nation.

This is behind or this is the reason why they protested against the French mandate in the streets." [Newsreel, reporter saying:] "...Following the dispute that arose between the Lebanese government and the French committee of national liberation in Algiers.

The streets were deserted around the Lebanese parliament buildings, closed by order of the fighting French authorities.

A strong guard of French colonial troops was posted outside to quell possible disturbances.

Following the decree which made General (Charles) De Gaulle the sole political head of the fighting French empire, the Lebanon president and his government found themselves popped in jail." [Nayla Hamadeh, President of the Lebanese Association for History, saying:] "What happened in 1943 was that compromise where the Maronites accepted the Muslims as partners and that they will have also power especially the Sunnis, and the Sunnis especially the factions that were asking for going back to the idea of Syria and Lebanon - they accepted to follow the Riad al-Solh and this wave, this movement, that agreed to shake the hands of the Christians and to make a partnership." The post-independence years brought signs of promise.

[Hayyan Haidar is the son of government minister Salim Haidar, saying:] "In 1953, my father was an ambassador and he was called in 1952 to become a minister.

In 1953, he wrote the first anti-corruption law, 1953.

// I remember at the beginning of 1953 he activated the law with his government and the parliament of that time they issued the law to give women the right to vote and be elected." [Nadya Sbaiti, saying]: "The 1960s as a decade in Lebanese history is most often discussed or most famous for being termed the golden age of Lebanese history." [Nidal Al-Achkar, actor and director, saying]: "Beside people coming from the West, you had people coming from all over the Arab world, from Iraq, from Jordan, from Syria, from Palestine meeting in these cafes, living here, feeling free." [Nadya Sbaiti, saying]: "So, the other side of the 1960s is not just Hollywood actors and Baalbeck festivals, but includes guerrilla training in rural parts of the country." Lebanon was also suffering the aftershocks of Israel’s creation, which sent some 100,000 Palestinian refugees over the border.

In 1968, Israeli commandoes attacked Beirut airport, after an attack on an Israeli plane by a Lebanon-based Palestinian group.

Lebanon’s brewing troubles were also reflected in its art.

[Nidal Al-Achkar, actor and director, saying]: "In our activity as artists, as you know theater makers, all our plays were pointing to a catastrophe (...) We felt that it was coming the war." [Nadya Sbaiti, saying] "So, it is important to understand that for every time that we talk about Lebanon's golden age of the 1960s there are the rumblings underground about what would be the social and economic inequalities which would provide a fertile soil for the conflict in the 1970s for the Lebanese civil war in other words." Civil war began in 1975, initially between Christian militias and Palestinian groups and their Lebanese allies.

The United States, Russia and Syria were drawn in.

Israel invaded twice and occupied Beirut in 1982.

Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted.

The guns fell silent in 1990… with some 150,000 dead.

[Nidal Al-Achkar, actor and director, saying]: "Why did this war happen?

What happened?

How are we going to start again?

We don't know.

We had this man coming from Saudi, to Syria, to Lebanon, and rebuilding Lebanon using the same people, the same warlords… the same… but they changed their costumes." In the post-war period, Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri took the lead in Beirut’s reconstruction.

[Newsreel, reporter saying:] "Throughout 15 years of civil war, Beirut conjured up images of destruction.

The center of the city, the frontline where Christian fought Muslim was reduced to rubble.

Now, three years after the war ended, Lebanon is about to start rebuilding the devastated centre.

// It's billed as the world's biggest urban redevelopment project of the 1990s." [Nayla Hamadeh, President of the Lebanese Association for History, saying:] "What happened is they imposed amnesia on us.

Prime Minister Hariri was one of those who advanced this idea: Let's not keep remembering.

Let's forget and move (on)." Old fault lines persisted and new ones emerged.

Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims fell out following the 2005 assassination of Hariri.

The last 15 years have been punctuated by political slayings… a war between Hezbollah and Israel … and a brush with civil conflict in 2008.

[Nidal Al-Achkar, actor and director, saying]: "You live between a war and another, and you rebuild and then everything is destroyed and then you rebuild again.

It is not fun, that is why I lost hope." On August 4, Beirut suffered its latest ordeal when a port explosion killed some 180 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed a swathe of the city.

It triggered new reflection on Lebanon’s troubled past and concerns for the future.

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Nidal Al Achkar

Lebanese actress and theater director


religious group in Levant

Salah Tizani

Lebanese actor, comedian

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