890D.00/946: Telegram

The Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Beirut (Wadsworth) to the Secretary of State

109. My 107, March 17, 8 p.m. General Catroux had a letter put into Lebanese President Naccache’s hands at 5 p.m. yesterday March 18 asking him to obtain the resignation of the Solh Ministry and to resign himself.

Two hours later Catroux had published by posting on Sérail21 doors three decrees:

The first reestablishes the constitution as of the day when a Chamber of Deputies to be elected within 3 months shall have elected a President. The constitution may be modified once reestablished.

The second stipulates that until a President is elected the executive power will be exercised by a Chief of State–Chief of Government (to be appointed by Catroux) who will be aided by two Ministers of State appointed by himself. He must convoke electoral colleges within 3 months.

The third designates Doctor Ayoub Tabet to the office of Chief of State.

At 8 p.m. same day Catroux addressed the Lebanese people over Radio Levant, stating notably:

“This series of measures emanates from a fundamental intention to solve impartially and democratically the problem of the resumption of constitutional life in conformity with the ideals of France, the principles of the United Nations and the wishes of the population [apparent omission] your public liberties are restored. You will exercise them without constraint during the electoral period.”

[Page 963]

During the evening four of the six Lebanese Ministers received letters from Catroux stating that their mission had terminated. The Prime Minister and one of his colleagues, both known to be recalcitrant to French wishes, were ignored.

These decrees were published, speech made and letters delivered before President and Ministers had time to be liberated [to deliberate?], let alone reply. Prime Minister in conversation this afternoon informed me President and he will not resign but will protest. They had received popular ovation at Beirut’s principal mosque at Prophet’s birthday celebration yesterday morning.

Naccache and Ministers remained away from their offices today. Doctor Tabet took possession of President’s office and appointed as the two Ministers of State Jasac [Jawad] Bulos … and Emir Khaled Chehab (Sunnite of good family, member of chief opposition party in last Parliament).

Doctor Tabet himself is a man of high character and attainments, religiously a free thinker, a strong Lebanese patriot, moderate Arab unionist and admirer of America where he studied and practiced medicine and preached Arab independence before and during the last war. He was Secretary of State in 1936 when the Franco-Lebanese Treaty of Alliance was signed and is known to have felt for many years that the country’s destiny should be linked with France.

In conversation with him last week American University President Dodge and I were struck by his strictly confidential comment that he had come to believe today rather in a smaller predominantly Christian Lebanon; independent of but in close economic relations with the Moslem hinterland and enjoying international rather than exclusively French guarantees and protection.

British Minister Spears spoke over radio at 8 p.m. tonight expressing full approval of action taken. To Lebanon, he said, General Catroux, with courage and insight is giving “the means to secure a place in the great brotherhood of free nations.” Catroux left this afternoon for Damascus. There have been no disturbances but I am reliably informed feeling runs high in Nationalist circles (see last paragraph my 107).

  1. The Grand Sérail was the building occupied by the French Administration; the Petit Sérail was used by the Lebanese head of government.