Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Rainbow over the Levant

Historical background: “Rainbow over the Levant”

Note: I decided to split the background chapter of my novel “Rainbow over the Levant” in two parts.

This novel has been published 5 years ago on my blog in serial chapters.

A quick summary of the history of this region, the Levant or Near East (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Turkey), starting two centuries preceding the fiction events of this novel, can shed a satisfactory understanding for the setting of this historical fiction around the last quarter of the 14thcentury AD.

The Mameluks’ Sultan Baybars of Egypt had dislodged the Christian Crusaders from every remaining city in the Near East in 1291. The chased out Crusaders forces were just holding on to the island of Cyprus.

The Caliphates of the Arab empire, who were virtual rulers in Baghdad since the 9th century, were restored to their virtual religious polarization in Cairo under the Mameluks’ hegemony.

The Crusaders from Christian Europe had been defeated previously in 1187 in a critical battle of Hittine in Palestine by Saladin who managed that feat after reigning as Sultan in both capitals of Cairo and Damascus.

To better comprehend the Levant history we need to stress on the facts that the entire region that composes the present States of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Jordan and even Iraq (from the 12th century onward) has been throughout its long history under the direct or indirect domination of empires in Iran, Turkey or Egypt.

The local Emirs or appointed governors paid tributes to one of these powerful centers in return to governing their internal affairs, participating in military campaigns and defending the political dominions and interests of the regional Great Sultans.  The reigning Sultan of Egypt had the upper hand in this period of the novel in the Near East region.

In the 10th century, two dynasties ruled part of the Middle East. In Egypt, the Shiite Moslem Fatimid dynasty, coming from Northern Africa established their Caliphate in Cairo and stretched its influence to Aleppo in Syria. Their successor, the Ayyubid Sunni Moslem dynasty, from Kurdish descent, displaced the Fatimid.

The Mamluks (the serfs who came to hold high political and military powers in the Ayyubid dynasty) rose to power and defeated the Mogul invasion in two crucial battles in Palestine in 1260 at Elbistan.

In Iran, the Seljuk dynasty stretched their empire to Samarqand, Bukhara, Khorassan, Afghanistan, part of Turkey, Syria and part of Lebanon. They fought the Crusaders in the Near East during most of their reign through the intermediary of their appointed “Atabeks” in Turkey and Syria.

The Seljuk dynasty was taken over by the Khowarasmi dynasty whose Sultans were at odd with the Caliphate of Baghdad and helped the hordes of Genghis Khan the Mogul, led by his son Holako, to enter and devastate Baghdad in 1258 which ended the Arabic Empire.

The Moguls established two Viceroys in Iraq, one at Mosul in the Northern part and the second in Baghdad for the Southern part of Iraq.  The Arabic Era that lasted for 5 centuries ended as a cultural and organizational influence. The Emirs in Palestine were generally affiliated to the Sultan of Egypt.  .

The societies in the Levant region have experienced a different level of organizational skills and the beginning of the application of the rudiment written rules of Laws from their interaction with the European Crusaders.  We don’t have much information about the status of Mount Lebanon in that period or about its Emirs, its social structure, its allegiances, its demographic constituency or its economic development.

We assume that the Crusaders left a strong impact on the inhabitants in Mount Lebanon which forced the Arab Emirs to start relocating many Arab tribes from Southern Iraq into the Mount Lebanon regions to counterbalance the Christian population.

Even before the advent of the Arabic Empire, Christian monasteries were numerous and spread out throughout the Near East and Iraq and occupied the top of mountains, hills, and the best areas near fresh water sources in the same fashion you notice them currently in Mount Lebanon.

The monks had their special chambers (kelayye) for retreats and prayers.  Monasteries were very prosperous and maintained exquisite gardens of fruit trees, flowers and vegetables and were well stocked in provisions from their land and donations of the faithful.

During the Arabic Empire, monasteries were required to set up annexes of hostels in order to receive weary travelers and to lodge and feed them.  Usually, the relatives of monks maintained these hostels.  Caliphs, Emirs, and well to do noblemen used to patronize the monasteries and spent days in these quiet domains to eat, drink local wine and beer and have great time away from the scrutiny of city dwellers.

The monasteries in the Levant suffered during the Crusaders’ period because of the bad manners of the European invaders, their robbery and plunder, but the monasteries in Iraq and Eastern Turkey were as prosperous as ever because the crusaders did not venture deep in the land of Arabic Empire.

Many castles were demolished during that bloody period, a few were partially rehabilitated, but a lot of reconstruction of war infrastructure was needed.  What is important to note is that wars were no longer waged using chars with spiked wheels that harvest feet or employed exotic animals such as elephants as during the Antiquity.

Canons of wars were not invented yet, except may be in remote China where they were used during the main ceremonies related to their standing emperors. Wars were still waged with infantry, cavalry and archers in the conventional ways. Newly designed catapults for throwing rocks at castles’ walls and entrances were in use by rich nations with well equipped and sophisticated armies.

The full metal armor used by the crusaders was reduced by the noblemen to a vest of meshed chains and a metal helmet: The climate may not have been suitable to European fashion, since we do enjoy at least 7 months of hot and dry seasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Miriam enticed youth to join the Aram National party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prophesies of “end of time”: In “Rainbow over the Levant”

Note:  This article is a section of chapter 17 of  the fiction novel “Rainbow over the Levant”: 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 Mameluk 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 as completely in the dark as to the policies of the Sultan of Egypt.  The agents of the First Emir of Lebanon 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 (people living in Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine) had already experienced one such depressing mood during the lifetime of the First Emir and twice in the previous century, with a slight delay of such rumors since they were 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.

In the mid 14th century, society remembered the plague that devastated Aleppo half a century before, a catastroph 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.

Discussions among insurgents: Rainbow over the Levant

Note: This is a section of a historical fiction novel (1371-75)

A tiny educated nucleus wanted to emulate the Greek form of democracy where the people elect their leaders for the executive and for the members of the legislative House, though they had not the slightest idea of how to proceed and implement these Utopian tendencies.  Gergis alone was deeply involved in writing down a rudimentary form of a Constitution.  The guidelines represented a set of laws that should govern the citizens, but he failed to communicate his endeavor because his work was in the tentative stages and he lacked the necessary information of the Roman codes of law and how they governed their vast multiracial Empire. Besides, Gergis he knew of no one to translate Latin manuscript for him.  In any event, he was not sure any member was educated enough to contribute in his research and rationally discuss his thoughts.

The sources of these confusions on an important matter as “how to be governed” was not solely attributable to a widespread illiteracy and ignorance on how they were actually governed, but also because leader Antoun did not yet expand his purposes beyond the Metn County.

Since most of the partisans were Christians, and the big majority from the Christian Orthodox denomination, the arguments of the partisans were superficial and lacked inclusion of other religious sects and races in their planning and discussions.  There were however many Moslem Sunni renegades in the mountains that fled from sentences of imprisonment, or were tracked down for fraudulent mandates against them. They constituted communities of their own and cooperated with the Christian outlaws in moments of danger.  On the other side, many Christian renegades lived in the coastal cities of majority Moslem communities but did not mingle as openly as city life offered in variety of opinions and customs.

It was obvious to any sensible partisan that Antoun was and wanted to remain the leader for as long as he could hold on without the need for a formal election and he was willing to accept any political system that would ensure his prime authority.  So the implicit attitude was to wait until the insurrection succeeded.

Thus any discussion was basically cut short on the political system to agree on.  Nevertheless, Antoun had a pretty good idea on the taxation reforms that needed to be implemented and the inkling to allowing the townships to elect their own leaders and council members in order to check any resurgence of the old influential landlords.

Separately, Mariam of the mountain outlaws gang and Noura in the city group were outspoken and relentlessly brought forth the consequences for fomenting a call to an insurgency.  They realized that the major burden in any calamity would ultimately rest on the females’ shoulders and that they would have to cater for the children, elderly people and the wounded. They insisted that if a definite action had to be decided then they had the right to discuss openly and at length the requisite changes that need to be enacted and the alternative duties and responsibilities of each committee.

The fact is both Mariam and Noura made Antoun realize that not much explicit serious discussion had been exchanged within the partisans because, mainly, the males were not that talkative and refrained from bringing topics that would be interpreted as cowardice or ignorance on their part.  Antoun knew that the Emir had infiltrated the outlaws but decided that, by taking judicious precautions, open dialogues among his partisans were necessary to generating the kind of feedback for clarifying the main objectives and problems facing the unity and steadfastness of the insurgents.

Mariam, Noura and Antoun discussed and devised a rudimentary conversational method to encourage open dialogue among the partisans and would interchange roles when necessary for prompting the partisans into speaking their minds as equals in the decision process.

In the practice of open dialogue Antoun learned a different kind of patience, basically how to listen carefully to opinions and refrain from interposing or delivering his own opinion before all information was proposed, classified and summarized. A series of questions were laid out to be asked and responses expounded upon. Antoun noted down a set of questions that he recapitulated on the many gatherings he had with his partisans such as: “What it is that we want?”, “What is it that we wish to do?”, “What is the most important objective for us all?”, “What is the final big thing we all are decided to fight and die for?”, “What is to be done if we agreed on that objective?”, “How are we to proceed if we win power?”, “What is the most important decision we must implement immediately after we take control?”, “Who is planning to resume his normal life after victory”?, “Who is willing to continue his services as a civil servant?”, “What committee are you willing and capable of serving in?”, “Who is ready to continue the fight and suffer additional hardships in the event things turned badly?”, “What comes first, family security or the achievement of the main objective?”, “Who is willing to learn reading and writing if teaching is provided?”.

Being essentially a business man who got dragged into politics, Antoun enjoyed discussing with his down to earth partisans, whom proved to be very meticulous to details when prompted to expand on their opinions; however, as the night dragged on a few partisans in the gathering, and in the spirit of companionship, would become sentimental and would divulge profound personal secrets that would throw Antoun into confusion.

One of the partisans declared in a passionate tirade: “I am ready to spell by blood for the movement because you are all my friends, but in case I die during the insurgency then I do not see who will benefit from my sacrifice since I have no relatives left in this world”  Instead of replying with abstract notions or rebuking a well founded and deeply rooted life needs for continuity, Antoun would get busy finding a wife for his distraught partisan and engaging the community into resolving this unhappiness.  The empathy routines were left to his more talented female companions.

The arguments that rattled Antoun into despair and sudden frenzy, and which were numerous at the start of initiating the gathering sessions, were related to religious affiliations.  Many partisans with limited knowledge felt the urge to show off and could not find any argument in their arsenal but to express the acquired discrimination attitudes toward the Moslems or other Christian denominations and made it a point of honor to display their ignorance and their isolation.

A few partisans went as far as accusing Antoun to cohabitating with the Jews and Moslem infidels and, not just trading on a grand scale but socializing, eating and drinking with them.  They blamed him to bringing a few of the Moslems to the mountains as associates to him and rub it in their noses by inviting them to the meetings. These sessions that dwelt on the sectarian issues were the most trying and delicate to contain and Antoun proved his leadership at these crucial moments, albeit not in a constructive manner.

The leader was habitually respectful with the clergies, especially those close to the people, but had comprehended that religion could be used as a lethal weapon in politics and, more often, to disrupt the fabric of harmony in society for local petty interests.  Antoun had taken stock of the discredit that the movement would suffer if he played in the hands of the extreme confessionals and decided to respond clearly and categorically to any deviation from unity of all the partisans regardless of sect, or religion, or place of birth.

In the beginning the partisans tried hard to deviate from the problems at hand by steering the discussion to the familiar ground of base discriminating aspects in this confined society but Antoun learned to be firm in directing the discussion and keeping it on the target.  He encouraged confronting the discrimination tendencies and steered the discussion toward fruitful dialogues and thus winning the mind of the vast majority of moderates. Soon the word spread that the quickest way to be cast away from the movement is to indulge in unsubstantiated recriminations based on religious discrimination; consequently, blunt references were transformed into innuendoes or wrapped in benign joking bouts that finally did more harm to the cohesion of the movement than opting for direct confrontation and patient enlightenment.

With the exception of confessional opinions, the trio of Mariam, Noura, and Antoun learned never to preempt any position or offer an opinion until everyone had answered the question, extracted clarifications and then offered a summary of the exposed opinions. The kind of answers that the trio would respond to in order to ward off taking definite positions was as follow: “It is not for me to say what should be your position”, or “It is for all of us to agree at the end”, or “We will do what we agreed upon”, or “We need much honesty among ourselves and we will eventually trust to respect each others opinions”, or “We need much information on our enemy”, or “Whoever can provide us with reliable sources it is his duty to strengthen our knowledge”, or “We need much thought; sharing knowledge, information and intelligence will enhance our confidence in victory”, or “I am one of you who also lack much knowledge and information and would not impose any position before you share with me facts and vision”, or “Until everyone feels secure to share with everyone else his difficulties, limitations and capabilities it would be an untenable situation for our struggle which will be plagued with inefficiency and shortcomings”.

Before starting on his trip to the mountains, Antoun would send a messenger to inform Mariam of the time and place of his visit and then would huddle with her for hours in secret, and occasionally with Mustafa when he accompanied him, rehashing the topics and the role playing mechanism before the general gathering with the outlawed gangs.

Mariam insisted on Elias joining her in the general meetings because she felt that his outspoken character would enrich the conversation with hard topics that should be dealt with ultimately. After three months of frequent meetings, which used on occasions to take the best part of the nights, a short list of positions and desires were condensed.  The renegades of the mountains expressed the following inkling:

The mountain renegades preferred a peaceful and secure life in their own towns.

They demanded compensation be paid for their participation after victory so that they could rehabilitate their shattered business and way of life.

They abhorred any kind of taxes but would eventually share in the expenses of running a government if fair taxes were levied on all citizens and if the city civil officers did not enjoy social or economic privileges.

They adamantly refused forced military recruiting and only voluntary participation with fair wages could be contemplated.

They expressed their staunch right to elect their village chief as well as the enforcers of the laws.

Donations in money or lands to monasteries or to the bishops should be taxed heavily and after the agreement of the community.

Profits generated from pro bono works by the peasants to monasteries and bishops should be taxed and the proceeds invested in schools or anything beneficial to the communities.

The coastal city group expressed different priorities in a mercantile spirit but with the same candor, reflecting a variation in their way of life such as:

The right of every city dweller to own properties in any section of town without any class or religious discrimination but price affordability.

Everyone could rent a shop in any ‘souk’ regardless of religious beliefs or artisanal profession.

Any religious denomination should have the right to erect its own center of worship.

Fair taxes should be levied on every profitable business with no exception.

Trade union should be allowed to organize and send petitions for legal demands.

Entrance fees to other coastal towns and cities should be eliminated.

Goods and services should be exchanged freely among towns and cities within the same county and export taxes eliminated to encourage trade and commerce.

The essential advantage of these meetings was that everyone believed that later important decisions would be discussed openly and freely.  This feeling that everyone’s ideas and opinions were important was a new discovery and trends of empowerment were enhanced within the insurgents.

Initially, the coastal city group and the outlaws’ partisans in the mountains were totally separated in the organization and had no communication with each other except through Antoun and one of his close fearless associates called Mustafa Baltaji in the contraband business.  Mustafa, a 26 year old Sunni Moslem, was a de facto right hand man of Antoun and was an eloquent and conversant negotiator. Mustafa infiltrated many garrisons and linked excellent communications with greedy officers and sergeants who enjoyed unavailable goods at reasonable prices.

The armed group of outlaws and deserters were supplied by contraband military hardware and organized formally into specialized units and indoctrinated to an upcoming uprising with promises of substantial loot and occasional revenge.  Coordination and cohesion among the various gangs were established and trained through small and many tactical attacks that generated loot and high morale among the infant army.

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

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

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

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

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

Noura’s Exile

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. that the Emir’s province be rich,

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

3. that the two States share no common borders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Noura’s achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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