Adonis Diaries

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Prophesy of end of time: Rainbow over the Levant, (part of a fiction novel)

Women participate in the electoral system

Women were to be allowed to be candidates in any electoral system for the municipality or the chamber of deputy.  The voting right to every citizen who was eighteen years of age regardless of the voter’s marital status such as being single or staying with his parents or not having a steady income was to be the law of the land. Any religious laws that abridged women rights were discussed and critiqued. The bottom line was that if God provided men with specific rights like marrying more than one woman in some religions, then women had equal rights to marry more than one man in other religions.  This concept did not make much logic in our tradition but offered a fertile ground for dialogue that was totally lacking on gender discrimination.

The concept of taxation without representation was being argued as illegitimate and pressures for political reforms to elect representatives who were cognizant with the laws were making steady inroads in the status quo.  The First Emir was secretly behind this wave of demands and encouraged the exchange of ideas by staying above the fray and admonishing the sanctity of freedom of expression as the ultimate weapon for change and development.

The new political party had to cater to the intellectuals in order to disseminate the new principles and social values.  The First Emir then promulgated the urgency to build and staff art schools of music, acting, painting and sculpting in every major town.  He also worked on the intellectual vanity by erecting two imposing museums in Byblos and Beirut for artifacts, industrial machineries and achievements in all sectors of artistic endeavors.

This was the most glorious period in the cultural development in the Levant society; freedom of expression was carried far which almost broke many taboos in topics for discussions; formal cultural circles were spreading among elite families and endeavoring to dissect documents, articles and positional treaties.  Reason was pinned against religious dogmas and the seed of dissention was taking roots within the polarized extremist positions.

Part 5: Latifa Regency (1400-1402)

Chapter 17: The Exile

In 1400, Timorlank was closing in with his Tatar hordes toward Northern Syria. The Viceroy of Aleppo was frantic and sent messengers after messengers for directions from his master the Sultan of Egypt.  He requested reinforcements and financial support but Cairo did not stir.  The Viceroys of Damascus and Hama were of no help either and completely in the dark as to the policies of the Sultan of Egypt.  The agents of the First Emir reported that Egypt’s position was not to intervene at this stage either financially or militarily and to concentrate its resources in Egypt for the time being. It seems that the advisers to the Sultan reminded his Majesty that these hordes, like the Moguls before them, never ventured into Egypt and most of the time they retreat after capturing Damascus. They also reminded the Sultan that when Holago the Mogul decided to advance to Palestine a century and a half ago the Mameluks defeated him easily in 1260 at two major battles.

These counselors assured the Sultan that the Mameluks would repeat the previous military feats if Timorlank dared advance toward Palestine with his already exhausted forces and stressed on the facts that the previous Fatimide and Ayubid dynasties had deteriorated and their hold on power had begun to decline when they had tried to stretch their dominions into Iraq.  The Mameluk’s Viceroys in Damascus and Hama decided not to put up a fight against the Tatars and invested their time in hoarding as much money and riches as they could gather and flee in due time.  Aleppo was destroyed and Timorlank entered Damascus in 1401 without a fight and transferred all its remaining artisans to Samarqand, his Capital, within a year.

Prophesies of the end of time

There were other factors accounting to this social uneasiness, apathy and helplessness.  Any society facing changes in its structural order is usually ripe to the cyclical apocalyptic prophesies of the ultimate end of the World.  The Levant had already experienced one such depressing mood during the lifetime of Antoun and twice in the previous century with a slight delay of such rumors emanating from Europe.  The Fatimide dynasty in the 11th century reigned in Egypt and claimed its right to the Caliphate of the Moslems by proclaiming the imminent coming of a disappeared Imam. The decline of the Crusaders’ hold on the Levant and lack of subsequent infusions of men and financial support combined with the occurrence of pests or plagues prompted one of these cataclysmic beliefs within the Levant Crusaders; the other period happened when news of the Mogul invasion were imminent and the fact that indeed Holago erased the Capital Baghdad in 1258.

Shortly after Antoun was born, society remembered the plague that devastated Aleppo half a century before which added to the fear of an imminent recurrence of a Tatar invasion led by Timorlank toward Syria.  These apocalyptic prophesies were shared by both Christians and Moslems; the Shiaa Moslems would preach the coming of either the 6th disappeared Imam or the 12th Imam to unite the Moslems to some kind of victory and the Christians would rely on the eschatology of Christ returning and reigning for one thousand years over a peaceful and happy World before the end of time would take place.

Antichrist finger pointing or which power was represented by Satan was convenient and successful in fomenting pockets of extremist sects within each religion.  Actually, a century later with the Renaissance upheaval in Europe, Luther was able to establish his religious Reforms by capitalizing on the fears spreading in Europe of the coming of the end and using the advancing Ottoman armies toward Vienna as the sign of an angry God punishing the Christians for following the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church who forgot the Word of God.

After the devastation of Aleppo the First Emir realized that his stay might induce Timorlank into driving a hard bargain over the Levant; he determined that his high profile in the region was a liability to the Levant.  He nevertheless ordered Gergis to join Ibn Khaldoun’s mission waiting to meet with Timorlank encamping around Damascus and to try reaching an agreement that would spare the Levant from further distresses.  Ibn Khaldoun was the famous 14th century Arabic North African author of “History of Civilizations” and he met with Timorlank camping outside Damascus and made him promise not to exact his vengeance on the population; a promise that Timorlank never kept.  Most of the craftsmen and merchants had evacuated Damascus and fled to Lebanon and Egypt while the remaining craftsmen were denied exiting this city after the hordes of Timorlank sacked it and would be transferred to Samarqand the Capital of the Tatar.  In disgust at his helplessness and the inaction of Cairo the First Emir decided to travel overseas for an extended period until the political situation was stabilized.

Although the societies in Syria, Lebanon and part of Palestine suffered economically and organizationally, the Mameluks in Egypt retained their cohesion and managed to survive another century before they were defeated militarily by the ascending Ottoman Empire in 1516.

Rainbow over the Levant: Mariam (1394-1399).  Part 4

Chapter 15: The second revolution (fiction, continue 21)

The political system was relatively stable; order and the rule of law were functional; peace on the borders was lasting longer than in the previous decades; yearly budget for the various ministries were allocated and plans were carried out decently.  A few worries were deeply disturbing the First Emir:  the system was reverting to a declining cycle of feudal and religious polarization during municipal and parliamentary elections. The old guards were sleeping on their laurels and insidious machinations of grand thefts of the public funds were agitating the population to open criticisms of the validity of the regime.  The First Emir suspected that foreign agitators were exploiting some of the valid arguments about the regime and he thought that the best strategy was to adapt taking side with the population against the opportunists and unprofessional officer corps in the various departments.

While fear of instability was a common tendency in the Middle East the underground sectarian organizations were extremely secretive and disturbing.  It was in these periods of anxiety that Sect-State behaviors would predominate the political landscape with two variants; the first variant being that a charismatic feudal Lord would take advantage of the particular structural and administrative traditions of his sect and appoint his spiritual leaders in order to further his hold on the temporal and spiritual power of his sect, like for example the Druze sect; the other variant being the supreme cleric usurping the temporal leadership in his sect and imposing the temporal leaders such as in some Shiaa sects.  The second variant of Sect-State was usually the more dangerous for any central government than the first variant or the other secretive sectarian organizations.

The Levant government was not immune to these fears in the society and a few Sect-States and secretive sectarian organizations were on the rise and such behaviors were spreading among its public servant members. Nevertheless, rational scapegoats were needed to tame the growing restlessness among the populace so that a closer investigation to the criteria adopted for hiring and assigning government service men were carried out and rumors of fraudulent activities were acted upon.  These decisive moves were well promoted and new recruits from disadvantaged families were interviewed and accepted to training facilities.

Besides, the First Emir, who was now in his late forties and was considered old by the standard of the time, had discovered new vocations in writing his memoirs and a hobby in aquarelle painting.  Actually, the First Emir was suffering from backache which made horse riding an excruciating exercise while his shortsightedness was an excellent excuse for discarding reading the accumulating documents.  For some time, his zest in daily running of the nation and ruling a wily people was waning and he was seriously contemplating taking longer time offs for doing what he enjoyed most.  The reality was that the First Emir was experiencing what is currently described as middle age crisis; he was becoming despondent because of subtle recognition that he had grown much older in physical and mental agility and endurance.  He was experiencing the nervousness and uneasiness of some kind of chemical addictions which caused many official sessions to be cut short and the tendency to implicitly relegating some of his powers to close associates because he could not shoulder further pressures.  The side effects were his harsher invective toward his associates when they failed to adequately carry out the delegated power on specific projects and programs and tended to maliciously blame them on usurping his power and sometimes because he had forgotten his verbal commitments or delegated commissions.

The First Emir would disappear incognito for a couple of days with a reduced group of his personal guards, all attired as normal citizens as to blend easily with the common people, and leaving a short message stating that he has gone on inspection of his kingdom so that to keep everyone of his civil servants on their toes. Actually, a few of his closest and oldest friends knew that the journeys were taking their beloved Emir to locations of his youth that provided him with splendid recollections and relieved the stresses of his conflicting emotions.  These short peregrinations were helpful mentally but left the First Emir in no better physical conditions on his returns; he was sick and depressed and used to confine himself in his private rooms claiming quality time to studying important and urgent plans.  His oldest friends were worried but the second generation of civil servants was feeling comfortable and secure in its sinecures before political troubles challenged the First Emir into action.

Individually and on many occasions the trio of Mariam, Mustafa and Gergis confronted the First Emir with the state of affairs in the Nations.  Mariam offered the First Emir facts on many political organizations already in action and most of them being financed by foreign powers and neighboring Viceroys and disseminating ideas based on religious beliefs to destabilize the State.  Mustafa argued that it would be to the advantage of the State to acknowledge the existence of these organizations and allow them to function within the laws of free associations and freedom of speech instead of letting them work underground. At least, Mustafa argued that the State would then be in a better position to recognize these secretive organizations and understand their political positions and be prepared to counter their ideas. With his usual diplomatic tact Gergis hinted that the best alternative would be to organize a grass root political party that would carry the right message to the future generations and sidetrack most of these dubious confessional underground parties.

At length, the First Emir was well prepared by his counselors to listen to the principles of a political party that might be capable of rejuvenating the Nation. Gergis expounded on the principles and articles of the Aram National Party.  For two weeks the First Emir felt restless and an ingenious plan of action was rehashed in his mind:  start a new revolution from the grass-roots beginning with new adherents of fresh and young officers and out best his earlier successes. It is very credible to assume that organizing from scratch was his best skill but it was more likely that it mould be an opportunity for the First Emir to reinvigorate his purposes to life though any potential successes were less convincing judging from the behaviors of his early decrepit conditions.

The First Emir reasoned from experience that reinventing the same political system would not establish a system that could secure the survival of a society for long.  Consequently, he reasoned that the outcome of another revolution must rely on a new vision to guide the process for a stable society that would survive calamities and political upheavals.  A new vision was needed but the First Emir could not pinpoint its characteristics and procedures but hinted out to Gergis to unofficially study the restructure of his administration.

In the meantime, Gergis sent Noura an urgent message to Florence summoning her to come back as soon as possible.  The message hashed out his new responsibilities as leader of an underground political party and proclaimed that he would be unable to carry out his duties without her support and close proximity.  Noura realized that the still bachelor Gergis had never married because she was his first and only love and decided that she would indeed grab this opportunity and join her best friend ever.

 

Part 3: Gergis’ period (1384-1394)

Chapter 11: A navy in the making

The traders got wind of the wishes of the First Emir to purchase a few vessels and scoured the neighboring ports for potential ships for sale.  Two old navy ships were ordered at scrape cost and refurbished for transport of people and produce.  The first refurbished ship was done in the port of Tripoli and did not venture deep in the sea and was restricted to hug the coastal line and trade with the neighboring towns and villages; it was basically used for training and propaganda purposes. The renovation of the second ship was contracted out in Beirut with a more elaborate work and designed to test its potential for trading with Cyprus and further away to the southern coastal part of Turkey.

    The creation of a navy was foreseen to acquire paramount importance in later conflicts among the Levant neighboring foes, so Antoun fortified his coastal towns of deep water and prepared them to receive medium size embarkation boats; the port of Beirut was readied for large merchant and cargo ships.  The next phase was to build construction sites for minor ship repairs and learning of the trade. As better craftsmen were hired medium sized boats were built, more like flat boats meant to carry 40 navy men or a catapult for throwing rocks or an engine for launching multiple long range arrows. Antoun already was planning to tow these flat boats and drop them behind enemy lines because most of the invasions were done along the coastal route.  This far sighted decision was based on cost/benefit calculation too. 

In the previous wars the Levant army had to adopt the retreat strategy to better defensible positions.  In that strategy, the army had to deploy many specialized regiments to evacuate the willing population behind manageable lines of defense. In these cases, the operation was time consuming and very expensive when the war dragged on for months.  A nastier responsibility was how to manage a disgruntled people who had  been evacuated and were restless to go back to their homes.

            Building a navy offered many more alternatives to waging successful and less expensive wars and reduced the constraining time for the evacuees because the invaders had to disperse their forces in order to confront attacking forces from the sea and thus reduced the necessity for large scale evacuations. Another valuable advantage for a navy was the reduction of the size of the standing army:  any means of transport that offered variety and speed for moving regiments to areas that needed quickly a concentration of power was a critical edge over the enemy.

            Many trained ship builders flocked to Beirut when they perceived that the First Emir had plans for continuous job outlets in that industry and consequently, the presence and availability of skilled sea craftsmen encouraged Antoun to negotiate with sea merchants and traders to be partners in bolder investments. This ship building industry rejuvenated many dying industries that were reopened to supply and support the varied necessary demands. Navy soldiers were trained and regimented as a separate fighting force.


 Second expansion

In 1388, the new Sultan of Egypt dispatched a General of his guard as appointed Viceroy of Damascus. The Viceroy Rustom Bey arrived in command of 1,500 fresh cavalrymen with specific instructions from his master:  he had to affirm the hold of the Mameluks’ dynasty throughout Syria and increase the tribute levied on the population who were growing more prosperous and more enterprising, especially with the dangerous free trade and intricate communication means between the Levantine Republic and the surrounding “Wilayats”. Within a week, and after the grandiose celebrations in Damascus welcoming the new chief and his army, the Viceroy decreed an increase of 10% tax on the agricultural produce and 5% on the manufactured textile products in addition to having a monopoly to import cotton from Egypt.

Rustom Bey canceled agreements negotiated with the previous Viceroy of Damascus and reclaimed his rights in the Bekaa Valley.  He appointed new tax collectors from his protégés who were accompanied by ruthless cavalrymen enjoying a percentage of the money collected as their dues.  The cavalry detachment that accompanied Rustom Bey were mostly Cherkessk and from Sunni tribes from nowadays Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and the Caucasus and they were whipped to frenzy for loots and lots of battle actions. At first, the population was ready to pay the difference in taxes but the behavior of the Viceroy’s army sent alarms throughout Syria and the Bekaa Valley.  Skirmishes got widespread and armed bands of frustrated citizens took to the hills and harassed the Mameluks’ mercenaries.

The Viceroy accused Antoun of fomenting troubles and unrest in the Bekaa and threatened the Levant with military punitive attacks if peace was not restored.  A campaign of economic harassment was launched in order to embarrass the leaders of Mount Lebanon into recognition of the new shift in power and then into direct negotiations.  An embargo of agricultural goods from the Bekaa Valley and Syria to Mount Lebanon was ruthlessly enforced in all the main entry points and caravans were searched exhaustively.  Gergis was dispatched to Damascus to negotiate an amicable relationship with the new hot headed Viceroy and returned with a gloomy report that the authority in Damascus was intent on a show of force no matter what. 

The Levant had already raised a standing army of 150 phalanxes and 1500 cavalrymen with an equal number of standby trained soldiers on call in emergency situations.

Antoun feared that the neighboring Viceroys might support the Viceroy of Damascus more forcefully in putting the squeeze on his economy if he delayed any decisive actions and, most probably, would have no choice but to join forces with the Viceroy of Damascus if an open armed conflict was declared.  Since the Viceroy of Damascus would not attempt a military campaign into the Mountain soon enough then war was to take place inside the Viceroy’s territories in the Bekaa.   

A month before the Levantine government forces crossed the chains of mountain into southern Bekaa it had already dispatched four special cores of the army trained to guerilla warfare in order to circumvent the paths that would be taken by the enemy army.  Two cores would harass the rear guard division and supply lines while diverting it furthers North and the other two cores were to steer the advanced division further south to a battle field prepared by the Levantine army.  The Viceroy of Damascus was overjoyed that Antoun finally concurred to his scheme for an open battle which would respond to the oath he gave to his cavalry detachment, and thus failed to ask for any military support from the neighboring Viceroys of Safad and Hama. The two armies met in a plain between Anjar and Machgara.


Battle of Anjar

The sun was peeping from the Eastern Mountain chains and quickly blinding the Levantine army with its glorious shine.  The First Emir galvanized his infantry with a short speech:  “Soldiers of the proud and united Mount Lebanon; I will not denigrate the daring Mameluks’ cavalry; it is brave, well trained and it outnumbers our young cavalry two to one.  As we all know, our present enemy relies on its cavalry to win battles because, unlike our infantry, theirs are mainly mercenaries and little paid compared with a professional army such as ours.  Their infantry is mainly of our own people recruited in Syria and Palestine; they certainly have courage but are not trained properly and are not fighting for a just cause as we are.  We have got to win this battle clear and neat because the stakes are high for the independence of our young nation.  The enemy has to acknowledge our complete reluctance to be subjugated every time a new Sultan comes to power and decides to exercise his new found power through the humiliation of our people as vassals and not worth negotiating with as equals.”

“I am asking you to stand your ground until two o’clock and by night fall I will guarantee you that Rustum Bey will be our prisoner and his cavalry will disperse chased by the strength of the wind of vengeance generated by your courage and your fierceness in holding on to your values and liberty.  Soldiers of the people of Mount Lebanon; your fathers and forefathers have longed for generations to send the emancipating message of their right to freedom to their successive persecutors; now is your chance to let their spirit rest at ease and to bless you as the sons they raised to serve their country and families with honor and bravery.  Long live the people of Mount Lebanon!   Long live its valiant professional army!”

The cavalry of the Viceroy army was larger than the Levant cavalry and its infantry, although more numerous, were not as dedicated or well-trained for sustained frontal attacks.  Outnumbered, the First Emir decided on psychological warfare to neutralize his enemy’s advantages in cavalry.  Unconventionally, he placed his cavalry behind the infantry instead of on the flanks so that the enemy would conjecture that the Levantine army was not sure of the loyalty of its infantry to hold its ground.  This arrangement was also meant to hide a long and wide trench dug out for defensive purposes while the small and long range catapults were located behind the trench.

The infantry of Rustom Bey advanced at a brisk pace and the cavalry of the Levantine army started to retreat behind the trench across makeshift bridges.  Thinking that a general retreat was in progress, the cavalry of Rustom Bey rushed in ahead of the infantry to secure a quick and easy victory.  The Levantine catapults came into action to allow an ordered retreat of the Levantine infantry across the trench. 

The Mameluk’s cavalry was decimated trying to cross a blind ditch guarded by long spikes and archers and they had to retreat to regroup.  Meanwhile, special regiments of archers and light small catapult operators maneuvered closer to the heavy catapult position of the Mameluk’s army and engaged in the destruction of the enemy heavy catapult strongholds.  The Levantine army had adopted the tactical guideline of focusing first on the enemy catapult regiments before seriously engaging the enemy in a decisive battle; Special Forces were trained and equipped to accomplish such hazardous and primordial tasks. 

The Levantine heavy catapult regiment was minor and was used as target baits for the enemy shelling in order to permit the regiments of small catapult and archers to maneuver, guarded by what it takes of phalanxes and cavalry to protect the operation within an adequate range of the enemy’s long range artillery positions. The task of the archer and small catapult regiments was not merely constrained to the initial phase of the battle but used thoroughly as long as the battle is engaged and were supplied with abundance of ammunition.   High shields were planted in front of the archers and catapult operators not so much for protection but purposely to obstruct the view of the battlefield from them; the chief sergeants were the maestros for the targeting activities in tempo and orientation of the projectiles and the operators were solely reliant on the orders and coding gestures of their chief sergeants. Once the enemy catapult positions are out of operation the regiments of archery and small catapult would redeploy and target the thick of the enemy infantry and cavalry concentrations. 

An untrained observer of the battlefield would not notice much change in the enemy’s concentration even after half an hour of shelling but the retreat from the center toward the rear would happen suddenly.  The soldiers in the center would gradually recognize vacuums around them and after some hesitations opt to retreat instead of advancing toward the much farther front lines.  Once most of the enemy center is emptied the Levantine army would sound a temporary disengagement order, the time for the enemy front lines to look around and realize the precariousness of their position as thin shells with no substantial backing. Then the Levantine artillery would concentrate their targeting in the middle to split the half circle in order to clear a wide swath for the cavalry to swiftly enter and encircle the two halves of the enemy lines.

Besides reducing the enemy artillery capabilities, the next critical moment was the timing for splitting the enemy lines to capitalize on the psychological feeling of abandonment among the enemy front lines infantrymen. During most of the engagement the Levantine infantrymen were trained and ordered never to venture deeply into enemy ranks no matter great were the temptations to do so and to hold and fight on the perimeters. The cavalry was an intrinsic part of the infantry and its two main jobs were to ensure the containment of the enemy main force and to engage any outflanking attacks from the enemy cavalry.  

The Levantine army repulsed two other charges to cross the defensive lines and by the time the sun was facing the Mameluk’s army the Levantine infantry re-crossed the trench in ordered fashion and engaged valiantly an enemy in disarray. The Levantine cavalry had outflanked the enemy army in a vise that did not leave much room for the maneuvering of the Mameluk’s cavalry.

By nightfall, the Viceroy was made prisoner and the remnant of his cavalry was retreating in disorder.  The Levantine army had suffered heavy casualties:  three hundred cavalrymen and 1000 infantrymen perished and twice this number were wounded or injured.  Most of these casualties were suffered during the offensive attack on the heavy artillery positions of the enemy as a necessary phase to insure victory. For a small nation with scares resources this was a crushing toll to sustain but it secured peace for many years to come. The Viceroy was spared execution in order not to provide the Sultan of Egypt any additional excuses to organize another military campaign.  For two weeks, the First Emir set up his quarters in the battle field welcoming the populace with their grievances and ordering reparations and executions of the enemy’s perpetrators of crimes and thefts during their tax collection campaigns.  

The Viceroy and all his cavalrymen prisoners were forced to share in the burying efforts of the fallen soldiers of both armies and taking care of the injured; they participated in washing the bodies of the dead, the digging of graves, the burial of the corpses in the ditches and even feeding the injured and cleaning out the makeshift hospital.  The Viceroy then paid war retribution and offered the Levantine government the responsibility of collecting taxes from the Bekaa Valley all the way to the southern end of the Litany River and then was let free to return to Damascus.  The majority of the Syrian prisoners remained behind for another 6 months for war reparation and indoctrination on the new values of the Republic.  The Bekaa Valley was thus the responsibility of the Levant authority although not officially attached to it and not completely within its jurisdiction.

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.

Part 2: Noura’s period (1381-1386)

Chapter 8:  Preliminary reforms

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

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

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

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


Agrarian and tax reforms

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

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

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

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


The tandem of Yasmine and Noura

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

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

Health counselor

 Noura Nabatat, another early coastal city insurgent, had extensive practice in herbal remedies and acquired medical knowledge from her father who was the prime health attendant to a powerful warlord.   She counseled Antoun to have hospitals installed in the mansions and great houses of the former Emirs and powerful landlords of the defunct feudal system with the double intentions of precluding any recovery of these properties because of the taboos attached to sick people staying in their homes and also as a grand symbol that the best in the kingdom were for the sick, the poor and down trodden. 

Noura managed by this achievement to circumvent the tendency of the new insurgency leaders who contemplated to get installed in comfortable dwellings recuperated from the noblemen.  She was apprehensive that any requisition of expensive properties for personal use might have raised many eye brows from the citizens; this decision prevented the spread of rumors that status of lordships had been traded and replaced by others less worthy traditionally for leadership and confidence.  

To each major official hospital was attached a reserved spacious room or salon for receiving the families of the sick persons coming from distant places to be near their loved ones and several small dwelling rooms for overnight stay.  The spacious room could be transformed into a wake facility on demand for receiving condolences when a dear one had died.  These civil annexes replaced the inadequate homes of the bereaved families for receiving condolences and thus, only the very rich residencies could match or outdo these large, well maintained and clean annexes

Noura set in motion the idea of dispatching teams of two medicine men accompanied by three soldiers for their safety to visit districts and hold meetings for the neighboring health practitioners. These meetings could last three days with the objectives of collecting data on the recurrence of certain diseases and sharing procedures and cures among their colleagues.  It is doubtful that the rate of mortality decreased substantially but the stubbornness of Noura to proceed with her idea and her initiative to closely monitor the results eventually led to the institution of the first medical school established in the town of Beit-Chabab about 15 kilometers from the seashore.  Although Noura was an herbalist she had extensive knowledge in Arabic medicine and surgical instruments; she brought medical books from renowned Arabic scholars, collected, bought, and transferred from libraries dispersed in the Arab World what was useful.  In the town of Beit-Chabab she instituted an ophthalmology center that attracted people from as far as the Arabic Peninsula, Iran and Egypt.  One of her medical achievement was to secure the Levant with the capability to fabricate state of the art surgical instruments which drawings were mined from ancient manuscripts because the Arabs were the leading surgeons and could perform almost any precision surgery that did not require the use of microscopes not yet invented.

These gatherings of medical men resulted in a list of well qualified professionals who shouldered many administrative duties in the ministry of health. Within seven years, there were about three well managed and funded medical institutions which attracted medical students from all corners of the Arabic world and many visitors came to Mount Lebanon for medical cure, especially the rich and noblemen who turned to be valuable assets in promoting the policies and spirit emanating from this new kingdom.

Noura and Mariam quickly became role models for the new generation of girls because of their successes that exceeded expectation.  The new spirit that grew in the new generations of women engendered many tribulations in society that resulted in gradually offering the female group greater equality with men in matters of rights and opportunities. Needless to say that the female counselors suffered immensely from the animosity of their fellow male counselors and from the ruling class and had to fight their ways courageously.  This hard fight against a patriarchal tradition could not but promote many educated females to come to the rescue and support the projects of Mariam and Noura.  The administrations in the ministries of education and health experienced a high rate of female employees compared to the other ministries.


Census

Not by intention but necessity Antoun formed a reduced cabinet of six official counselors:  ministers for defense, internal security, foreign affairs, agriculture and construction, education, and health and social services.  A census of the kingdom’s resources in manpower and treasures was of paramount importance and scores of educated people who could write were dispatched to communities to collect the necessary data and information. A preliminary census that was not exhaustive by any stretch of the imagination provided a rough estimate of the population.  The county was subdivided into 8 rough districts and census committees were dispatched to meet with the notables of the towns and villages and collect information from available records and recollection on the number of families and average sizes of families and main resources for subsistence.  There were in the Metn County ten thousand families in the average of six persons per family, four major towns of more than 3,000 inhabitants, ten towns of more than 1,500 inhabitants. The concentration was heavier below the altitude of 700 meters with agriculture, cattle, goat and poultry raising and textile the main sources of wealth.

Chapter 7:  Consolidation of the kingdom; (continue 11)

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 to matters considered not to affect directly his grip on power.

Mariam 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 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  one 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, avoiding 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 citizens, it was decided that intern or boarding schools be erected for girls and boys separately 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 intern or 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 their kids’ progress in learning.   

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 intern schools started at 6 a.m. followed by house cleaning, chicken feeding, cow milking, kitchen food preparation, and carrying necessary supplies for the day; then, at 7:30 mass and breakfast.  Classes for reading and writing in both Arabic an Aramaic languages 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 seven 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 sling shots, 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 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 Mariam 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 founded on individual interest.

Within a year Antoun appointed Mariam 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.

Novel:  Rainbow over the Levant (A historical fiction)

Introduction

In 14th century Levant, an Arabian stallion was a Cadillac symbol among the noblemen in Mount Lebanon; horses primarily meant a Panzer tank for the forces of the viceroys governing the provinces on behalf of the Mameluks’ Sultan in Egypt.  Luca Antonius, nicknamed “Al Fares” (The Knight), begot Youssef Luca who begot Antonios Youssef Fares.

Luca Fares served in his youth as a knight in the personal guard of the Emir in the county Capital Mtein in the Metn district in central Mount Lebanon   He was a Christian Orthodox with religious allegiance to the declining Byzantine Empire and was a hot headed character and got entangled in many brawls that finally discredited the good judgment of the Emir.  The Emir had no choice but to fire Luca from his entourage and sent him packing with a small fortune and an admonition never to return to Mtein.

Luca bought himself a piece of land near the current village of Khonshara, less than ten kilometers from the Capital Mtein, but never stayed long on his land.  The peasants cultivating his land had field days during his many peregrinations outside his fief until his eldest son Youssef took over.  Luca was killed mysteriously on a hunting trip and Youssef set his mind to take roots on his land, cultivate it stubbornly, forget about horses and knight ship and then married a strong headed, down to earth wife.

Geography of Mount Lebanon

The current Metn County as the other counties of Mount Lebanon are naturally bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the West and the western chain of mountains in the East; the small river of Nahr Kalb that dries up in summer time separates this canton in the North from neighboring Kesrouan with the Sannine Mountains on the East.  At the time of the story, the Metn was separated from the coastal shore administratively and juristically. The mountainous Chouf region formed the southern borders where the Moslem Druze sect, a Fatimide splintered schism from the Shiite Moslem religion, had taken roots a century and a half ago.  The Druze sect had just been created and was small, weak, and facing serious persecution.  Across the eastern slopes of Sannine lays the major town called Zahle in the Bekaa Valley; this is the largest valley in Lebanon rich in wheat and cereals.

The Bekaa Valley running between two chains of mountains north to south about one hundred km long and twenty five km wide on average was the main region to grow wheat and cereals.  Caravans to and fro that valley passed through the Metn to trade wheat and winter stocks of goods such as potteries, olive, olive oil, cutleries and silk cloth. The journeys were long, arduous and dangerous in these unpredictable and lawless periods. Thus, the caravans were guarded by trained fighters and their leaders were familiar with the various fief lords and gang lords.

At the time of the novel, the Metn did not extend to the sea and its total superficies was no more than 800 square kilometers, 40 kilometers from east to west and 20 kilometers from north to south.  Mount Lebanon is naturally divided in counties separated by deep small river valleys running east to west and emptying in the Mediterranean Sea. The religious affiliations in Mount Lebanon at the time were from north to south: Christian Maronites in the Bshari and part of the Betroun regions, Christian Byzantine Orthodox in the current Koura, Byblos, Kesrouan and Metn regions, then the middle part under the Druz sect concentrated in the Chouf region and the southern part of Jabal Amel of mostly Moslem Shiaa.  The Moslem Sunni were primarily entrenched in the littoral.

The Metn, as all Mount Lebanon regions, is an area of hills and valleys with many streams of fresh water. The inhabitants conquered the hilly lands by structuring the parcel of lands in a cascading step design for planting and growing fruit trees, olive trees and green vegetables.  This was hard work since the walls of these parcels of cultivated lands had to be built of stones removed from the land itself.  The Metn was under the rule of the Viceroy of Tripoli, more than a hundred kilometer to the north on the seashore.

The region was not densely inhabited and the Christian Maronite sect did not yet make any major inroads in that part of Mount Lebanon and was based mainly in the northern Mountains, east of Tripoli.   It can be conjectured that less than 60 thousand souls lived in the Metn at the time. The language was a mixture of Arabic, Byzantine and Aramaic slang (the main language during Jesus Christ period and for many centuries to come). Female dressed with several layers of colorful garments very similar to the nowadays customs in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Cherkessk. The male wore the traditional colorful vests with a large band of cloth, black or red, wrapped several times around the waist and pantaloons, black or white, tight at the ankles and oversized around the crotch.

The Roman Christian missionaries had barely made a dent during the last two centuries and had closer relationship with the Maronite sect than with the other Christian sects who did not recognize the infallibility of the Pope.  The Crusaders’ clergy were more intent on fomenting troubles every time a bishop was to be elected or consecrated than promoting enlightenment.  It might be surmised that a few small religious schools were instituted and artisan shops catering to the war efforts of the crusaders prospered.

This story starts in 1346 when the Mameluks’ dynasty in Egypt had already captured every Crusader’s strongholds in Lebanon and Syria’s coast line and pushed back the Mogul invaders beyond the Euphrates River in 1262.  Holako the Mogul had entered Baghdad in 1258 without resistance and devastated this glorious city, spread havoc and plundered it for 40 days. The Mogul hordes emptied the vast libraries of books and manuscripts and drowned them in the Tiger River, and then executed the last Arabic Caliphate Al Mustaesem.  A flourishing Arab civilization that existed for five centuries was annihilated.

Part 1:  My Sunny Levant; Antonios (1346-1381)

Chapter 1: Genesis of a Metnit family

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 but 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; she 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, beddings were removed from a special drawer to replace the cushions spread around the room while 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 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 that 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.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

August 2022
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