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Posts Tagged ‘Capital of Mtein

Rainbow over the Levant: Latifa’s Regency. A Short story

Note:  This short story is set in 14th century Mount Lebanon.  It is a chapter of the novel Rainbow over the Levant

As soon as the Mameluk Sultan of Egypt received news of the First Emir trip abroad he downgraded the title of the Levant Ambassador to Cairo to Trade Consul instead of closing down the Embassy for the simple reason that the Egyptian noble class craved luxury items that should be kept flowing in through Alexandria. A trade embargo for all non luxury products imported from the Levant was strictly enforced. The total number of the Levant civil foreign servants was maintained for three months, the time for the Mameluks to sort out the potential agents among them that might serve their interests and only fifteen members out of 45 were permitted to remain in Egypt.

When news reached the Grand Vizier of Egypt that the First Emir had landed in Andalusia he masterminded a frantic backlash on the Levantine immigrants in Egypt.  The prosperous and those with solid ties with the noble class were forewarned and fled to Yemen and Arab North Africa.  A few ended on some European ports to resume their mercantile trades as best they could.  Only the dispirited immigrants returned to the Levant praying that Timorlank would not contemplate to devastate Mount Lebanon.

Latifa was conservative and shrewd.  She was not kept up to date with government details and did not follow closely the changes taking place in the kingdom but she retained a high understanding for the power struggle that was in the offing.  She knew that the power seat had shifted to Beirut because of its location for trade, diplomacy and industrial development but figured that with the First Emir’s absence the historic Capital of Mtein could recapture the leverage it exercised at the beginning of the insurgency through its symbolic power for the Nation.

Latifa ordered that the Capital during the Regency would be Mtein and managed to transfer branches for most of the government ministries to be established in the historic Capital and its vicinity.  Since barely 20% of the kingdom’s budget was allocated to the mountain regions of over 800 meters in altitude and only 15% actually spent there her second major decision was that within 2 years half of the Nation’s budget had to be allocated in her mountainous regions; in the mean time 50% of the budget allocated to education, infrastructure, health and agriculture had to be spent in the mountains, with priority given to its population in the civil services.

The work on the highway crossing Mount Lebanon from south to north at 1,000 meters altitude was rescheduled to resume with scares resources, and security garrisons interspersed the rest areas along the highway to provide comfort and help to travelers until private businesses bided for the facilities. The Christian Orthodox managed to secure a higher rate in numbers as civil servants commensurate to their proportion and that was partly due to increased pressure from the Regent and also because they were the most educated generally.

 Latifa had a tender passion and affection for the town of Zahle in the central Bakaa Valley that she visited once before the insurgency and twice afterwards; she also understood its central location for internal and overland trades as well as being the main town with a sizable Christian concentration in the Bekaa.  Consequently, the Regent exhibited determination so that Zahle enjoyed a period of investment in real capital which renewed and expanded its warehouses for agricultural and textile goods, resort facilities around the Berdawny River crossing the town and enlarging the main trade roads leading to town.

During her regency the Christian clergy regained most of their power through reduced tax breaks and a renewed zeal for religious beliefs; monasteries were repaired and embellished, religious schools increased and churches regained their luster with acquisitions and renovations.

Mariam finally set her mind to build herself a beautiful and large house in Mtein so that she could stay in constant touch with the Regent and keep close eyes on her associations and the political opportunists buzzing in the Capital.  Her main responsibility was to be the intermediary among Latifa, the Viceroy Gergis and the ministers in Beirut and Baldat El Mir.  Her male companion Ignatios Doumani was already appointed director of a new branch of the Linguistic Institute in Mtein and supervised the construction of the house which included a spacious annex for accommodating overnight guests and high ranking functionaries.

How Miriam enticed youth to join the Aram National party

Before Latifa’s Regency, most of the youth in villages and towns in the mountains were enthusiastic about the activities and opportunities offered by the Aram National Party and inflated the membership of that Party since there was no other political party to challenge or compete with.  The other alternative to attract and organize youth was the religious community services headed by very old people who lacked ingenuity and diversity in activities.

With the advent of Latifa to the Regency a new political twist was offered to the religious zealots who minded very much the relative secular principles of the Aram Party and labeled them as heretical.  With the support of Latifa the clergy endeavored to create another political party counterpart called “Mount Lebanon First” which emphasized the integrity of allegiance to the Metn and with some arm twisting extension to the regions of Mount Lebanon that had Christian majority.  The new party was thrust among the youth through key words such as tradition, allegiance to the Regent, Christian faith, mountain customs, and respect of and obedience to the clergy, respect of family unity and attendance at all religious events and ceremonies.

One critical factor for the sudden successes of this “Mount Lebanon First” party was the decree which ended the seclusion of the traditional noblemen in their encampments.  Many of the younger generations of former noblemen had been integrated in society, in the army, in the civil service or members of industries and trade without any feudal titles or financial or social privileges that they had enjoyed before the insurgency.  The older generations had managed to develop the lands assigned to them in the towns of confinement but many had nostalgia for their former villages and wished to be allowed to transfer there.

The clergy worked relentlessly on Latifa to rescind the old decree concerning the imprisoned noblemen because this political gesture would strengthen the validity of the new party as a staunch supporter of traditions. The government of the Levant reached a consensus with Latifa to free the old feudal classes with the following stipulations: first, the freed feudal persons would not be permitted to leave Mount Lebanon and second, their feudal titles could not be inherited and they could keep the title of “Cheikh”, if they wished, till their death.  A fresh period of forgiveness and unity was proclaimed by the Regent which was at best skin deep and would eventually harm the future of the Nation and wipe out the many political and social gains of the revolution.

Within two years every village was more or less split between these two political factions; a village was divided into parts with majority in allegiance to either Parties and local ceremonies were marred by conflicts and physical confrontations.  The traditional harmony of apathy and stillness in village life transcended the clan and tribal affiliation to encompassing fundamental political divergences.

Mariam had sensed early on that the source of that schism was less a religious recrudescence of faith, but rather a direct vengeance of Latifa for Mariam’s ascendancy in the heart and mind of the youth and, especially, the female renewed activities for their rights in society.  Mariam launched political counter offensives in the mountain and increased the Aram Party involvement in regions far from Latifa’s personal influence and authority biding time for the return of the First Emir from his exile.

Miriam invested on the children attending the boarding schools and expanded their activities by planning marching trips of a week long early on and at the end of the schooling seasons. The children were chaperoned by teachers and “Makerehs” the merchant guides.  The “Makereh” guided the caravan through well trodden shortcut routes by mules and donkeys and teaching the kids the tricks of the trade such as what to bring as supplies and where to select resting location and how to respect the properties of others and the traditions of what trees and fruits are permitted to eat as travelers.

The selected teachers were to instruct the kids on the geography of the land and encourage them to observe and note down the different customs, way of life, songs and folkloric dances in Mount Lebanon

The children were usually lodged in small groups with families in the villages bringing with them gifts of packets of fresh and dried fruits and seasonal staples. The guest families were given advanced notice of the arrival of the school convoys and they cleaned their homes thoroughly as hospitality obliged and they cooked abundant portions to feed the voracious kids. These trips were to allow social learning of the customs of other regions of Mount Lebanon and circumvent ignorant myths spread by isolation.  Mariam’s programs were successful in many respects, however, the seeds of confessional tendencies were planted and many religious sects tried to create their own “first allegiance” parties with slight variations.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

December 2020
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