Adonis Diaries

Rainbow over the Levant (continue)

Posted on: October 5, 2008

Chapter 5: The new regime (1375-1381)

A week after the success of the insurgency, Antoun gathered his warriors for a day meeting in order to discuss the implementation of agreements and the pact they signed on together. Legal, land, security and political committees were formed to recommend adjustment to grievances, recovering of lost properties and the right of return to the outlaws who wished to come back to their hometown or monetary reward to those preferring to remain in the mountains. It was also decided that the initial core of leaders and committee members would meet weekly as de facto government members for the first three months.

The most critical danger was the constant pressure on Antoun from the insurgents demanding to demobilize the current force of law and order of the ancient regime; the leader begged to differ and regarded the dismantlement of this internal security institution an appeal to chaos and a preparation from the disillusioned citizens to bloodshed.  The committee for security headed by Hanna Al Najjar maintained the former security force in place, raised the allowances of those who served with dedication and brought to court a few of those who committed grievous blemishes and blatant uncivil behavior.

Hanna established security centers in many corners of the county with duties to rescue the helpless, downtrodden and remotely isolated citizens.  His forces toured the streets at night in formal dresses and rushed at appeals of distress or warning dangers; order was to be installed and all citizens, nobles or poor, had to refrain from the use of physical force throughout the land.


Concentration villages

The temporary government hurriedly gathered the toppled Emirs and powerful landlords into two concentration villages far from the Capital Mtein and within the outlaws’ regions: all the Emirs and first level feudal lords were gathered in one tiny remote town under development in the high altitude, the second class of feudal lords and relatives of Emirs in another camping ground a mile to the main security garrison.  These special towns were in reality detention camps with few accesses, closely guarded, and had very limited communication with the outside world.  The two communities were allotted enough lands to cultivate and survive without much intervention from the outside and were allowed to govern themselves.  

Antoun believed that he was familiar with the basic psychology of the so-called noblemen and the differences among the first class and second class feudal nobles; he knew that the Emirs will not attempt to flee the town where they were incarcerated and will wait until they are freed with due honors as long as enough food are provided within a comfort level.  As for the second class nobles he directed the officer of the security garrison to perform routine visits to the camp and harshly punish any disobedience to regulations and even to put to public trials the most virulent elements among them; in fact, two feudal noblemen with minor influence were decapitated and peace was restored for a long time in that camp.

Antoun’s decision not to execute any of his former nemesis was founded mainly on the realization that the balance of power might require judicious use of a few of these former lords in order to maintain his grip on power; he also chiefly wished to relying on the internal feuds that these close quarters might generate among their honorable inhabitants. The main reason he offered for the leaders of the insurgency not to physically harm their captives were that “our mountain counties are not familiar with internal massacres which might upset the inhabitants and hinder their cooperation, especially that they represented important families in major towns.”  Indeed, Antoun looked favorably, in the first three months, on the requests of a few traders, dignitaries, and personalities to pay short visits to the sequestered noblemen in order to allay their fears and confirm his assurances for their safety and security.  Barhoum Bey was not spared confinement but was treated equally as honorably as his inferior colleagues in ranks.

Undercover agents were sent to these concentration camps and Noura was one of them with the avowed purpose to cure and care for the sick.  She paid them biweekly visits carrying her meager load of different herbs on an old mule and stayed overnight in each encampment. Noura empathized with the camp conditions of the less fortunate landlords who were reduced to practical slavery by the more influential Emirs through moral obligations by the old order.  These discontented noble men were a boon to Noura who gathered all the intelligence she needed on the social conditions and political upheaval emerging among these closed communities.

Another undercover agent was Gergis the middleman; he was a fixture in these confined communities given that he was granted the sole permit to organizing caravans for selling and trading goods and information.  This exclusive business grant offered Gergis the break for riches with the cooperation of Haim and a restricted select, now legitimate, contraband leaders associated with Antoun’s past activities.


Yasmine moves to Mtein

Yasmine received a secret messenger in Beirut the next day of the insurgents’ victory. Her father’s face turned ashen and instantly lost courage and hope in a peaceful end for him and his family and cursed the moment of weakness he wed his daughter to that adventurer. Yasmine eventually recognized the danger the family was in after the drastic changes in her father’s demeanor and she almost miscarried from fright.  The messenger decided to delay the delivery of his other message for another day and which was for Yasmine to travel immediately to Mtein so that the mountain people could get to acknowledge her as the new First Lady.

This coastal city sedentary family had deformed opinions and prejudices about the mountain residents and a feeling of rebellion swept Yasmine: she never dreamt of being ordered to be displaced to cold areas and rough social customs.  Life was not looking as happy and as peaceful as Yasmine had contemplated it and Antoun had to keep away from home as long and as frequently as possible for months until his wife acclimatized to her surroundings.

The confinement of the old political elite gave the region a reprieve from fear of persecution and of retaliation by uniting ever further behind the new leaders and allowed the new regime to instruct the people on its new views, values, equality to the laws of the land, justice and a one step higher level of democracy in running society through rudimentary municipal elections.


Initial skirmishes

Many noblemen from the Metn managed to escape capture and sought refuge in the neighboring counties and put the squeeze on their respective Emirs to avenge their trampled honors and reclaim their feudal rights. In the beginning, the neighboring northern hostile Emirs lent financial credit to the displaced noblemen who had mortgaged their properties in the Metn and hastily and individually gathered their cavalry of noblemen to quickly quell these so-called ragtag insurgents and regain their tarnished honors.  The initial hostilities were directed by the closest Emirates of the Kesrouan and Byblos districts in the north but the Chouf district in the south kept quiet simply because the Druze sect was enfeebled and had not yet transformed its society into a cohesive political entity.  As a minority in Mount Lebanon, the Druze viewed with favor the insurrection in the Metn but did not support it outright in order not to bring down the wrath of the Sultan of Egypt or his Viceroys in Tripoli or Damascus on themselves in the event the revolution was squelched.

The feudal forces were too hasty, disorganized and terribly misinformed on the war tactics and determination of their foes.  Antoun’s small voluntary army decimated his hotheaded enemies of noblemen in separate combats and cut them in sizes relying on its familiarity with the terrain, flexibility, archery and speed of movements.   The insurgents in power preempted the coordinated attacks by low level guerillas skirmishes choosing the strategy of time on their side as the best weapon: their foes could not endure a protracted fight because most of the cavalries were noblemen who could not afford long hardships and waging dirty wars not in their style.  

The former outlaws had strong links to other outlaws from these northern regions and intelligence on enemies’ movements was timely and accurate. Two dozens of outlaws were usually dispatched to harass the rears of the enemies’ troops only in night raids. The tactics were to fight a war where the attackers are never seen:  casualties were evacuated and by dawn the only reality was the dead and injured enemy soldiers.  The enemy was under the impression of fighting ghosts and moral would plunge.  By the time the main body of the enemy army crossed the Metn boundaries then Antoun’s forces launched limited frontal attacks in familiar territories aimed at the weak flanks.  The surprise deep incursions into hostile territories, one at a time, terrified Emirs into withdrawing from coalitions.  They separately folded back to more secure areas and settled into individual peace agreements with the new and hated province. The hostile Emirs had to quiet down and coordinate their war activities.

The main danger would be the refusal of the more powerful neighboring kingdoms to accept a usurped land from a legitimate traditional Emir family.  The leaders of the insurgency learned from experience the rules of real politics.  They had an analogy to the animal world: If you are a minor player among wolves then the best strategy is to make yourself scares.  If you are ever noticed by wolves then hide your traces. If your tracks are discovered, then let your acts prove that you are a lousy scavenger. If your behaviors are not convincing, then leave plenty of food for the wolves and bid time until the wolves weaken, fight among themselves, or flee the area to make room for a more powerful carnivore. While the wolves are leaving, then prepare yourself for the new changing environment and adapt accordingly.

Antoun then realized that the stability for his Emirate will never be over until he reaches an understanding with the more powerful Viceroy of Tripoli.  Generally, the powerful coastal kingdoms didn’t care that much about the rivalries in the mountain areas, which were self ruling, as long as whoever was in power paid the requisite tributes for the central power in Egypt at that period.


Armistice

The insurgents were two steps ahead of the neighboring Emirs.  Antoun had instructed Mustafa to strike deals with the contraband leaders in Beirutt and Sidon for supplies in weapons and clothing items. While the Emirs could afford to pay cash for their requirements, Antoun would agree to receive on consignment only 35% of what the Emirs paid for in cash until the new regime has consolidated its hold on power. The contraband leaders could not refuse Antoun’s deal because they were apprehensive of the great damage he could do to their business if antagonized while they were making excellent profit from this war that might drag on for years.

The Emir of Kesrouan sent secret emissaries to Antoun for an armistice which prompted the leader to convene his inner circle of counselors for an urgent meeting. Hanna Najjar, Miriam, Noura, Gergis, and Mustafa assembled around their leader along with a few undercover agents.  Antoun opened the conference and said: “There are indications that the Emir of Kesrouan is ready to deal with us on fair terms and I need your feedback.  Shall we negotiate an armistice or do you have any contrary intelligence as to the seriousness of his sincerity?”  Gergis replied: “The Emir of Kesrouan is in touch with the Viceroy of Tripoli and he has been sending valuable gifts and asking in return for material supports, especially horses and mercenaries”  Mustafa added:  “We need to make haste and contact the Viceroy of Tripoli.  He wants money and promises that order be secured to please his Master in Egypt.  We have to figure out how much money we can save to please his greed in return for political support.”  Hanna said: “While we are in contact with the Viceroy of Tripoli we have to win a definitive battle inside Kesrouan because this Emir is in disarray and negotiating for time”.  Gergis offered a suggestion saying: “We might promise the Viceroy of Tripoli a gift of five percent over the regular tribute once an armistice is struck with the Emir of Kesrouan.  In the meantime, I agree with Hanna that we need to deal with the Emir from a much stronger position if an armistice is to last and allow us to organize our society and our army”.  Noura said: ” I have solid referrals among a few highly placed nobles in the court of the Viceroy and I volunteer to connect you with his Excellency”

The negotiations with the Emir of Kesrouan were underway and starting smoothly but for the sticky clause asking for the repatriation of the noble fugitives in Kesrouan to Metn that was blocking any agreement.  In fact, the sudden counter proposal that the captive noblemen in Metn should instead be freed and transferred to Kesrouan made it plain the imminent resurgence of hostilities.  A month later, Antoun entered Ghazir, the Capital of Kesrouan.  The conditions for an armistice with the Emir of Kesrouan were harsh.  Antoun’s administration was to be the sole collector of tributes and taxes according to the tax laws adopted in the Metn and they would establish military garrisons in return for the Emir to keep nominal administration in his Capital Ghazir and form his own body guards of noblemen. Negotiations with the powerful family clans in the Chouf facilitated the free movements of men and goods without any taxes on the trades between the two counties and an implicit political cooperation.

Two years later, severe natural calamities befell the whole region.  Rainfall was two third the average in Mount Lebanon and almost half inland while waves of locusts ravaged the crops.  The inhabitants were hard hit in their livelihood and convoys of wheat and cereal from Syria and the Bekaa Valley were reduced to a trickle. The Sultan of Egypt decided nevertheless to increase the tribute to be levied in the Levant at this frustrating period.  The Chouf district could not afford this increase by its archaic tax system.  A revolt was underway and Antoun feared that any Mameluk military expedition in the Chouf might open the gate to reprisals into other Mount Lebanon counties and would undermine their self administration status.  The young government in the Metn hustled and turned calamities into opportunities.  Gergis shifted into frantic diplomatic endeavors to ward off further aggravation and convinced Antoun to agree paying off the additional charges levied on the Chouf in return for the Metn administration to take over the collection of taxes. The three main feudal families of Jumblat, Erslan and Nakad were to be spared taxes in the domains of their residency and the tax collectors would be mostly Chouf’s residents and supervised by servicemen in the ministry of the treasury.  At this period, hordes of Maronite families emigrated from the north to Metn and Chouf and worked the land as expert hard working daily laborers and masons. 

It was in that period that ingenious irrigation projects took hold.  In Mount Lebanon the small rivers crossed the land from the western mountain chains and invariably the water was lost in the sea.  In the meantime, the agricultural ministry in the Metn set in motion a grand plan to dam parts of the main small river of Nahr El Kelb.  The project was to select four of the deepest sections along the river and dam underwater half the height of the lower water level so that the river would run normally during the rainy season and accumulate enough reserves for the long dry season that stretched for at least seven months. Trout was cultivated and rudimentary access paths to the dams were cut and enlarged to encourage cultivation along the banks.  Sediments that accumulated at the bottom were hauled to enrich the land. The army would provide mules to the village to chary the sediments in return for maintaining the dams, canalization and the opening of new roads from the valleys up to the higher grounds. Water mills with buckets were installed on both sides of the man made small lakes to draw water into canals; when the river beds were low these mills were utilized to remove the slush and dump it on special parcels of land to be dried and then hauled to nearby gardens as fertilizer.

In order to negotiate satisfactory agreements with the coastal kingdoms Antoun had to bring stability and prosperous commerce to his own Emirate and plan for opportunistic circumstances to expand to the sea. 

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adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2008
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