Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Gergis

The attack; (continue #10 of fiction novel)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dialogue In the novel: “Rainbow over the Levant (Near East)”

Note:  In the dialogue, Gergis, Mariam,and Mustafa are respectively the ministers of Foreign Affairs, Education, and Defense.  This novel is set in 14th century Mount Lebanon.

Preparations for the second revolution

The First Emir Antoun summoned Gergis, Mariam and Mustafa to a secret enclave to discuss the current State affairs and how to plan to counter decadence and class dysfunctions invading society from the top down.  Gergis rehashed on the principles, articles, and organization of the Aram Umma (Nation) Party that the three ministers developed without the prior consent of the Emir.  Discussions ensued:

Antoun said: “I have serious problems with many articles and terminologies in your program.  First, I feel that we must not mention borders delimiting the Aram Nation. Actually, we have to erase any hints relating to borders, period. If this article is circulated in writing then the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt will have material evidence that we are preparing for independence and I am not ready for this dangerous and potentially disastrous leap”

Gergis said: “We can drop this article but if we are asked about the boundaries of the Nation, and we will be asked, then I propose that we verbally ask for suggestions to that effect and analyze the reaction of the adherents”

Antoun replied: “Do your best to avoid responding to that question.  The best is to generate responses instead of offering your own opinions.  Now I have two more concerns; first, the word Umma is reserved to defining Moslem communities wherever they are. Since our society is multi-religious with dozens of sects then a more pertinent word should be created that avoid any religious connotation. “

Gergis: “It is unavoidable to locate a word in Arabic that has no religious undertone. Do you suggest that we search in the Syriac language or the archaic Aramaic language?”

Antoun said: “Your irony tends to be misplaced Gergis.  Anyway, manuscripts in Syriac will have strong Christian connotations.  You can always try.  You guys have to take the demographic structure of our society.  Mount Lebanon is mostly of Christian sects while the urban centers along the coastal line are mostly Moslem Sunni.  The main objective is economic stability and eradicating joblessness that is the major cause of social distress.  Whatever is the ideology of the Party it should be plainly a support system for stable economy.  Now, my next concern is the hierarchical structure of the Party.  Although this historically adopted structure is logical and well-intentioned, I feel that it will scare away good potential citizens from joining and participating as full members. I am under the impression that you are expecting already disciplined citizens to be attracted, especially the military officers.”

Mustafa said: “I guess that this structure is meant to encourage adherents to continue learning and improving on their potentials. I have some understanding of a few organizations that divulge the duties and responsibilities in stages when members have accomplished what was required of them to do previously.  Training is done gradually and we have to wait until the members are ready to assume higher responsibilities.  May be we could emulate their systems by keeping the requirements secrets until the time is ripe for the next stage in the hierarchy?”

Gergis replied:  “I am aware of these secret structures and they worried me as to their consequences in forming ignorant zealots who are ready to commit unimaginable atrocities in the name of performing their duties and obeying orders.  We cannot take this direction if our principles are clear and our purpose open and honest.”

Antoun said: “I understand the genuine attitude of Gergis and I would be ready to take my chance with transparent teachings upfront as evidence of our confidence in our people and his capabilities.  We are in the business of enlightening the masses and not forming passive leaders waiting to be spoon fed at every stage of their organizational development; true leaders are ready to take initiatives and plan their political development as leaders should. I am under the impression that you guys are adopting the thinking and attitudes of the civil servants. Children of well off families tend to think that they have privileges for higher ranks than common people; this normal behavior has to be challenged by further dialogue on the field based on merit.”

The room was silent and heavy with accusations.  The face of Mustafa turned from pale to hot purple and intoned defensively: “What are you trying to convey my Don?”

The First Emir smiled lightly and said: “At least we guys have worked hard for our living before we engaged into politics and we know the value of work that the people understand; but we have engendered a class of civil servants who is entertained by the hard work of our people and yet sincerely believes that they are doing them a favor.  Our civil servants are into politics big time and have raised the motto that “everything in life is politics” so that they hide their indolence and refusal to try work that can add value to society.  They want the government and the people to feed them throughout their retched life as a deserved right for their sacrifices to the well-being of the working people. If we found a political party we are also creating another brand of civil servants living at the expense of the party members and still believing they are the best and chosen ones among them.”

Gergis replied: “I understand your concerns my First Emir and many times I have been recollecting the happy and good period of our youth but our job right now is much harder emotionally and I can barely have a good night sleep. I feel that you have a recommendation to suggest and I cannot provide a satisfactory answer of how to bypass the formation of a professional class of political administrators and managers.”

The First Emir voice started low and then its pitch grew in crescendo saying: “I abhor the idea that any sane civil servant is set for life remunerated by another group of people.  I suggest that civil servants at the pay of the Party should not hold full-time positions for more than two years; they should have an earning job before taking a political assignment and return to the real life of earning their bread after the assignment is over; new blood has to circulate continuously in the Party if it has to serve its purpose.  I suggest that we include a separate article stating that members are not required to serve in administrative and political positions unless they feel the drive and have the talent to serve in a party position.  Members have to understand that joining the Party is not a hindrance to continuing living the way they like but a school of life improvement if they have the drive for it.  Back to my third concern…”

Mariam interrupted the Emir saying: “Excellency, sorry to cut you in but I feel it important to expand on your second concern.  As far as I can recollect, the status of civil servants was one of the hottest issues immediately after we won the insurrection and most of us felt uncomfortable holding government positions because we were unfamiliar with their demands, rules and procedures.  We meant well to shorten government assignments but circumstances and lack of funding prevented us to hold on our commitments. According to our wishes exiting civil servants were to be compensated so that they could open their private trades but we found it more economical and more expedient to extend their appointments at the expense of our principles and the trend stuck with practically no incentives or courage to change our administrative structure.  We need practical means not to revert to previous expedients in the Party hierarchy.”

The First Emir replied: “Yes, I do remember and several times I thought that we should hold fast to the commitments of our revolution and failed to communicate my worries in due time. I guess the Party has to consider business infrastructure to sustain its growth and not rely on the government fund or Party members’ dues. It is my position that any political party that cannot offer services to its members and their families over and above what the government is able or willing to offer then the party would become a serious liability to society.  Imagine adherents fed on principles and emotions bottled up with no positive outlets for practical changes then I can foresee rash and irresponsible responses funneled through incompetent leaders. Now back to my third concern; I wonder why there is no mention of religions in these principles”.

Gergis answered: “It is a dangerous subject to approach and the best we could come with is freedom of beliefs which is what we have been practicing but still is a momentous milestone to be able to state it bluntly”.

Antoun replied: “Our society is founded on dozens of religious sects and hiding this fact under the carpet would not strengthen the unity of the Nation. I remember my lack of patience with the confessional elements during the preparation for the insurgency and I do recognize that we failed to approach this fundamental problem through rational discussions. I suggest that we openly study this problem emanating with each district identifying itself according to its religious affiliation first; this trend is extremely stubborn and is spreading havoc to our concept of a united Nation”.

Mustafa said: “Do you suggest my Don that we should adopt a religion as the main one for the land so that we retain a distinctive identity?”

Antoun replied: “I think that you are attempting to be sarcastic. We never stated it formally but I believe our actions tended to distance State affairs from religious meddling.  May be it is time to officially announce to the citizens that there should be a separation between State governance and religious beliefs.”

Mustafa retorted: “To the best of my knowledge no citizen ever contemplated such a separation, not only because it has never been an issue but because they sincerely believe that governance is not possible without the blessing of religion. Besides, we have been doing fine without this announcement and any confrontation with the religious hierarchies at this junction might exacerbate the political climate.”

Gergis said: “I believe that it would be a great idea to include the principle of separation between State affairs and religious beliefs in the Party’s articles.  The application of this principle might turn out to be extremely delicate and requiring a lot of tact but it certainly might allay the fears of many minority sects which are the most virulent in time of scarcity and instability.”

Antoun replied: “Indeed, the future generations should be able to accept this necessary trend as most normal if it is adopted by the grass-roots first and made an obvious statement as time goes on.”

Mariam cut in: “I still cannot delineate the fine line where State affairs starts and where religion stops. Suppose that I believe 100% in one religious dogma then my faith in these doctrines should take precedence over anything else that is of this World. If we have to boldly approach this topic we might as well identify the basic issues that are harmful to the professional running of a government and how religion can be of support.”

Antoun said: “Religions should preach what is all about the after death and State affairs is about enjoying our life, running society in an ordered fashion, and what is needed to survive as a society in an independent Nation.  I am not attempting to pin Reason against Faith but these concepts are the main delineations with the implicit understanding that Faith is in no way synonymous to Spirit”

Mariam said: “With due respect Your Excellency, this is a pretty simple concept that is basically trying to sweep the problem under the carpet as you mentioned previously. The population is basically very religious and relying on reasoning will not cut it. For example, what if a citizen secretly belonging to a minority sect has cheated in his true religious affiliation and is elected to the highest position in the Nation, then would his election be valid on the basis of separation of religion and State affairs?”

Antoun replied: “You certainly are devious Mariam and I appoint you as the devil advocate to Gergis. I am inclined to reason that in this instance it is politics rather than cheating since it is none of our concerns his personal religious beliefs if we are sincerely secular as long as the candidate never offered to divulge his religious affiliations. I have been hearing rumors, which I am inclined to believe, that many Christian sects allow parallel pagan traditions among agrarian people. These peasants still worship Mother Earth for its bounty and do indeed offer human sacrifices to ward off calamities and dry years and they could not shake it off as far as I know.  Now, no sect is going to confess or proclaim that these ancient rooted beliefs and traditions are part and parcel of its religious principles although it is a pagan religion anyway you consider it.  Would you think Mariam that these pieces of information might complicate your example? All I can tell you is that I am not good with abstract notions. I do believe that anyone who reaches a stage in his growth to claim that his faith is total in the after death then he is a liar and not worth a dime anymore.  I also believe that whoever claims that we are just dirt and nothing else is also a liar and not worth a dime. Even if I still have a tiny pride it would be impossible for me to accept that we are just reduced to dust and dirt after death.  I am a good judge of character and the scoundrel is anyone who wholeheartedly believes that clinging to life is the best attitude to preserve and yet keeps preaching about the after life.”

Mustafa said: “I think that I agree with your premises my Don though I am afraid that you will have the whole population against you if you proclaim that whoever claims has total faith is a liar.”

Antoun replied: “I guess you are in an ironic mood today and your attitude may be taking the edge off our heated discussion but hope that you will put a break to your behavior.  What I mean is that as long as we have a whiff of energy left in us to struggle for survival then our faith is necessarily within the range of the two extreme positions. Once we reach an extreme point in our beliefs then we are reduced to either stones or carrying on irrational behavior.”

Mariam came back to her previous position and said: “I still need to grasp the dividing line where we can bring to court a religious movement with a political position that we deem it out of its jurisdiction. I can offer several examples that are very pertinent; first, there are a couple of sects that prohibit carrying arms or using them against their fellow-men and second many sects insist on reading verses from the Bible or the Koran before starting classes or even providing an answer or delivering a speech. Another issue is shouldn’t the full-time religious clergy have the right to vote, and why the clergy has to appoint representatives as it is applied now instead of the people electing these representatives?  It is time for the people to have a direct say on matters that impact their daily life and send a strong message to the clergy that more transparency is needed in their internal dealings and the community has to have a share in their financial discussions.”

Gergis said: “Now we are talking business.  Abstract notions have to be explained in procedural forms if justice is to be applicable in any governmental action.  I can see the usefulness of not prohibiting the clergy from participating fully in elections though I can guess that the outcome of any election would be biased toward the clergy interest because they clearly have the power to easily impress and dissuade well-intentioned voters.”

Antoun replied: “In response to the first example of Mariam I guess we were successful in enlisting many families in the army after they initially refused on moral grounds by increasing the pay and benefits of the soldiers.  I believe that adequate incentives and direct and patient communications with the members of these peaceful sects can open acceptable alternatives. As to the second example I sincerely do not see it fitting within the framework of our concerns. I think the most serious difficulty is that the clergy will meddle one way or another in the implementation of State decisions and programs.  For that reason we need to set higher standards for candidates otherwise the clergy representatives will dominate the floor and weaken any fair law.  Also, our work is going to be much harder now because the clergy is on the offensive big time. We will have to analyze every proposal from different perspectives and test the people’s responses to the proposals first before submission.”

Mariam said: “I can see that the struggle is going to be tough for decades and only dedicated and highly learned servicemen would be able to turn the tide.  Stable nations had the vast majority of its citizens believing in our religion and a so-called secular government could be camouflaged under the implicit recognition that it is functioning within the nation’s religious beliefs. In our case with no overwhelming majority for a single religion we might be playing with fire attempting a distinct separation.  I don’t think Mustafa was joking when he alluded to the need of adopting a religion for the Nation. This was the case with the exception of the Roman Empire though most societies then were pagans, similar in their practices and traditions and their Gods were not invisible and all that encompassing in a single unifying God. It is my position that change would be won by secular schooling and eliminating any notion that requires the support of religious dogma in the reading materials. Let the mind guide the kids in school and let their parents decide on their religious education outside of school”

Gergis said: “I am inclined to include in the principles of the Party that religious beliefs are intrinsically personal matters but once a person is given State responsibilities or given a civil service appointment then he should adopt reason as his guiding God and the articles of the Constitutions as his guiding principles.”

Antoun tried to close the meeting and said: “I think we are agreed, you and I, though I see Mariam fretting in her place and doubt that she is about to accept your opinion.”

Mariam replied: “I understand your position Sir and the need of proclaiming Reason as our guiding power in managing our State affairs but I suspect that if this principle is formally included in the articles of the Constitution then one day the State will persecute religious beliefs under one reason or other. What sound like reason to you is within the abstract frame of mind to me; I have been around to know that many excellent civil servants, not of your political inclinations, will be sacked on the basis of preaching his faith at some point in his service, a right that is guaranteed in the Constitution also.  I demand that any censure based on stating religious principles should be examined by a regular civil court and all expenses paid by the State. ”

Antoun said: “I think Mariam that your apprehension might be founded.  Gergis, would you include in the Party principles something to the effect that faith is necessary for the spiritual stability of the Nation but that human Reason is capable and well endowed of forecasting changes in society and providing the appropriate remedies for the survival and development of the Nation?”

Mariam replied: “I suggest that we add in the Nation’s Constitution a clear article that no authority in the land should have the power to persecute any citizen based on his religious beliefs or to proclaim any religion unlawful unless we are ready to ban religions all together as anathema to unity and progress of our Nation”

Antoun said: “Mariam, you are driving a good bargain that should satisfy the Party and the Nation.  I guess we have to bite this bitter pill since we have a wide variety of sects and refrain by law from forced persecution no mater how small a sect might be or to our distaste. I have to agree that the Aram Nation is going to be a precarious nation unless it enjoys a long peaceful reprieve with strong infusions of unifying and tolerant leaders. Are we all agreed on Mariam’s article?”

Mustafa said: “I can go along this line of thinking if we could overcome the material power of the clergy.  I think that we have to target the essence of their power, mainly their riches. We already have taxed donations in money and their best parcel of lands which allowed us to study the trend in people behavior toward the hegemony of the clergy; now we need to study the problem of pro bono work on the clergy lands simply because the peasants are scared on the status of their after death.  I suggest that the clergy properties and profits should be taxed as any business. Donations should be taxed more heavily and pro bono work need to be revisited.   If the peasants are not paid by the clergy then part of the fruit of their labor that increases profits should return to the State to invest it for the benefit of all the society.”

Gergis added: “These suggestions are pleasant to my ears because their rationales are sound and just. I move to adopt this taxing scheme.”

Mariam said: “Don’t you share my view Mustafa that this new tax is proposed in the worst time?”

Antoun said: “I tend to disagree with you Mariam. I think this tax is an excellent idea and very timely.  We know that the citizens are aware of the clergy injustices and unfair privileges. We could use the citizens’ restlessness and anger to our advantage by concentrating our effort and public pronunciations on that important platform. It is kind of killing more than one bird with one shot. If we all agree then I order Gergis to write-up the required laws and establish a list of priorities targeting the financial worth of the richest monasteries.”

Mustafa said: “May we add another criterion for the priority list?  I have been wondering whether to annex a few properties that are strategically important to the military?  The clergy has been giving us hard time and was successful in baffling our plans.”

Antoun replied: “You may coordinate with Gergis on that list.”

Mariam said:  “I think that we may have an opportunity to expand our schooling institutions by appropriating annexes to the monasteries or suitable lands by providing tax breaks in these instances.”

Antoun replied: “Am I familiar with your machinations Mariam!  Your alternative could be acceptable only on a case by case basis and only if the negotiations are done openly and the townspeople participate vigorously in the negotiations.”

Mariam flushed and said: “May I ask why the military is exempt from open and transparent negotiations?”

Antoun replied: “I could see that coming.  Actually it has nothing to do with paternalism or chauvinism. Historically, there is no love affair connecting the citizens with any military institution although no Nation was able to safeguard his integrity, independence and interest without a strong military institution.  In your case, every parent wants to educate his children and the odds are high that you will win your negotiations.  The way I look at it is that the service ministries are the cornerstones in the victory over the clergy. The more negotiations you win the more the people will grasp that this tax is for their interest and in no way intended to harass or persecute the clergy.  The victory of our platform resides in your zeal, stubbornness and continuous success.

Mustafa wanted clarifications and said: “I am interested in the strategy contemplated to win victory over the clergy’s power.”

Antoun replied: “The clergy is powerful because it is the people who lent them acceptance and support to manage their spiritual needs and they will revert to them at the first spiritual malaise once their stomach is empty and opportunities scarce.  Anyhow, back to your strategy Mustafa. First, this tax law should be a tight secret.  Second, the tax law has to pass the legislature quickly.  To achieve passing the law fast we need to select a judicious timing for convening the House; the meeting of the House could be held close to major religious celebrations so that the clergy representatives would fail to attend the meeting. Once the tax law is passed, legality would assure us a hefty leverage in our struggle.  Timing, readiness and quick actions are the means to our victory.”

 It was decided in that enclave that political parties would be legalized with conditions that their leaders, ideologies and funding be made public with the implicit primary objective of the government to acquire the necessary intelligence without undue pressures or disruption of the political situation.  It was also decided that the Aram National Party be funded through a special appropriation to the education ministry for only two years but kept a State secret and that Gergis would take a year sabbatical from his government functions to concentrate on the organization of the Party.  The First Emir planned to appoint each year a new leader for the Party and run his corresponding government functions in order to have a deeper and detailed comprehension of the intricacies of the government. Once the idea of forming a political party took hold in the First Emir’s mind his life regained some of its earlier enthusiasm.

The First Emir discovered a few days later that the ideas and principles of the Party had been disseminated slowly but surely in the last two years and he implicitly resented being kept in the dark for so long and this message came to him as a shock that he has been out of touch in the day-to-day running of the State and neglecting to frequently meet with his close associates and the citizens.

Rainbow over the Levant (fiction novel)

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

Chapter 10: A concept for a unified nation

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

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

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

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

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

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

Initial Parliamentary election

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yasmine dies

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

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

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

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

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

Noura achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An army from the people and for the people

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

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

Noura’s Exile

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Gentleman (continue 8)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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