890E.00/101: Telegram

The Consul General at Beirut (Engert) to the Secretary of State

135. Last week President Naccache2 told me General Spears3 was in favor of holding elections or at least fixing definite date for them within the next 6 months or so while he, the President, was opposed because of the turmoil it would cause throughout the country at a time when it was most essential that party strife and personal ambitions should be eliminated and nobody knew what the spring and summer held in store for the Middle East. He said General Catroux4 felt as he did but perhaps chiefly because he feared an election would bring out a good deal of latent pro-British sentiment and thus weaken the position of Free French.

This morning the President sent for me and referring to our previous conversation said he wanted me to know that he was seriously thinking of that. He explained then that Spears and Catroux did not get along at all—see also my telegram 121, April 35—and that the situation was reaching a point where the dignity of his own position was being affected by the constant squabbles between the two Allies. He said that Catroux was undoubtedly afraid Spears was merely using the threat of elections to increase British influence and in order to counter this move Catroux was about to resume friendly contacts with the Maronite Patriarch who had boycotted both the Free French and the Naccache government since last November. See my telegram 468, November 27, 1941,6 and my despatch 270, January 30, 1942.5 Catroux [Page 587] was planning to reduce the Lebanese Cabinet to 5 members but to appoint a council of some 25 or 30 members representing various regions and religions who would function in lieu of an elected assembly. And to please the Patriarch and win him over to the French side he would doubtless appoint many of the Patriarch’s candidates which might well hamstring the Government and render his (Naccache’s) position intolerable.

I replied that I did not take as tragic a view of the situation as he did. In the first place if the British Minister proposed holding elections he was only suggesting something all Anglo-Saxon peoples instinctively believed in and were now fighting for. However, I personally was inclined to agree that the present moment might not be a propitious one for elections and I would gladly talk it over informally with Spears. Elections could perhaps be postponed if not until the end of the war at least until the Levant was no longer threatened with invasion.

As for Catroux’s alleged desire to effect a reconciliation with the Maronite Patriarch, I thought it might be a good move provided no vital principles were sacrificed. After all the Maronites constituted 30% of the population and their active participation in the Government might prove a source of strength to Naccache as well as to the Allies. Besides it would silence Axis propaganda about distrust and dissensions in the Lebanon. As a stopgap measure even [the suggested?] appointed council might not be a bad thing but it would have to be picked with scrupulous care and fairness.

Naccache agreed that this would be an ideal solution but he did not seem to have complete confidence in the good faith of Catroux.

I am acquainting Spears with the substance of the above omitting of course anything that might hurt his feelings.

Repeated to London.

  1. President of Lebanon.
  2. Maj. Gen. Sir Edward Spears, Head of British Military Mission, and British Minister in Syria and in Lebanon.
  3. Gen. Georges Catroux, Delegate General of the Free French in Syria and Lebanon; for an account by General Catroux of the question of elections in Syria and Lebanon in 1942, see his Dans la Bataille de Méditerranée: Egypte-Levant-Afrique du Nord: 1940–1944 (Paris, 1949), pp. 255 ff.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Foreign Relations, 1941, vol. iii, p. 806.
  6. Not printed.