Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Antoun

Consolidation of the kingdom. From Rainbow over the Levant

Note: Re-edit of a chapter of my novel posted in 2008 and set in the 15th century Mount Lebanon “Consolidation of the kingdom”

Antoun had a few rudimentary ideas concerning the organization of the social fabric but he lacked reprieves for consolidating his hold on power.

Fortunately, the new leader had good qualities of listening carefully to suggestions and delegating authorities for matters considered not to affect directly his grip on power.

Miriam Najjar was an excellent counselor and was motivated to enlarge her knowledge and participate in the decision units.  She suggested that one priority was to establishing elementary schools in every town and argued that without a learned youth the future of the regime would be totally dependent on foreign experts who would deplete the treasury.

She advanced the concept that relying on the know-how of other nations was the main reason why so many dynasties had died out or been replaced by dynasties elevated from mercenaries who did not care for the well-being and stability of the societies they governed.

However, there was the realization, experienced by most families living in high altitude of over 1000 meters above sea level, of the high mortality rate in extended families during the winter season that lasted five months.

Many kids died from suffocation, pulmonary diseases, and contagious illnesses.

Psychological disorders lead to brutal physical behaviors from close contact in unfit environmental conditions.

At the time, and for long time afterwards, homes were simply of a single room. The door was the only opening to fresh air.  Around ten people on average crowded that cloistered unique room for the duration of winter.

As was the custom, large families usually dedicated their second or third sons to the clergy’s institutions to become priests and a few daughters to turning nuns. Thus, to avoid feeding extra mouths and making more space for the other members of the family, many kids were lent to work for free in return for shelter and food and some education during the harsh season.

To return the favor for the outlawed peasants, it was decided that intern or boarding schools be erected for girls and boys, separately and where children of ages ranging from nine to thirteen would dwell in for 5 months from mid November to mid April.

Boarding schools

The first boarding school was established in Baskinta and demonstrated in its first year that mortality was drastically reduced in winter when the number of family members was cut in half within their reduced dwellings.

Consequently, this facility provided during the winter season education and healthier quarters for children and lent longevity to the extended family members.

Nuns and monks would run these schools in the beginning until a new generation of trained and learned lay administrators and educators took over gradually.

The teaching was traditional the first two years until tighter administration and teaching procedures were enacted.

A single instructor perched on a cushioned flat stone faced half circles of students sitting on the ground and was responsible for all the beginners in the reading class, regardless of the students’ age and gender.

The master’s long-reaching stick would not discriminate inattentive heads. Heavy physical punishments were the lot of free spirits who dared stand for their rights or argued boldly.

A few families would even worry if their kids were not physically disciplined as signs of careless and apathetic behavior on the instructor’s part in guiding the learning progress of their kids.

Families would rather go and visit their children at school on Christmas vacation and stay with them for a couple of days benefiting from warmer lodging in barns and healthier food varieties.

Christmas was a happy period for everyone in the school where children would get busy building mock-up houses, trees, animals and figurines for Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds and the Magi kings and presenting homemade gifts to their parents in return for assorted delicacies.

A typical day at boarding schools started at 6 a.m. followed by house cleaning, chicken feeding, cow milking, kitchen food preparation, and carrying necessary supplies for the day. At 7:30 mass and breakfast.

Classes for reading and writing in both Arabic an Aramaic languages (language of the land) and basic arithmetic would begin at 8:30 and end at 12:30 for lunch.

A short recess, then off to working in the artisanal shops of carpentry, pottery, glass painting, iron forging, cloth making, glass blowing and farm tending until 4 p.m.  The children would then head to the supervised study lounge until dusk, followed by diner and Vesper prayer.

By 7pm everybody was already in bed in order to save on candles and oil consumption.

Children less than eleven years of age would sleep ten in a room on hay stacks with spreads of goat skin. The older ones would sleep seven in a room.

It was not the sleeping quarters that mattered for the kids but a larger freedom to move around and be outside during the day with three fulfilling meals.

Meat was scarce but the kids were frequently fed “kebbe nayyeh” for Sunday’s lunch and eggs with “kaorma” for Saturday’ breakfast and tabbouli or mjadara on Fridays.

The usual staples were cereals, beans, crushed wheat, lentils, onions, tomatoes, cabbage, soup and plenty of breads. Fruits were a delicacy, especially apples which could be stored. Sometimes, apricot and blueberry jams; and more often molasses and “rahat el halkoum”.

Most of the toys and game equipments were homemade.

They used to fabricate rectangular flat wood plates, mark a number of 3 decimals on it and a string to attach around the forehead.  They divided themselves in two groups and scattered in the woods hiding their numbers on tree trunks.  If the enemy guessed the hidden number attached to the front head then the opposite member was out of the game until everyone in one team was out.

With time, many of these masks would become marked one way or another and the unfortunate wearers soon found themselves guessed out immediately, no matter how tightly they hid their front head closely to a tree trunk.

They also made rudimentary balls and divided themselves into two teams:  the member hit by the thrown ball was “killed” and transferred to the opposite line unless he caught the ball and then the thrower was considered eliminated.

They fabricated backgammon and tic tac toe gizmos and the like games.

The most rewarding type of equipment were slingshots, wooden swords and arches. The kids would go out hunting rabbits and squirrels within a short range because wild beasts were commonly found such as hyenas, wild boars, and wild dogs.

This system of schooling was expanded to towns at lower altitude for a shorter winter season of only 4 months.

Somehow, a few of these schools constructed annexes around their grounds with the help of the military garrisons close by and were transformed into major production centers for army supplies and exported objects.

In the winter season, skilled families of the interned children would manufacture goods and help in the maintenance of the institution, while in the remaining of the year the school and its annexes would be invaded by skilled workers occupying the living quarters for 6 months.

There were cases of greedy administrators in tandem with local officials abusing children as slave workers and delaying the release of the able and skilled children.

Families got wind of these awful practices and stricter monitoring procedures of these institutions were established.  Families were encouraged to resume sending their children to the nearest parochial schools for a couple of hours during the busy seasons in return for preferential winter work facilities at the boarding schools.

These boarding schools became popular and families from afar trekked their children to Baskinta until new boarding schools were available and mushroomed to every district in Mount Lebanon.

This system of boarding schools developed into more professional institutions :  Overseas parents inscribed their children for a substantial sum of money in return for lengthier educational periods and better accommodations for housing different age groups of students.

In the newer more professional boarding schools with diverse ethnic and religious affiliations there occurred a few religious frictions among the adult students without any repercussions to the children who found happiness and joy in being together, energetic and secure in their daydreams.

Like most institutions in the Levant, the boarding schools experienced traumatic and feverish times but never took roots to grow and then suffered sudden death.

After lengthy discussions, Antoun agreed with Miriam that it would be an excellent decision to offer incentives to municipalities for arranging educational facilities.

Instead of villages constructing more churches, the central government offered to incur half the expenses for constructing schools, the wages of the instructors and lunch for all the students.  In return for free education for a 4-year period, the graduates would refund part of the expenses after securing better employment.

This edict would be formalized so that no State investment would be contemplated without local and regional investments and participation.  The rational was that if investments were shared by the well-to-do inhabitants who tend to mind a return on investments then, proper and timely execution of projects were more secured since it is founded on individual interest.

Within a year Antoun appointed Miriam Najjar as his education counselor. Mariam encouraged many visiting scholars to settle in Mount Lebanon and more opportunities for various disciplines sprouted in education that required specialized higher educational institutions.

 

Rainbow over the Levant, Chapter 10
Part 3. An army from the people and for the people

The other part of the plan to eliminate or reduce the masses of unfounded myths among religious sects was the use of the army as an educational forum to allow the population to mingle and befriend with one another.  In these times, there were no centrally organized armies.

In war-time, the warlords and prince of the provinces joined the army with their quota of men, arms and supplies. Since all drafting policies had proven to fail miserably, the government of the First Emir started instituting voluntary contracts for two years. The terms of the contract were to pay directly the family  two-thirds of the soldier’s wages, and a guarantee to train the soldier in technical skills for some job and teach him reading and writing in his mother language. Strict adherence to the contract by the army encouraged many families to enlist many of their boys in the army.

There was one hitch to that plan:  Many well to do families and religious sects with specific doctrines, which prohibited armed confrontations, refrained to participate in this national army.  After five years of the voluntary enlistment policy, a systematic national draft program was instituted with minor revolts or resentment.

A voluntary contract for enlistment of girls and women was promoted with good success, since many single women and widows had no viable alternatives for livelihood.  The regiments for women, after their basic army training, had specific and very specialized tasks in the war efforts:  mainly for espionage assignments in and outside the kingdom, administering the supply, tending to the military camp hospitals and the rehabilitation of the injured.

Noura’s Exile

By this time, Noura was three months pregnant from Antoun out-of-wedlock and the political maneuvering to displace Noura from the center of power increased.  The main argument of the detractors was that the First Emir should now seek a politically beneficial marriage to a powerful Emir that would offer higher recognition to the new kingdom and stronger legitimacy.

At first, the First Emir barely paid any attention to these innuendos, but with converging circumstances and regained zest to holding on to power the repeated suggestions for remarrying reached a critical appeal to the First Emir.

Gergis agreed to handle this diplomatic mission on condition that the First Emir, his longtime friend, would acknowledge publicly Noura’s child as his own. A diplomatic search for a wife was in full activity and trying to circumventing Noura’s intelligence sources as much as possible.  Eventually, no secret could be kept for long in this intricate and small community.

Noura loved Antoun since she knew him in his youth in Beirut but discovered that this love was not returned in the same strength and dedication. She was a fighter and would have done what ever was necessary but realized that her lover would never be content with what his power had already brought him.

Salvaging the remaining of her pride Noura faced Antoun with an ultimatum: either he wed her legitimately or she would rather go into exile away from the Levant.  Gergis realized that his endeavor would be much facilitated if he could receive Noura’s backing in his searching task.  For the benefit of the stability of the Nation they struck an agreement that all dealings would be shared with her in secrecy, a condition that at least satisfied her pride for virtually sharing in the search selection.  In the meantime, she staunchly canvassed to have her initiated programs funded for the next yearly budget.

Three criteria for the search of a wife were set by Antoun:

1. that the Emir’s province be rich,

2. that his military preparedness be inferior to his kingdom and

3. that the two States share no common borders.

Basmat, the daughter of the Emir of Aleppo from one of his Christian concubines, was at the top of the contenders. The province of the Emir Aziz of Aleppo stretched from the port of Lattakieh to the region of Jazyra eastward and the area of Diar Bakr in the North.  It shared a long border South with the Viceroy of Damascus who got very perturbed and immediately arranged for his son to marry one of Aziz’s other daughters.

Noura ended up in Florence, Italy, and never married for the duration of her exile.  Noura gave birth to a son named Jacob after her father’s and toured all the States of Italy for four years, from Naples to Milan to Venice. Gergis was frequently in contact with her and used to assign her to difficult trade missions.

There came a time when Noura needed the action and motivation that she was used to having and requested a formal diplomatic appointment from Gergis who secured the duties of Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Levant to the European courts.

Noura opened a linguistic center in Florence to train the immigrant Levantines and enjoyed her job greatly and kept traveling to France, Spain and Holland, supporting the consuls and Lebanese merchants in their trades and commerce.

Rainbow over the Levant, (Chapter 10, part 2)

Yasmine dies  (a fiction story set in 14th century Lebanon)

In that year, Yasmine died of birth complications and Antoun’s grief was devastating: Yasmine had been lately feeling happier in her new castle, so close to Beirut with mild weather throughout the year.  Most importantly, she had been heading the hectic furnishing and interior design task force with renewed enthusiasm for life.

The First Emir was the father of two boys Adel and Asaad and a baby girl Wujdan.  Adal was only seven years old and Wujdan barely two years and their bereavement was unbearable.  Only Noura could take matters in her expert hands, and Antoun ordered her to relocate her quarters to his castle and raise his children as her own.

For two weeks, Antoun kept roaming the galleries where Yasmine’s aquarelle were displayed.  This behavior sent pangs of sadness in Noura’s heart, until Antoun started copying Yasmine’s original aquarelle.  Noura understood then that her defeat was inevitable and her nights lost the shimmer of hope.

Yes, Noura would not have minded that Antoun took up carpentry and imitated the wooden mechanical toys because they were imported products and did not represent the soul of Yasmine.

Very soon, the officials realized that Noura was firmly holding the real power and was considered the sole person with access to the ears and mind of the First Emir. She invested her energy with a vengeance and reigned unchallenged for 14 months, the time for Antoun to recover from his shock and exhibit a renewed zest for life.

Noura’s achievements

In the fourteen months of her administrative power, Noura managed great feats in the consolidation of the State and kept chaos from the neighboring States at bay.  She restructured the yearly budget to allocate more fund to her ministry of Health and Social Affairs at the expense of the ministry of Defense, passed new programs and expanded the scope of established programs.

The ministry of Foreign Affairs under Gergis Al Ustaz took on new missions and its budget was increased accordingly.  New economic and diplomatic missions were dispatched to Andalusia in Southern Spain which was still under Arabic and Moorish hands, to Venice and Florence in Italy, to Cyprus in Crusaders hands, to Morocco and France.  Consulates were opened in Venice and Florence and diplomatic interchanges were routinely undertaken.

Since society was organized on sectarian foundation and the whole structure in political administration and power sharing was basically related to religion, Noura understood that any drastic changes in that structure will destabilize society and allow chaos to spread. The first cultural task was to expose the myths among the various sects toward the other sects, which were unfounded but originating in a society isolated and ignorant due to lack of appropriate schools and communication and difficulty of traveling.

The problem was not simply negative myths but plainly unfounded and erroneous knowledge that exposed the country to dislocation at the first malicious rumors.  In order to remedy the power of obscurantism and attempt to unify the kingdom on firmer grounds Noura and her counselors laid out a two-phase plan.

The first edict was to reconstruct and rehabilitate the two Roman amphitheaters in Tyr and Baalbek and to build 3 new amphitheaters, one in the Capital Mtein, one in the port of Beirut and the third in the coastal port of Byblos.  These public gatherings were to encourage the population to meet, mingle, exercise, and attend plays; public bathing facilities were constructed adjacent to the amphitheaters.

The regular communication among the people, regardless of their social status or religious affiliations, was a political act that attracted the population and provided a legitimate environment for discussing social matters and entertaining healthy business deals and encouraging dialogue.

The previous isolated social structure that prevented strong interconnections among the various strata was replaced by free expression and easy communication that prepared the ground for open dialogue of what Noura expressed as, “who we are and what we need for the generations to come”.

Sport and cultural teams from the four corners of the kingdom were welcomed to compete in sports and artistic achievements in the amphitheaters.  The population began to set aside leisure time to travel and encourage their local teams and discover new locations and the opportunities available in bigger cities and towns.

The positive side effect of having two main events that extended for two weeks in the spring and fall greatly encouraged tourism from the neighboring kingdoms including as far as Egypt, Iraq and Turkey.  The ministry of Education was assigned the new essential responsibility of propagating, disseminating, and communicating the new political and social system.  Leaflets that contained the program of the events were extended with additional pages that provided news and edicts; these were highly targeted and at a reduced price.

The tourism activities offered opportunities to hire skilled personnel from other countries and a variety of industries were created to cater to the demands of this new business.

In addition to the larger gathering grounds, the government enacted plans to establish local gathering spaces to cater to the traveling theater troops of actresses and actors, to wedding ceremonies and to get together festivities and attractions.  Some of these gathering spaces were extensions of the church and mosque squares but many were not directly linked to any religious affiliation.

Orientalists, those European scholars and adventurers who wanted to pay a visit to the Levant, were clandestinely entering Lebanon with the knowledge and help of the Levant government.  Temporary passes were issued to them as traders and merchants and they were closely monitored in their travels:  the government was taking a calculated risk because the Mamluks viewed these European foreigners as a threat to the stability of their regime.

The Mamluks’ apprehension was understandable because the last Crusaders’ waves of invasion to the Levant in the previous century were still fresh in the society’s psyches.  However, the short-term memory of the Levant’s Christian population of the atrocities they suffered from the Crusaders was wiped out after the fresher tyrannical restrictions imposed by the Mamluks on Mount Lebanon.

Consequently, the mercantile mentality of the government of the Levant was not as squeamish as the Moslem’s Mamluks in welcoming the rich Europeans.  The embittered German, French and English were not that nostalgic to returning to the Levant any time soon, but the Italian and Spanish who did not participate heavily in the Crusaders’ campaigns needed to validate first hand the various tales they had overheard from the returning Crusaders.

It could be conjectured that the Italian and Spanish scholars and adventurers who had accumulated some riches from a period of peace were experiencing the dawn of a Renaissance and a new-found vigor.

            Along with the Portuguese, Italians, and Spaniards the Gypsies tagged along with their ambulatory circuses which were unfamiliar to the Levantine for a century.  The artisans got busy fabricating big top of tents, wooden terraces and typical trailers for the family circus companies.  The big tops did not expand more than fourteen meters in diameter but since it was not necessary to invest in chairs there was allowed plenty of space and besides they were so brightly colorful!  Soon after, the couple of circuses expanded their programs to include wild animals that terrified the Levantine; the few lions and brown bears that still existed in the higher altitudes were captured to be trained and to entertain the populace while even elephants made their way through seas from India.

The itineraries of the circuses were confined to the sea-coast chiefly because the access to the mountains was not feasible for the carriages hauling large animals but eventually a few rudimental programs of clowning and Italian burlesque shows were making their appearances in remote towns.

Many Levantine had new opportunities to learn various skills, talents and trades; old feats demonstrating raw strength and agility were channeled and reshaped on different instruments and maneuvers. The Gypsy trade was closely monitored because the First Emir had good understanding of their behavior during his contraband period, and the circuses emplacement and activities were somewhat controlled.

            One Sunday, Mariam and her adoptive daughter Samar attended a matinée of one of the circuses in Beirut; by the end of the program they were both awestruck and conquered.  Samar kept harassing her mother that she wanted to accompany the circus, reverberating the same longing in Mariam; both of them never slept a wink that night and by morning Gergis received the visit of Mariam asking for suggestions on the process of purchasing and maintaining a circus.

Gergis arranged  a deal with a minor circus owned by three brothers and two sisters of the Italian family Gambali which was not burdened by wild animals in its programs;  Mariam was to be part associate as a sixth owner along with the family with a say in setting new programs and directly collecting her share from the daily receipts.  Within two years Mariam, with the judicious financial acumen of Gergis, managed to buy out 50% of the business every time plans for expansion were contemplated.  The circus traveled the mountain regions for six months from early March to the end of October with Samar as a paid helper, actor, and translator which allowed her to learn the skills of the trade.

Gradually, Mariam won over the two Gambali sisters and the younger brother to her new ingenious program; it included dramatic stories acted in serial parts to be continued for two or three days according to the population density of the emplacements.  Ladies who attended the first part would tell and spread the first part of the story and the whole village would flock the next day to listen to the end of the story. Disgusted and shocked by this drastic change in the tradition of circus programming and the treachery within the family, the two elder Gambadi brothers sold their share to Mariam and hastily left Lebanon, never to return.

The flocking of the European orientalist inspired Noura to initiate the construction of a scientific center in Baldat El Mir in response to the demands from the enlightened Italian Princes for translated Arabic manuscripts.  Many Arabs from Andalusia and Egypt, who were bilingual in Latin or Spanish in addition to Arabic, were attracted and contracted out to settle a few years in the Levant. Arabic mathematical manuscripts in the fields of algebra, algorithms and geometry and scientific manuscripts in physics, chemistry, optics, medicine and astronomy were translated to Spanish and Latin and sold at premium prices.

Later on, maritime sciences and the fabrication of navigation equipment and instruments took priority in investment as the Levantine navy asserted its utility in trade and commerce.  The Levantine artists and merchants discovered a huge demand by the European tourists for sketches and paintings of the Levant’s landscapes and social customs and soon the souks were flooded with products satisfying the avidity of select buyers.

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction novel set in the 14th century Lebanon)

Note:  I decided to publish chapter 10 of my novel in three parts for easier read.

Chapter 10, Part 1: A concept for a unified nation

In this period of unstable centralized powers, the further away from Cairo the weaker the power of the Mamluk monarchy, along with the ever-present ghost of a recurrence of the Tatar threat, the Emir Antoun decided that the new political reality entitled him to give his State a name and a political recognition.

All the chiefs of villages and towns throughout the newly expanded Nation were convoked in mid May to a conclave that would last a week if necessary.

The chiefs brought along their families and assistants, while makeshift tents were erected in the Capital Mtein instead of Baldat El Mir to honor the anniversary of the new regime and remind the citizens of the real center of popular power.

The agenda for this gathering was:

 First, to devise a legislature House of Representatives with its responsibilities and the processes for implementing this proposal;

 Second to elect the first leader of this self-administered nation, and

 Third to discuss the proposal of taxing the donations in money and lands to monasteries and other religious domains so that no strata in society would enjoy undue privileges.

A confessional group under the implicit backing of Latifa (Antoun’s elder sister) and the Christian clergy was outspoken and canvassed diligently to secure a much higher share in representative members than their proportion entitled them. The rationale of this group was that the core partisans for the victorious insurrection were Christians and that it was the only nation with a sizable Christian denomination and surrounded by Moslem Empires.  This group also held firm on excluding Jews from the House because they were the persecutors of Jesus and they crucified him between two convicted criminals.

Antoun understood the ancient apprehension of his compatriots and their quest for a stable political framework that may secure confidence and animate the enterprising spirit in Mount Lebanon to open up to wider markets.  He worked out a tacit verbal agreement with the Moslems’ counterparts to accept a temporary tradeoff until the next election to allay the Christians’ fears of this novel form of participation.

This agreement was laden with many restrictions from both parties toward any form of female representation and excluding them from military obligations.

Antoun reluctantly had to bend to the power of tradition until more women prove themselves able to manage in the administration and learn to associate among themselves and voice their concerns politically.  However, he vehemently insisted on a limited female representations in municipality councils, appointing female and Jewish counselors and female civil servants in the government administrations, and on keeping the female military formations already in service.

Under this tacit agreement, the Christians would be represented by 65% of the House versus 35% for the Moslems.

On the last day of the assembly, Antoun was elected to ten years as First Emir of the Levant Emirate with no restrictions to a potential renewal for leadership.  The First Emir was tempted to call himself Sultan of the Levant, as traditions of the time required, but he realized that this title would generate more trouble from the dissenting neighboring Emirs and open the eyes of larger kingdoms to his future schemes of expansion.

Initial Parliamentary election

There was a need for a representative body of all the regions based on an electoral system.  No unanimous electoral system could be agreed upon that was satisfactory. A transitory and consensual one for the first election was enacted.

This first electoral system was flawed in many respects of religious proportion, gender discrimination and status levels of the representatives.

Women not only were forbidden to be candidates but also single women were not allowed to vote. The clergy of all religious sects were not to register as candidates but could cast their ballot. Anyone who did not own a house or a sizable piece of land could not be a candidate. However, it was decided that the fairness of the application of the system was to be strictly monitored and the lists of voters and candidates printed out in advance.

The clergy of various religious sects was surprised to learn that the chiefs of villages agreed to tax some of clergy wealth and also that they were cast out from representation.  These news shed a shadow of realization that changes in society were in the offing and proclamations to boycott the election were announced in churches and mosques. The government decided not to rescind the donation tax law but agreed to proceed with negotiations.

Mustafa’s position was that it was fair that the clergy should have the same rights as any citizen, especially that they were the most learned section in society.  For example, he said, “we certainly would have a hard time implementing any election if the clergy decided to boycott and refrain from helping the citizens in reading the procedures and writing petitions concerning discrepancies and unfair dealings during elections”.

Gergis pronounced that, “the clergy has already adopted a kind of democratic election within their hierarchy and has experience in running legislative conventions and would be an asset in enhancing the learning process of the next House of Representatives”.

A satisfactory deal was struck with the clergy:

 First, the rate of taxation on donations was reduced to 10% for the first two years and then increased to 15% subsequently and

Second, that the clergy of all denominations were called upon to select two representatives for each sect to the next House of Representatives but would be prohibited to cast a vote for the lay candidates and were urged to support the election process and monitor its fairness and accuracy.

The attack; (continue #10 of fiction novel)

The night before the attack on the Capital Mtein, Antoun sensed the anxiety overwhelming his comrades and ordered to set up five bonfires and distributed the leaders to gather with the insurgents around the fires.  He refrained from meeting with his leaders in close quarters and repeated his address to the five encampments separately saying:

“The time is approaching to execute our decision for a better life, a life based on fairness in the laws as worthy equals in our society.  It is time to start erecting a society with the right to elect a government of the people and for the people; a government that understand the wishes and dreams of its people and has experienced the sufferings and injustices of the peasants and working people under the despotic and unfair feudal system.  It is natural to feel scared otherwise, I wouldn’t trust your courage and determination if you didn’t feel apprehensive tonight.  Our project is the life or death of our destiny tailored to our big heart. Our project is the dream and wish of many citizens in the towns and villages whom have been keeping these dreams burning deep in their compassionate hearts.  We know each other; we are friends and we will take care of one another as we had done for many years.  We have planned together our revolution to the minute details, as intelligent and responsible leaders of people should do, to succeed and win against the heartless and irresponsible feudal Cheiks, Beys and Emirs”.

“You all know by now that I don’t dwell much on abstract notions such as freedom, liberty and self-determination; we have discussed the meanings of these concepts so that we don’t abuse and short hand the intelligence of our citizens.  Opening and creating opportunities for learning and working go hand in hand with empowering the individual citizens to take bold decisions, fortified by laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender, religion and social status.  That is how we give sense to liberty and self–determination and that is what our citizens should demand from us.”

He went on saying: “In a few hours we march boldly toward the Capital of the loathed executioners of our rights; who denied us the joy of life commensurate to our labor, sweat and blood.  Obey the orders and directives of your elected leaders and be steadfast in your fight.  I can see our flags fluttering in the morning wind at the top of the Castle. Victory is whispering sweet songs and the shout of Long Live the Revolution is already deafening my ears.  I can see hundreds of peasants gathering around you in the Capital’ Square and shouting in unison ‘Long Live the Revolution’!  Is Victory singing to you too?  I cannot hear you! Long Live the Revolution! Louder! Louder!”

The insurgent detachment headed by Antoun descended from Baskenta toward Mrouj with 150 fighters while Mustafa and Hanna accompanied by Elias headed for Falougha, in currently the Chouf County, with 200 insurgents. They were advancing at the pace of caravans and looking very much like trading caravans with a few women prominently exhibited and some well know caravan regular leaders perched on their ornamented mules. As soon as the two groups reached their first destinations they would descend on Mtein at sun down helped by the moon light. They were to wait for the combined attack at 5 o’clock in the morning after the peasants had left their homes for the fields.  Supporters in the Capital were ready to guide the insurgents to the residencies of the strongmen and powerful landlords in and around the town.  The insurgents were successful in capturing the targeted noblemen and entered Mtein with no major resistance.

At the same time, two dozen fighters were guarding the entrances to the Bishop Atanasios’ residence, waiting for the fire signal to elevate over the highest hill to enter the residence and have the Bishop and his monks under house arrest.  At every entrance and exit passageway, a handful of guards with an officer disguised as a monk regulated the traffic of civilians and clergy.  People coming in to pay a visit to the Bishop were discouraged to resume their trip because of a special conclave for the clergy and the impossibility of meeting anyone for a couple of days.  The peasants working the land of the monastery or traders were allowed in and retained there.  Gergis was leading this group of partisans with the mission of striking a deal with the Bishop after Antoun’s insurgents enter Mtein.  Elias was behind the project of this necessary house arrest coup but was instead assigned another task because he was still officially excommunicated and for fear that his zeal might foil this important mission.

Gergis’ task was to convince the Bishop and his associates in the clergy that the takeover of power was not the work of ruffians and outlaws but of learned gentlemen, citizens concerned with the status of lawlessness and injustices which was fueling a feeling of restlessness among the population of believers.  To convince the clergy that this revolt sought the approval and leadership of their Patriarch, Gergis promised that they will receive the proper documents very shortly.  Gergis insisted that he was ready to deal fairly and squarely on behalf of the leaders of this popular movement of believers.

In the mean time, Bishop Atanasios agreed to say mass in the Capital Mtein next Sunday with all the official ceremonies befalling a highly important personality.  The two parties were not duped in their respective intentions but they implicitly agreed that this negotiation was the business of politicians awaiting better circumstances.  The Bishop was convinced that this movement, like other previous revolts, would not survive long, and that life as usual would return under the full control of the clergy and the feudal old political structure.

The official mass was to be held at nine o’clock and the leader was outside by 8 am accepting the congratulations and respect of the town people and dignitaries while anxiously keeping an eye on the horizon waiting for the Bishop to be sighted.  At twenty to nine, a small group of pedestrians wearing black cloaks and following a person perched on a mule was sighted, plodding at an average pace.  Antoun who had become mainly a city man and, relatively removed from the customs of the mountains and the declining economic status of the clergy, did not pay this group much attention and was scrutinizing the horizon for dust generated by a cavalry accompanying the Bishop in pageant procession.  When the black clad group, many bare feet in dirty cloaks, was thirty meters away Elias nudged Antoun and shouted: “The bastard has come”.

The leader briskly faced Elias and waited for an explanation to his rude comment when someone raised his voice saying: “Let peace be upon you, Antoun my son “.  The Bishop was directly confronting him from the top of his mule with a thin smile across his lips and hard eyes piercing toward the inattentive leader of the peasants.  Antoun was taken aback in total surprise and fumbled down his mount, helped the Bishop to dismount and then kissed the proffered hand.  Elias was beside himself and was ready to wriggle the neck of the Bishop as well as Antoun’s for his vile humility toward this despicable high placed clergy and shouted to the Bishop: “Atanathios, remember me?  I am waiting for you to publicly recant your excommunication of me and everyone in the Metn.”  The cunning Bishop seeing an opportunity to reclaim his power replied: “Son Elias, I am glad to admit you back into the flock. You have already suffered enough and the church is forgiving to human weaknesses”.  Elias was about to retort but was taken away by a gesture of impatience from Antoun.

The new leader was received as the avenging hero who will strengthen the force of order and prevent violence, injustice, and anarchy. He could deliver his promises since the outlaw men and deserters were part and parcel of his well organized army.

Latifa; (continue of the fiction novel))

Latifa was a looker and an impressive lady that discouraged the weaker hearted eligible men from courting her. By the time her brother Antoun came to riches she could not avail herself to woo gentlemen whom she considered beneath her potentials.  Latifa was in her late twenties and, by the standard of the time, was considered too old to marry.  To preserve her dignity, she circulated a rumor that she had taken a vow of celibacy.  Her status increased among the town people and was given the nickname of Sit Al Forsan (Lady of the knights) and carried herself accordingly.

Latifa was in with the secrets of Antoun, or at least what he directly wanted her to know because he made sure not to connect her with his important partners;  she gradually suspected his intentions from her frequent visits to him in Beirut but was unaware of the timing, the seriousness, or the magnitude of the insurrection. Actually, Latifa became his eyes and ears in the mountain region where she received many visitors and received inputs from her benevolent activities in the neighboring villages.

Antoun mother, Jamila, started sending her eldest daughter frequently to Beirut after he was exiled to stay with her brother for a week, about once every three months in the first two years, to cater for his household needs, in keeping his place neat and well maintained, cooking for him a few of his favorite meals, supplying him with whatever her mother knitted for him; but basically, she was her parents’ reporter on Antoun’s well being.  As Antoun’s status and wealth increased and thus, did not need as much attention, Latifa’s visits to Beirut dwindled to about twice a year, mainly to do some shopping for herself and her family and to forward her mother’s good business advices and recommendations.   On the third year of his exile and after learning that Antoun has purchased a house in Beirut, his mother and two daughters descended to Beirut and stayed five whole weeks after a noisy argument with his father Youssef.  The latter propagated the drastic excuse that this extended trip was related to an unusual health case that Antoun succumb to.

Once, Antoun decided to build for his father a luxury carriage but the idea was deemed too outlandish and dangerous in local politics.  Instead, his father, at the instigation of his wife, accepted liquid money to buy more lands, expand the family business in the countryside, and fulfill Youssef’s promises to his wife Jamila to remodel her residence with new amenities, furniture, and additional rooms that boosted an atmosphere of a higher social standing.  The remodeled house was outlandish within the walls but the exterior was kept blending harmoniously with the neighborhood environment and dwelling.

Before the final preparations for the insurgency, Antoun paid a visit for two weeks to his house in Mrouj; he pretended taking care of family business and being social.  Then he vanished with his son Adhal, supposedly to return to Beirut.  Antoun headed instead to Baskenta to direct the insurgency activities.  Adhal was delivered to the care of Mariam and her team of volunteers because his son had to learn life from a different perspective, in the fresh mountain air and also to link friendship with different kinds of kids.

Before the general order to advance at the capital Mtein, the leaders of the insurgent groups met to decide on the list of noblemen that have to be rounded up and the locations of their incarceration.  It was relevant that a number of important noblemen became summer lords: they showed up to town when the climate got hot at lower altitudes;  theyhad residency in the coastal towns and villages at lower altitude and outside the Metn jurisdiction; they rarely visited their properties in the mountain but to collect their rent twice a year.

It was decided that a group would be in charge of locating these summer noblemen and surreptitiously transferring them to the incarceration areas in the outlawed areas, immediately after the Capital fell in the hands of the insurgents.  The coastal guards were bribed to check on men traveling by sea until the group of insurgents could identify them before boarding. A most important decision was to refrain from executing or unduly torturing any prisoner until due legal process was carried out individually.  It was apparent that Antoun had a vested interest in knowing first hand each noblemen and deciding on his worth for helping him tighten his grasp on power later on.

During the war with the Emir of Aleppo, the insurgents infiltrated the rear guard of the army with a few agents to keep updated on the evolution of the war outcome against the Turks. Antoun got his insurgent army ready for a decisive attack as soon as news of a defeat was imminent.  Indeed, the armies of the Viceroy of Damascus were badly reduced and, while the remnants of the army was retreating in disorder, Antoun attacked from two fronts and aimed directly at the Capital Mtein where most of the remaining Emir’s strongmen where located.

My Sunny Levant 

(Rainbow over the Levant)

Antonios (1346-1381)

Chapter 1: Genesis of family from the Metn district

After his wedding, the minor landlord Youssef Fares spread the word that his first born boy would be named Antoun.

His wife Jamila was a proud and steadfast person and made her young husband promise to expand their one large-room home to include a private bedroom with door by the time she gives birth to a child. Jamila also wished not to have to step outside for bodily needs and washing, as was common, because she had a deep sense of privacy and propriety.

The stone house was a tad larger than the neighbors’, but resembled them by the lack of modern amenities. At night, bedding were removed from a special drawer to replace the cushions that spread around the room.  The tiny kitchen was located on the north-west corner.

Eleven months later, Jamila gave birth to Latifa, a girl.  It was too early for Youssef to despair and his immediate second attempt produced Youmna, a girl, thirteen months later.

Within fifteen days of Youmna’s birth, Youssef went ahead with his project for a large family and was stopped dead in his track.   The strong headed and shrewd Jamila sent him packing to the fields to work harder and give priority to feeding his growing family.

A year went by and Youssef’s male friends and relatives smirked at him and nicknamed his eldest daughter Antouneyeh which precipitated Youssef in a state of isolation, shunning friends and acquaintances.

Jamila sensed that business was deteriorating and the atmosphere in the house darkening and so she decided to give the nod for Youssef to resume his cherished project of producing a boy and crossed her fingers that destiny would turn more clement: Jamila did not believe in large families and mocked the traditional economic viability that feeding more mouths is the panacea for riches and life’s security in advanced age.

Jamila hired a helper to salvage the energies of Youssef and economized in everything except on substantial breakfasts and suppers, understanding that destiny had to be catered to if enterprises had to be successful.

Jamila would boil water in cold weather to warm Youssef’s feet after a day’s work and rub his back and shoulders with a warm wet cloth; everything had to contribute to begetting a healthy boy who should be called Antoun.

Youssef Fares was a wreck when his wife was pregnant for the third time and could no longer appreciate the jokes of his close friends, attributing the successive birth of females to his weak virility and the dominance of his wife in family affairs. The whole community knew that Youssef wanted to call his first-born son Antoun and so he was nicknamed Bou Antoun (father of Antoun) immediately after his marriage.

Youssef had driven Jamila to the walls in the last nine months, ordering her to pray more rosaries than needed, spending plenty of money on religious donations and making her submit to all kinds of traditional requests that would guarantee giving birth to a baby boy this time around.

In 1346, the big three kilograms baby Antoun showed up in his entire splendor.  Many exhaled a deep sight of relief, especially Latifa his eldest sister.  Jamila was drained from every ounce of energy and experienced a period of baby blues that lasted two weeks; she directed Youssef not to receive visitors while she was sick and to delay any major celebration until she could be ready to participate fully in the baptismal ceremony.

For the first time, scared to see his strong wife in such a state of depression and weakness, Youssef reluctantly postponed the grand celebration and sent word to the neighbors to temporarily guard his house from well wishers until Jamila was up to the task of honoring guests.

Jamila tried to breast feed big baby Antoun for two days and gave up this arduous and ineffectual endeavor, so that Youssef had to find surrogate mothers for the frequently and ever so hungry Antoun.

The house allowed only breast-feeding females to enter in the first week and then Bou Antoun had to carry his new-born son to different houses, at least four times a day, and suffer accidents and the humiliating caprices of little Antoun until a permanent deal to breast feed the gluttonous Antoun was arranged.

One night, Youssef confided to his wife his apprehensions about the baby boy; it seems that while he was carrying his boy to a feeding mother the baby constantly tried to rummage through his chest, proving that he was unable to be discriminating in a hungry state.  Youssef failed on the spot to describe his own embarrassment, but when he realized the purpose of baby Antoun,  in a weak moment, he revealed to Jamila that he felt his neck independent of his body, his head revolving in all directions for signs of any witness to Antoun’s behavior, his face scarlet hot with shame.

These two weeks of personal tending to his baby son’s needs proved a wealth of direct attachment and close bonding that not many fathers experience in their life time.

Bou Antoun threw a grandiose banquet for the occasion of baptizing his son and he entertained his audience as the supreme king sneering at his friends and threatening them for dire consequences if any of them dared any worn out jokes about virility and lack of authority.

During the festivity, Bou Antoun would dart flaming glances at Jamila and the only responses received from her steel cold eyes he correctly interpreted as saying: “Forget it.  Wipe it out of your mind.  You got what you wanted and do not expect any further special attentions.  Just sit tight and wait if and when I give any new signals.”

Youssef spent his energy expanding his business and planning for Antoun’s future who grew up comfortable among women; a great deal of self-esteem sharpened his mind under the watchful eyes of his strong spirited and hard-working mother.  Antoun was officially weaned within 18 months but he knew his surrogate mothers and felt at home attempting to breast feeding from anyone he was familiar with.

The next four years opened many neighbors’ doors to the growing Antoun who used to help himself to double and three portions at each meal when food was being served, his being most welcomed as a member of the family.

Jamila was obliged during the many special occasions to cook extra portions of sweets to be offered as gifts to the multitude of surrogate mothers in order to repay the favors of her neighbors and as compensation for the ravages done to the neighbors’ depleting pantries.

At 8 of age Antoun was sent to a nearby religious school to learn reading and writing in both languages of Arabic and Aramaic, and some elementary arithmetic. He was also introduced to the rudiments of the French language from a learned monk.

In the afternoons, Antoun helped on the family farms and ultimately was responsible for the accounting.  During religious holidays his sisters and he used to memorize whole sections of the Bible and then act scenes to entertain the family and guests assembled before dinner.

Since girls were not to go to any school outside their homes, his eldest sister Latifa would hang out with Antoun and share his school lessons on pretence of keeping an eye on his scheduled school assignments.

One day, Latifa overheard a disgruntled man cursing saint Anthony because he donated some money for the Saint in order to recover a precious lost object to no avail. Latifa put a twist on the saying and her mom heard her chanting: “Mar Antoun of Mrouj, big thief and far gone senile.”  Latifa was to ask forgiveness on her knees in front of the saint’s statue and wear a male St. Anthony frock for a month.

Something about the origins of my grand parents

Antoun (my father’s dad)

Antoun (Antony) is the name of dad’s father.  I have the impression that I saw him once and very briefly. He is sitting on a tiny balcony; he looked rotund with a jovial face. I never saw a photograph or a picture of Antoun.

By the way, my Christian name or patron saint name is Antoine since my first name is derived from an Antique “pagan” God Adonis. Mother told me that she was the one who insisted on calling me Adonis because she liked a girl at school named Adonis! And I was under the impression that this name was plainly a male name referring to the Phoenician male God of beauty Adonis.

I lately discovered that my name in my birth certificate is typed Adouis, most probably because the typist in the Capital Bamako (Mali, west Africa) confused the hand written n with u and nobody deigned to double-check for correction.

Antoun died in 1958 while on a brief visit to Lebanon. He succumbed from infection after the surgical removal of his gall bladder.

This minor surgery has harvested many victims, even in the best hospitals at the time.

Abou George, as Antoun should have been nicknamed, was born in Beit-Chabab and immigrated with a bunch of other young people to Africa as it was the custom in our locality.

George Tannous, husband of aunt Marie, recalls grand dad sitting most of the day outside his small shop in Segou and fingering his worry beads.

There is a custom to nickname the father after his eldest son by affixing Bou or Abou to the first name of the eldest son.

Thus, Antoun or Abou George started work in Guinee and then moved to Segou (Mali) where he ended up working in commerce and barely visited Lebanon.

I never heard anyone calling my father Bou Adonis; I figure you cannot have a father for God!

Fact is my father barely saw his dad: He lived in Beit Chabab with his grandparents (his mother side). The first time he met Antoun was when he joined him in Segou around 1947, a year before he got married with my mother Julie.

Dad’s mother: Saesta or Sabat (Elizabeth) on the birth certificate

Saesta is the name of dad’s mother.  She was short with a jovial face that dad inherited.

She is acerbic.  A story goes around during Lebanon’s civil war that the representative of the Phalanges “kataeb” militia in town came over to collect the monthly kickback on ground that this militia is a State within the State in the Metn district.

Saesta told the representative that she has no money, which was the case from her rundown home that dad had restored 10 years ago after vacating the long-standing tenants at the expense of a protracted legal battle that stretched for years.

The representative of the “kataeb” asked Saesta not to mention that she would be absolved from any kickback and  she replied that she would not be silenced “moush rah eskout“; he then begged her not to propagate the story and she again refused saying that she will talk “baddi ehki“.

In 1939, Saesta traveled to Segou to stay with her husband and took her eldest daughter Millia with he.

Saesta had the Lebanese passport, although Lebanon was under French protectorate.  Dad was left to live at his grand parents’, from his mother’s side, and the house was rented out to the Je3ara family.

It was a period when Maronite families married close cousins.

For example, my mother’s grand father and his brother married two sisters.

Families conceived almost yearly, and many children died still-born or shortly after, and still ended up with over six living offspring.

For example, Saesta got pregnant a dozen times and seven lived. My mother’s mother also conceived a dozen times and seven survived.

Toufic (Father of Saesta)

The father of Saesta, Toufic Bouhatab, lived in the USA in his youth and was considered “zeer nissa2” for chasing after girls. He was rich at one time and had several shops on the main street of Beit-Chabab (7aret ta7ta) and was a member of the municipal council for ever.

He ploughed and worked the vast garden till an old age (over 90). He suffered from an acute pneumonia and I said farewell to him while in bed before I left for the USA for graduate studies in 1975.  Toufic died within a month of my departure.

Dad used to aid in his grand father’s Toufic shop when a youth; the shop sold almost all kinds of items.

I recall when in boarding school I used to pass by on Sundays and Toufic would give me a handful of sweets.

Toufic hand-wrote in Arabic a voluminous manuscript, his diary in the USA, and I have to get hold of it to translate a few of his opinions.

Once, father gave Toufic money to purchase a piece of land adjacent to our house and Toufic went around and registered the deed in his son’s name Tanios (Tony).

Dad was never “lucky” in his dealing with his relatives and compatriots, but he was loved by the blacks of Mali in the town of Sikasso for his decency and largess.

Tanios (mother’s father)

The father of my mother, Tanios Gebrael, died in Lebanon at the age of 48 of a heart stoke, as his unique son Michel did later at the same age.

Tanios died one year before I was born.

Tanios also worked in Segou and he did well after many years of toil, but was robbed by his brother when he died in his brother’s Beirut home in Gemaizeh, Beirut, Lebanon: Tanios had a fortune in cash and had plans.

His wife Eugenia, six daughters and son never saw a nickel of cash inheritance.

Mother used to say that her father was irascible, strict, and conservative.

In his youth, Tanios used to chase away with stones any male contender to Eugenia, his potential sweet heart and later his wife. No boy or adult would dare talk or approach Eugenia.

The four sisters Josephine, Julie, Marie, and Montaha lived in Lebanon, alone and across their aunt’s who kept a watchful eyes on any male approaching them. The girls didn’t see their father until they also immigrated to Segou.

Mother told me that her father was pretty angry when the eldest Josephine eloped married (khatifeh) and in punishment forced the other 3 girls to study in a nun’s boarding school.

Tanios knew that mother and dad were in love, and when dad joined his father in Segou, Tanios refused that his girls in Lebanon (particularly mother) join him in Africa, as it was planned.

His only surviving son Michel was bright in school but the psychiatric system in Lebanon diagnosed him as emotionally “not normal” and ended up taking high dozes of tranquilizers and anti-depressant that reduced Michael to a dependent person and spent his short life on medications.

Michael was living with his married sister Therese, and filled many hand-written notebooks that disapeared. Why?

Michel used to hand write abundantly and somehow the extended family has decided to make his scattered booklets disappear; I never can forgive them for that act of insensitivity that prove their ignorance and small mindedness.

I am not sure if Therese (one of my aunts with whom Michael lived) read any of his writing because he lived with her. I once asked Therese of what happened to Michel’s writing and she refused to answer me.

Eugenia (mother’s mother)

Eugenia suffered many stillbirth and ended up with five living daughters (Josephine, Julia, Marie, Montaha, Therese) and a unique son (Michael).

She joined her husband in Africa in 1938 and left her four girls in Lebanon at the guard of Adel, one of her many sisters, living across the street. Actually, Adel was married with Tanios’ brother (okhte selfteh)

She lost her husband Tanios at the age of 48.

Eugenia lived mostly with her married daughter Marie and could never forget the mental state of her unique son Michael who lived close by with his married sister Therese, when not confined in the psychiatric ward Deir al Saleeb.

Eugenia lent her wealth to one of her nephew lawyer who was supposed to invest the money by lending it.  This lawyer made plenty of money working other people’s money, including my dad and many of our relatives.

For example, when my dad and one of my relatives were shown deals to purchase lands, this lawyer would fake to have re-invested the money and then ask one of his brothers to purchase the lands.

Eugenia died the day mother was getting ready to fly to Paris to attend to William’s (first grandson) heart surgery.  William is my eldest nephew and he was barely 16 months when he had the surgery.

Why about this wave of immigration to Africa?

There are evidences that most of the immigrants at the turn of the century paid dear money to go to “America” (read the USA).

Many scoundrels of ship Captains tried to increase their turnover rates of customers; thus, they dropped many travelers in Africa and told them “Here is America“.

These Captains did the same things and many Lebanese, Syrians, and Palestinians ended in Cuba, Mexico, Brazil and elsewhere.

Then those established immigrants sent for their relatives.

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction novel)

Note: I have divided this long chapter 10 into three parts under the title “An army from the people and for the people”

Chapter 10: A concept for a unified nation

            In this period of unstable centralized powers, the further away from Cairo the weaker the power of the Mamluk monarchy, along with the ever-present ghost of a recurrence of the Tatar threat, Antoun decided that the new political reality entitled him to give his State a name and a political recognition. All the chiefs of villages and towns throughout the newly expanded Nation were convoked in mid May to a conclave that would last a week if necessary.

The chiefs brought along their families and assistants, while makeshift tents were erected in the Capital Mtein instead of Baldat El Mir to honor the anniversary of the new regime and remind the citizens of the real center of popular power.  The agenda for this gathering was first, to devise a legislature House of Representatives with its responsibilities and the processes for implementing this proposal; second to elect the first leader of this self-administered nation, and third to discuss the proposal of taxing donations in money and lands to monasteries and other religious domains so that no strata in society would enjoy undue privileges.

A confessional group under the implicit backing of Latifa and the Christian clergy was outspoken and canvassed diligently to secure a much higher share in representative members than their proportion entitled them, under the rationale that the core partisans for the victorious insurrection were Christians and that it was the only nation with a sizable Christian denomination and surrounded by Moslem Empires.  This group also held firm on excluding Jews from the House because they were the persecutors of Jesus and they crucified him between two convicted criminals.

Antoun understood the ancient apprehension of his compatriots and their quest for a stable political framework, which may secure confidence and animate the enterprising spirit in Mount Lebanon to open up to wider markets.  He worked out a tacit verbal agreement with the Moslems’ counterparts to accept a temporary tradeoff until the next election to allay the Christians’ fears of this novel form of participation.

This agreement was laden with many restrictions from both parties toward any form of female representation and excluding them from military obligations.  Antoun reluctantly had to bend to the power of tradition until more women prove themselves able to manage in the administration and learn to associate among themselves and voice their concerns politically.  However, he vehemently insisted on a limited female representations in municipality councils, appointing female and Jewish counselors and female civil servants in the government administrations, and on keeping the female military formations already in service. Under this tacit agreement, the Christians would be represented by 65% of the House versus 35% for the Moslems.

On the last day of the assembly, Antoun was elected to a ten-year term as First Emir of the Levant Emirate with no restrictions to a potential renewal for leadership.  The First Emir was tempted to call himself Sultan of the Levant, as traditions of the time required, but he realized that this title would generate more trouble from the dissenting neighboring Emirs and open the eyes of larger kingdoms to his future schemes of expansion.

Initial Parliamentary election

There was a need for a representative body of all the regions based on an electoral system.  No unanimous electoral system could be agreed upon that was satisfactory and thus a transitory and consensual one for the first election was enacted. This first electoral system was flawed in many respects of religious proportion, gender discrimination and status levels of the representatives.

Women not only were forbidden to be candidates but also single women were not allowed to vote. The clergy of all religious sects were not to register as candidates but could cast their ballot. Anyone who did not own a house or a sizable piece of land could not be a candidate. However, it was decided that the fairness of the application of the system was to be strictly monitored and the lists of voters and candidates printed out in advance.

The clergy of various religious sects was surprised to learn that the chiefs of villages agreed to tax some of their riches and also that they were cast out from representation.  These news shed a shadow of realization that changes in society were in the offing and proclamations to boycott the election were announced in churches and mosques. The government decided not to rescind the donation tax law but agreed to proceed with negotiations.

Mustafa’s position was that it was fair that the clergy should have the same rights as any citizen especially that they were the most learned section in society.  For example, he said, “we certainly would have a hard time implementing any election if the clergy decided to boycott and refrain from helping the citizens in reading the procedures and writing petitions concerning discrepancies and unfair dealings during elections”.

Gergis declared: “The clergy has already adopted a kind of democratic election within their hierarchy and has experience in running legislative conventions and would be an asset in enhancing the learning process of the next House of Representatives”.

A satisfactory deal was struck with the clergy where first, the rate of taxation on donations was reduced to 10% for the first two years and then increased to 15% subsequently and second, that the clergy of all denominations were called upon to select two representatives for each sect to the next House of Representatives but would be prohibited to cast a vote for the lay candidates and were urged to support the election process and monitor its fairness and accuracy.

Yasmine dies

In that year, Yasmine died of birth complications and Antoun’s grief was devastating: Yasmine had been lately feeling happier in her new castle, so close to Beirut with mild weather throughout the year.  Most importantly, she had been heading the hectic furnishing and interior design task force with renewed enthusiasm for life.

The First Emir was the father of two boys Adal and Asaad and a baby girl Wujdan.  Adal was only seven years old and Wujdan barely two years and their bereavement was unbearable.  Only Noura could take matters in her expert hands, and Antoun ordered her to relocate her quarters to his castle and raise his children as her own.

For two weeks, Antoun kept roaming the galleries where Yasmine’s aquarelle were displayed.  This behavior sent pangs of sadness in Noura’s heart, until Antoun started copying Yasmine’s original aquarelle.  Noura understood then that her defeat was inevitable and her nights lost the shimmer of hope.

Yes, Noura would not have minded that Antoun took up carpentry and imitated the wooden mechanical toys because they were imported products and did not represent the soul of Yasmine.

Very soon, the officials realized that Noura was firmly holding the real power and was considered the sole person with access to the ears and mind of the First Emir. She invested her energy with a vengeance and reigned unchallenged for 14 months, the time for Antoun to recover from his shock and exhibit a renewed zest for life.

Noura achievements

In the fourteen months of her administrative power, Noura managed great feats in the consolidation of the State and kept chaos from the neighboring States at bay.  She restructured the yearly budget to allocate more fund to her ministry of Health and Social Affairs at the expense of the ministry of Defense, passed new programs and expanded the scope of established programs.

The ministry of Foreign Affairs under Gergis Al Ustaz took on new missions and its budget was increased accordingly.  New economic and diplomatic missions were dispatched to Andalusia in Southern Spain which was still under Arabic and Moorish hands, to Venice and Florence in Italy, to Cyprus in Crusaders hands, to Morocco and France.  Consulates were opened in Venice and Florence and diplomatic interchanges were routinely undertaken.

Since society was organized on sectarian foundation and the whole structure in political administration and power sharing was basically related to religion, Noura understood that any drastic changes in that structure will destabilize society and allow chaos to spread. The first cultural task was to expose the myths among the various sects toward the other sects, which were unfounded but originating in a society isolated and ignorant due to lack of appropriate schools and communication and difficulty of traveling.

The problem was not simply negative myths but plainly unfounded and erroneous knowledge that exposed the country to dislocation at the first malicious rumors.  In order to remedy the power of obscurantism and attempt to unify the kingdom on firmer grounds Noura and her counselors laid out a two-phase plan.

The first edict was to reconstruct and rehabilitate the two Roman amphitheaters in Tyr and Baalbek and then, to build 3 new amphitheaters, one in the Capital Mtein, one in the port of Beirut and the third in the coastal port of Byblos.  These public gatherings were to encourage the population to meet, mingle, exercise, and attend plays; public bathing facilities were constructed adjacent to the amphitheaters.

The regular communication among the people, regardless of their social status or religious affiliations, was a political act that attracted the population and provided a legitimate environment for discussing social matters and entertaining healthy business deals and encouraging dialogue.

The previous isolated social structure that prevented strong interconnections among the various strata was replaced by free expression and easy communication that prepared the ground for open dialogue of what Noura expressed as, “who we are and what we need for the generations to come”.

Sport and cultural teams from the four corners of the kingdom were welcomed to compete in sports and artistic achievements in the amphitheaters.  The population began to set aside leisure time to travel and encourage their local teams and discover new locations and the opportunities available in bigger cities and towns.

The positive side effect of having two main events that extended for two weeks in the spring and fall greatly encouraged tourism from the neighboring kingdoms including as far as Egypt, Iraq and Turkey.  The ministry of Education was assigned the new essential responsibility of propagating, disseminating, and communicating the new political and social system.  Leaflets that contained the program of the events were extended with additional pages that provided news and edicts; these were highly targeted and at a reduced price.  The tourism activities offered opportunities to hire skilled personnel from other countries and a variety of industries were created to cater to the demands of this new business.

In addition to the larger gathering grounds, the government enacted plans to establish local gathering spaces to cater to the traveling troops of actresses and actors, to wedding ceremonies and to get together festivities and attractions.  Some of these gathering spaces were extensions of the church and mosque squares but many were not directly linked to any religious affiliation.

Orientalists, those European scholars and adventurers who wanted to pay a visit to the Levant, were clandestinely entering Lebanon with the knowledge and help of the Levant government.  Temporary passes were issued to them as traders and merchants and they were closely monitored in their travels:  the government was taking a calculated risk because the Mamluks viewed these European foreigners as a threat to the stability of their regime.

The Mamluks’ apprehension was understandable because the last Crusaders’ waves of invasion to the Levant in the previous century were still fresh in the society’s psyches.  However, the short-term memory of the Levant’s Christian population of the atrocities they suffered from the Crusaders was wiped out after the fresher tyrannical restrictions imposed by the Mamluks on Mount Lebanon.

Consequently, the mercantile mentality of the government of the Levant was not as squeamish as the Moslem’s Mamluks in welcoming the rich Europeans.  The embittered German, French and English were not that nostalgic to returning to the Levant any time soon, but the Italian and Spanish who did not participate heavily in the Crusaders’ campaigns needed to validate first hand the various tales they had overheard from the returning Crusaders.  It could be conjectured that the Italian and Spanish scholars and adventurers who had accumulated some riches from a period of peace were experiencing the dawn of a Renaissance and a new-found vigor.

            Along with the Portuguese, Italians, and Spaniards the Gypsies tagged along with their ambulatory circuses which were unfamiliar to the Levantine for a century.  The artisans got busy fabricating big top of tents, wooden terraces and typical trailers for the family circus companies.  The big tops did not expand more than fourteen meters in diameter but since it was not necessary to invest in chairs there was allowed plenty of space and besides they were so brightly colorful!  Soon after, the couple of circuses expanded their programs to include wild animals that terrified the Levantine; the few lions and brown bears that still existed in the higher altitudes were captured to be trained and to entertain the populace while even elephants made their way through seas from India.

The itineraries of the circuses were confined to the sea-coast chiefly because the access to the mountains was not feasible for the carriages hauling large animals but eventually a few rudimental programs of clowning and Italian burlesque shows were making their appearances in remote towns.

Many Levantine had new opportunities to learn various skills, talents and trades; old feats demonstrating raw strength and agility were channeled and reshaped on different instruments and maneuvers. The Gypsy trade was closely monitored because the First Emir had good understanding of their behavior during his contraband period, and the circuses emplacement and activities were somewhat controlled.

            One Sunday, Mariam and her adoptive daughter Samar attended a matinée of one of the circuses in Beirut; by the end of the program they were both awestruck and conquered.  Samar kept harassing her mother that she wanted to accompany the circus, reverberating the same longing in Mariam; both of them never slept a wink that night and by morning Gergis received the visit of Mariam asking for suggestions on the process of purchasing and maintaining a circus.

Gergis arranged  a deal with a minor circus owned by three brothers and two sisters of the Italian family Gambali which was not burdened by wild animals in its programs;  Mariam was to be part associate as a sixth owner along with the family with a say in setting new programs and directly collecting her share from the daily receipts.  Within two years Mariam, with the judicious financial acumen of Gergis, managed to buy out 50% of the business every time plans for expansion were contemplated.  The circus traveled the mountain regions for six months from early March to the end of October with Samar as a paid helper, actor, and translator which allowed her to learn the skills of the trade.

Gradually, Mariam won over the two Gambali sisters and the younger brother to her new ingenious program; it included dramatic stories acted in serial parts to be continued for two or three days according to the population density of the emplacements.  Ladies who attended the first part would tell and spread the first part of the story and the whole village would flock the next day to listen to the end of the story. Disgusted and shocked by this drastic change in the tradition of circus programming and the treachery within the family, the two elder Gambadi brothers sold their share to Mariam and hastily left Lebanon, never to return.

The flocking of the European orientalist inspired Noura to initiate the construction of a scientific center in Baldat El Mir in response to the demands from the enlightened Italian Princes for translated Arabic manuscripts.  Many Arabs from Andalusia and Egypt, who were bilingual in Latin or Spanish in addition to Arabic, were attracted and contracted out to settle a few years in the Levant. Arabic mathematical manuscripts in the fields of algebra, algorithms and geometry and scientific manuscripts in physics, chemistry, optics, medicine and astronomy were translated to Spanish and Latin and sold at premium prices.

Later on, maritime sciences and the fabrication of navigation equipment and instruments took priority for investment when the Levantine navy asserted its utility in trade and commerce.  The Levantine artists and merchants discovered a huge demand by the European tourists for sketches and paintings of the Levant’s landscapes and social customs and soon the souks were flooded with products satisfying the avidity of select buyers.

An army from the people and for the people

            The other part of the plan to eliminate or reduce the masses of unfounded myths among religious sects was the use of the army as an educational forum to allow the population to mingle and befriend with one another.  In these times there were no centrally organized armies.  In war-time, the warlords and prince of the provinces joined the army with their quota of men, arms and supplies. Since all drafting policies had proven to fail miserably, the government started instituting voluntary contracts for two years. The terms of the contract were to pay directly the family of the soldier two-thirds of his wages and a guarantee to train the soldier in technical skills for some job and teach him reading and writing in his mother language. Strict adherence to the contract by the army encouraged many families to enlist many of their boys in the army.

            There was one hitch to that plan:  Many well to do families and religious sects with specific doctrines that prohibited armed confrontations refrained to participate in this national army.  After five years of the voluntary enlistment policy a systematic national draft program was instituted with minor revolts or resentment.   A voluntary contract for enlistment of girls and women was promoted with good success since many single women had no viable alternatives for livelihood.  The regiments for women, after their basic army training, had specific and very specialized tasks in the war efforts:  mainly for espionage assignments in and outside the kingdom, administering the supply, tending to the military camp hospitals and the rehabilitation of the injured.

Noura’s Exile

By this time, Noura was three months pregnant from Antoun out-of-wedlock and the political maneuvering to displace Noura from the center of power increased.  The main argument of the detractors was that the First Emir should now seek a politically beneficial marriage to a powerful Emir that would offer higher recognition to the new kingdom and stronger legitimacy.  At first, the First Emir barely paid any attention to these innuendoes but with converging circumstances and regained zest to holding on to power the repeated suggestions for remarrying reached a critical appeal to the First Emir.

Gergis agreed to handle this diplomatic mission on condition that the First Emir, his longtime friend, would acknowledge publicly Noura’s child as his own. A diplomatic search for a wife was in full activity and trying to circumventing Noura’s intelligence sources as much as possible.  Eventually, no secret could be kept for long in this intricate and small community.

Noura loved Antoun since she knew him in his youth in Beirut but discovered that this love was not returned in the same strength and dedication. She was a fighter and would have done what ever was necessary but realized that her lover would never be content with what his power had already brought him.

Salvaging the remaining of her pride Noura faced Antoun with an ultimatum: either he wed her legitimately or she would rather go into exile away from the Levant.  Gergis realized that his endeavor would be much facilitated if he could receive Noura’s backing in his searching task.  For the benefit of the stability of the Nation they struck an agreement that all dealings would be shared with her in secrecy, a condition that at least satisfied her pride for virtually sharing in the search selection.  In the meantime, she staunchly canvassed to have her initiated programs funded for the next yearly budget.

Three criteria for the search of a wife were set by Antoun:  that the Emir’s province be rich, that his military preparedness be inferior to his kingdom and that the two States share no common borders. Basmat, the daughter of the Emir of Aleppo from one of his Christian concubines, was at the top of the contenders. The province of the Emir Aziz of Aleppo stretched from the port of Lattakieh to the region of Jazyra eastward and the area of Diar Bakr in the North.  It shared a long border South with the Viceroy of Damascus who got very perturbed and immediately arranged for his son to marry one of Aziz’s other daughters.

Noura ended up in Florence, Italy, and never married for the duration of her exile.  Noura gave birth to a son named Jacob after her father’s and toured all the States of Italy for four years, from Naples to Milan to Venice. Gergis was frequently in contact with her and used to assign her to difficult trade missions. There came a time when Noura needed the action and motivation that she was used to having and requested a formal diplomatic appointment from Gergis who secured the duties of Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Levant to the European courts.  Noura opened a linguistic center in Florence to train the immigrant Levantines and enjoyed her job greatly and kept traveling to France, Spain and Holland, supporting the consuls and Lebanese merchants in their trades and commerce.

A Gentleman (continue 8)

Antoun met Yasmine on an April of Palm Sunday (Chaanine) accompanied by Noura as her chaperon.  Yasmine was 17 years old, pretty, shy and introverted. She talked little and Antoun barely heard what she was saying and did not pay much attention to her during the procession. Noura later told him that she was the official health provider for Yasmine’s family.  The family members were suffering not so much of any major physical illnesses but mainly from a kind of depression, sadness and isolation.

Boulos Bakhour, the father of Yasmine, was in earlier times a prosperous merchant who had wide connections with the merchants of the city of Venice. Boulos exported incense and spices to Venice and imported finished woolen cloth (usually imported by the Venice merchants from England through the port of Antwerp in Holland), stone marble, navigation accessories and mechanical wooden toys. Two of his sons had died; one from a ship wreck and another from the plague that devastated Italy on one of his trips. Boulos business went under shortly after and he had to sell his trading facilities at a loss.

Yasmine was highly educated in matters that were considered totally useless, especially for females:  She could write in Latin, speak fluent French and play an exotic musical instrument which resembled a “clavecin”. She also tried her hand at small aquarelle paintings of landscapes and flowers and had reserved a room for that hobby.

Yasmine could not believe Noura when she assured her that Antoun could procure her an updated clavecin, more Latin books and especially those exquisitely varnished mechanical wooden toys if she could afford the price. This information inflamed Yasmine and set her on a journey of conniving for Antoun’s heart and soul.

Noura became frantic and alarmed at Yasmine’s excitement; she was not thrilled with the development shaping out under her watch; her imprudence and pride prevented her from disrupting the unfolding intimate relationships between Yasmine and Antoun.  Noura was reduced to reason logically that, if they indeed might wed, which eventuality should not be a done deal, this wedding might provide a perfect cover up for Antoun’s dangerous activities. The old merchant Boulos knew about the illegal trading business of Antoun but hard times and the newly discovered excitement of Yasmine for life were irresistible.

Most often, love has devious ways of punishing the inattentive to its subtle signals, so that Noura reaped a few lame satisfactions imagining Antoun spending his spare time listening to the harpsichord, attending to Latin poem recitations and entertaining a stuffy entourage in endless boring parties.  Four months of studious courting resulted in Yasmine and Antoun getting married; his eldest sister Latifa represented the Fares family because his father could not make the trip while Antoun’s official situation with the Emir of the Metn was still unresolved.  The honeymoon was spent in Cyprus at the request of Yasmine who had never traveled overseas, a request that suited Antoun’s business transactions too.

The first act of change in class status was for Antoun to buy himself a black pure blood Arabian stallion and a fancy coach hitched to two long-legged bays to take Yasmine on tours of the city and for official invitations. New rich silk outfits for the couple were remarked with appreciation in town and many households had a hard time imitating the expenditure of the newly wealthy couple.  Yasmine nagged Antoun for clinging to his flat turban and assiduously urged him to change to a Venetian headdress and tight thigh molding pantaloons.  Antoun went along with Yasmine’s extravagances for a month until his closest friends started to shun him in the streets and then uncalled for innuendos flooded the neighborhood.

Three months in his new social status confirmed to Antoun that marriage is anathema to his cherished liberty and freedom but rather a very useful formal social contract to establish credibility as a reliable man and setting valid ground to acquire stable status among the prosperous merchant families. Antoun expanded his business by building carriages and subcontracted the mismanaged postal service in and around Beirut and later on to the Metn region.  The regular postal carriages were served by on board scribes who offered their services of reading delivered letters to the illiterate clients and immediately replying to the returned correspondences.  Abundant intelligence information was accumulated via that service along with immense prestige attached to a client friendly enterprise rarely emulated.

The first-born son was named Adhal (muscle) but, to the chagrin of many, Yasmine could only manage the sound of Adl (justice); and thus Antoun’s close friends and associates attributed to him the pseudonym of Abu Adl (father of justice), a name that he grew to like because he thought matched his temperament.  Yasmine hated the name Adhal and screamed recriminations and shed hysterical cries for she hoped her first son would have a French name of Augustin or Christoph as an alternate.

Gergis became a constant fixture at Yasmine study room; he hired her services under the pretense of learning Latin so that she would translate for him passages from the Roman codes of law and books that described how the Romans governed their vast multiracial Empire.  Somehow, Yasmine felt that Gergis made her repeat passages that were connected to Sicily.

Antoun had different code names among the civilian and the armed groups.  His code name for the civilian association was Abu Adl (father of justice) and for the armed group Abu Ghadab (father of anger). A propitious event offered Antoun the opportunity to expand and affirm his leadership.  The Emirs of the regions were summoned by the Viceroy of Damascus to raise their small private armies and advance to face a renegade Emir from the north around Aleppo.  Antoun was frustrated with the heavy demands levied on his business and the mass forced recruitment of the youth and able bodies.  He started by helping the young males from the Metn who refused to be enlisted in the army to flee into the outlawed areas and he prepared to resist any onslaught of the mercenaries of the Emir of Beirut

Neighborhood night watch groups were organized to forewarn against any sudden descend of the Emir’s troops. The sea was opened to evacuate distressed families. Many widowed women and orphans joined the insurgents for food and shelter because foodstuffs were seized and the black market prices were exorbitant. Gergis was spared the draft because he was deemed a valuable middleman to the rich Christian class.

At this junction, Antoun had no choice but to join the resistance movement hiding in the mountains. He took his son Adhal with him to visit his grandparents in the mountains. Yasmine, who was pregnant for the second time, stayed home in Beirut with her parents. The married gentleman Antoun was tolerated again in his hometown which was located at a cross-road between the Capital Mtein and Zahle in the Bekaa Valley.  He had bought a small cottage in the village of Mrouj, very close to his hometown, where his eldest sister Latifa was caretaker.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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