Adonis Diaries

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction, continue 13)

Posted on: October 9, 2008

Part 2: Noura’s period (1381-1386)

Chapter 8:  Preliminary reforms

            The first year was very hectic and a learning period for Antoun to behave as Lord of the Metn.  A restless person by nature he avoided staying for any length of time in his castle and kept on the road canvassing his County and listening to the demands and needs of his residents.  Gergis was given an annex to the castle where he visited Antoun for four days a month.  Since Gergis was very secretive about his origin and a coastal native it was inappropriate for Antoun to offer him publicly an official responsibility; but Gergis was indeed his legal counselor and would study the legal cases and submit his recommendations, especially those cases with a heavy political overtone.  Consequently, Antoun would preside for two days a month at the justice council for the serious and highly public cases and on Saturday afternoons, when in town, he would be judge for the common claimants.

            Hanna Al Najjar was named his administrator of the previously outlawed areas and Mariam was recalled to stay at the Capital for non divulged responsibilities.  Mustafa was named general manager for Antoun’s prosperous business in Beirut and channeled the necessary military hardware and professional military trainers to Metn.

            Meanwhile, Latifa had established herself in charge of the administration of the castle and the residents referred to her as Sit Al Qasr (the Lady of the Castle).  Thus, Antoun felt secure about the good running of the castle and the well being of his frail and yet inefficient wife as per the political life.

Antoun was inundated by the land claims of the multitude of landlords and was urged to perform a few necessary agrarian reforms as a priority.   This agrarian reform was contemplated in phases in order not to anger the powerful landlords. The first task was to create a cadastre for the land.  Expert surveyors called “geometers” were hired and attracted from as far as Egypt to measure accurately the kingdom’s land properties not yet owned by the citizens and to assist in property litigations.

Agrarian and tax reforms

The next phase was to redistributed cultivable lands from the most powerful landlords to those who worked the lands by subdividing large parcels that belonged to Emirs and princes, especially those lands that were practically stolen to the less fortunate peasants.  Legal framework for recuperating properties was enacted; for example, the sizes of parcels of land were proportionate to the size of a family and the duration the family worked the land; females were allotted the same rights as men in land inheritance provided that they resided on and worked the property and widowed families received larger sizes of lands in order to gradually diminish the prevalent taboos in favor of brighter opportunities.  

Tax reforms were made more equitable and less burdensome.  Feudal tradition taxed only those who owned lands with the exception of feudal lords.  The merchants, clergymen and the class of nobility did not share in financing war efforts or entertaining the institutions and the royalty.

This fundamental theological tax logic that only small land owners should supplement to the expenses of the ruling class was seriously questioned. Revenues were thus revised to be taxed regardless of the business of production and expanded to merchants and skilled artisans.  Lands that were not cultivated were also taxed in order for the proprietors to sell or rent these unproductive lands. The lands distributed to peasants were taxed higher that those legitimately acquired but for an exceptional duration not to exceed 7 years.

Properties were taxed not only according to size but also to the number of hired manpower who kept the property running and who offered an image of high status to the landlords: the rational for this edict was to encourage landlords to diminish the level of luxury of their old life style and understand the necessity of equality in form and eventually to save for the hard times to come and participate in the investment of small industrial projects.

The tandem of Yasmine and Noura

Noura was the best friend of Yasmine, not on her own volition but because Yasmine insisted that this is fact and wished it so.  The combination of Yasmine and Noura was too present and insidious in Antoun’s ears so that many resolutions previously taken without input from the female subjects were modified and amended to secure the rights and benefits of women. One important tax, although negligible to the total fund collected but that would relieve the pressures off Antoun’s chest, was levied on the dowries of married couples within rich families.  This duo reminded Antoun of the old feudal system which forbade him to marry Zena, the girl that he thought he was in love with in his youth.  This dowry tax encouraged families to marry from lesser endowed families and contributed gradually to the elimination of the concept of dowry as a prerequisite to marriages. In fact, many couples from outside the region took advantage of this climate of tolerance to marry in the Metn Emirate. 

The clergy were adamantly warned not to interfere with the decision of the couples to get married: No specific guidelines were yet promulgated on the range of interferences but, since everyone knew about Antoun’s sensitivity about marriage obstacles, the clergy opted to err on the side of tolerance than face his wrath. The duty of the marrying clergy was to submit the marriage certificate to the mayor of the town who was to send a monthly list of the marriage certificates to the central ministry of the interior.

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October 2008

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