Adonis Diaries

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction, continue 18)

Posted on: October 16, 2008

Intelligence Gathering Centers

It was at this period that Gergis proved his organizational genius and far sighted comprehension of the real functions of Foreign Affairs responsibility. Previously, Gergis’ understanding of his functions were limited to encouraging commerce and trade in foreign countries and this limited grasp of his responsibilities was mainly due to being assigned the counsellorship of economic development, a task that overshadowed his other responsibilities and prevented him from allocating enough time to diplomatic activities. It was through trials and errors that the grand picture took shape under the urgency of securing the southern borders with Egypt.    

Gergis had a good working relationship with Mariam, the education counselor, and they together undertook to establish two centers for training Foreign Service personnel in the languages and customs of foreign countries. Basically, Spanish and Latin were the main formal languages taught at the centers but quickly more languages were offered such as Farsi and French and the slang of many Arabic speaking people.

The main task for Gergis was to gather timely intelligence on the political, economic and social problems facing the Sultan of Egypt.  Excellent intelligence would allow the Republic to preempt any reckless decisions from the Sultan and plan for the appropriate communication timely delivered before any fateful scheming policies could be officially under way.  It was to be well understood that in these trying times the best approach for powerful Sultans to solve internal problems was to call for military actions with the hope of easy plunder of neighboring kingdoms and paying off their disgruntled mercenaries with the plunders.

Gergis set up a higher qualitative organization for his Egyptian diplomatic missions that brought its fruit in stability and prosperous trade. The main station was in Alexandria, a major port with heavy trading, and it was the first stop for all Foreign Service personnel assigned to Egypt.  The newly assigned staffs would work part time after being trained to be coach drivers, gardeners, or craftsmen in accordance with the demands with the noblemen and for the remaining time of the day they received advanced training in the local language, customs, protocol and Foreign Service clerical duties. 

Many of these recruits, after graduating, were transferred to work as hired and trained people for the noblemen and high officials in Cairo and major cities in Egypt for the purpose of gathering intelligence. Then, after becoming proficient in the language and necessary skills, the freshly trained diplomats were assigned to major cities and in the countryside where problems were looming.  Six out of ten of the officer corps were offered the rudiments of the local language and customs from one of the two linguistic centers in the Levant, Beirut and Sidon, before being transferred abroad. 

Formal training for their missions and an understanding of the political and administrative structure of the countries they were assigned to were provided by the Foreign Service Institute in Beirut.  When servicemen returned for vacations they had to write about their experience, lecture and share their knowledge in the training centers and get training for their next assignment.

The servicemen and their families were to serve 5 years in one country and their private residences were to be of the same standard as those of the average locals.  Only the professional serviceman skilled in a trade, proficient in the local language, and well trained in the various diplomatic tasks were assigned to remote regions so that they could be self sufficient as to their livelihood and be an asset to the locality and an honorable example of the citizens of the Republic of the Levant.

Overseas Holding Company

An ingenious plan to supplement the budget of the Foreign Affairs department was proposed to the governing council.  Gergis suggested the institution of a holding company for investment overseas and targeted the countries where pressing intelligence activities were needed.  The ministers and rich merchants would initially buy shares in this holding company so that artisans and merchants could be set up in partnership with local counterparts abroad.  This scheme allowed the infiltration of many Levantine agents into the economic and social fabric of Egypt and part of the profits in these partnerships reverted back to the holding company. An annual budget was allocated to the Foreign Service department taking into account the profits generated from investments overseas. Initially, this company was to be for non profit in the first three years and then afterwards 20% of the profit would be retained for the shareholders.  The government had already some experience with complex financial institutions but necessary modifications to the organizational structure of the overseas holding company had to be installed in order to strengthen its sensitive and secret policies.  The board of directors was reduced to five members of the 3 most powerful traders, the minister of Foreign Affairs and Haim the minister of Finance.

In the second year of the formation of the Overseas Holding Company, Gergis announced a yearly gathering lasting for three days of the members of the Company, the Foreign Service personnel and members of the government.  This assembly was to be held starting on a Monday in the third week of December. The assembly was seated on lush cushions on a floor spread with an intricate Persian carpet. Gregis delivered an opening speech sitting on an elevated sofa behind a small rosewood table.   He spoke thus:

“Honorable ministers, members of the Overseas Holding Company, my compatriots and colleagues in the Foreign Service; this year is memorable by the achievements of the Nation and the Foreign Affairs ministry.  This Nation can now claim to have secured solid diplomatic recognition by most of the neighboring kingdoms and crossed with a steady step the major obstacles that were erected to thwart its stability and progress as a self-administered and autonomous Nation.  The Foreign Affairs Ministry is practically self sufficient for its routine expenses but might rely for two more years on the public funds to expand into key kingdoms and establish critical Embassies and trading consulates.

We have already founded important supporting institutes like the Institute of Foreign Languages and the Center of Foreign Studies which are both fully functional and have already graduated capable and learned public servants.  We are already firmly settled in Egypt and Cyprus and our trade is varied and increasing at a fast pace with many other countries as well. This year’s gathering will be devoted to lectures on the economic demands and business variances of a few emerging societies, private experience overseas, open sessions for criticism on internal performance and feedback on the prospects for future development, and closed sessions for deciding on your propositions and working out a budget for next year.  Today and tomorrow, between 4 and 6 o’clock, the executive members of the Overseas Holding Company and the higher ranking personnel in the Foreign Affairs will hold working sessions to generate new ideas for fresh investments and to open dialogues for the application process in joining the Foreign Service”.

“On Wednesday late afternoon we will have a grand bash party, and God permiting, the First Emir will share with us in the festivities to offer gifts to every one so that our families enjoy the Christmas and New Years Holidays and share with us in this hard earned and thriving year.  Long Live our First Emir and Long Live our Levant Nation. May peace be upon you and brotherhood and prosperity spread over the land.”

. For effective results, appreciable gifts were discreetly offered in critical circumstances to the powerful men in office in Egypt and in timely manner in exchange for advantageous business laws and critical referrals and connections. In times of political deterioration many Levantine immigrants settled down in their new countries of adoption and profits to the holding company dwindled because the State administration was lax or insufficiently organized to attend to the interests of the State.  It is to be noted that the wave of immigration to Egypt in the mid n19th century, mostly from the Levant intelligencia and professionals found a well settled ground that permitted them to be the forerunners in establishing daily newspapers, movie producers, mass agricultural enterprises, bankers and disseminating theaters and all kinds of cultural endeavors.

The State department contemplated serious diplomatic missions in Cyprus to track down the master plans of the European countries’ interest in the Levant with another one in the coastal city of Antioch (in present day Turkey) to monitor the political changes of its Sultan and a third one in Mossul (in present northern Iraq) so that the Tatar military campaigns reactivation be studied and analyzed.

Economic development

An important by-product of this period of frantic trade with Egypt was the acquisition of the minting skills imported from Egypt.  The Fatimide bullion currency was adopted and copied in size, weight and gold purity; one face carried the inscription of “There is one God and only one” (La Ilah ella Lah) and the other face had the cedar tree with the inscription around it stating “The Republic of the Levant” and the year the currency was minted.  This identical worth in value of the Egyptian and Levantine currency made it possible for it to be interchangeably accepted throughout the Middle East kingdoms.  Large shipments of raw gold mineral were arriving from Turkey and Egypt to the Levant foundries, most of the time clandestinely.

Another sector was developed due to the heavy demands on the Egyptian market for silk cloth.  The government of the Republic encouraged the importation of silk worms and the mass plantation of blackberry trees throughout Mount Lebanon. Every large town made it its business to hire whole families to acquire spindles for working silk cocoon into threads in homes.  This business flourished till the first quarter of the 20th century when the First World War calamity befell Mount Lebanon and famine decimated its population into starvation and immigration.  Shipments of silk to Egypt returned with raw cotton for the manufacturing establishment of cotton garments in the Levant.

The new Republic could have easily annexed Jerusalem but the First Emir resolved that, as long as the siege of the Caliphate was in Cairo, it would be advisable to nominally leave it under the Mameluk monarch.  This decision was beneficial to both parties because it strengthened the Arab resolve against the Tartar’s constant threats if they finally sifted through their internal troubles for leadership and also because it avoided the new Republic any internal strife on sectarian basis. The Mameluk monarch agreed, after lengthy diplomatic wrangling, to have his garrison in Jerusalem reduced for the purpose of maintaining peace and order because the Levant was sensitive to closer military concentrations on its borders.

The new expanded nation enjoyed 8 potential maritime ports: Tarsus, Tripoli, Byblos, Beirut, Sidon, Tyr, Acre and Haifa. The population to be governed increased to 2 million: 40% Christians and 60% Moslems.  The ratio of religious affiliations was now reversed.  A higher level for the concept of a unified nation was to be seriously tackled based on a Constitution agreed on by all the citizens.

Once the military threats from the neighboring Emirs and princes were relatively under control because the balance of power forced the belligerent parties to calculate more precisely the onerous maneuvers, the First Emir went about unifying and reconstructing his extended kingdom within the varied religions and customs.

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October 2008

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