Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Novels Mine

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.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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