890E.00/141: Telegram

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

214. Reference my 204, June 7, 6 p.m. A serious politico-religious electoral crisis has developed in this country during the last week. It was precipitated by the promulgation last Thursday June 17 of two Lebanese Government decrees prescribing the number and sectarian affiliation of the deputies to be chosen. Simultaneously the Government announced that a decree fixing the date for elections would be published June 22.

In the last (1936) elections the total number of deputies was 42, made up of 22 Christians, 13 Maronites and 9 of other sects, and 20 Moslems (9 Sunnites, 8 Shias and 3 Druzes). The new decrees establish 12 additional seats, 10 Christian (5 Maronite and 5 others) and 2 Moslem, on the basis of increase in registered population (1,243,000) which included for the first time 160,000 emigrants recorded as having opted for Lebanese citizenship under the treaty of Lausanne.41 The latter are not to vote, but their numbers are added to the registered population of the districts (chiefly Maronite Mount Lebanon) from which they emigrated.

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It it axiomatic that no such decrees could have been issued without French approval. Prompting such approval, it seems clear, was a desire to see strengthened parliamentary representation of the one important sect (Maronite) whose religious leaders’ political creed is a Christian controlled Lebanon independent of the Moslem hinterland and protected by Catholic France.

Spears told me he was not consulted and would recommend strong protest by his Government. Under earlier received instructions he left for Cairo June 22 to join Casey and accompany him to London for general discussion of Franco-British relations.

Local Moslem leaders are bitterly hostile to the new decrees. They first learned of them Friday morning; at noonday prayers there was considerable ferment in the Mosques. Saturday a representative group of 60 met with the Mufti, and a protest was prepared for presentation to the Lebanese Government and French Delegate General.

Briefly summarized this protest (which is addressed also to the British, American, Egyptian, Iraqi and other United Nations representatives in Beirut) demands rescinding of the decrees and the holding of elections on the basis of a new census conducted “under the supervision of a trusted neutral committee” or alternatively on the old basis. In default of either, the protest pledges Moslem boycott of elections.

Helleu, I am reliably informed, endeavored to dissuade them from protesting to other governments, offering his good offices to arrange the matter. This was but more fuel to fire, and invitations were issued to provincial Moslem leaders to attend a further protest meeting.

This meeting was held on Monday, followed by a larger gathering at the Young Men’s Moslem Association. Attendance was fully representative, the first occasion I am assured since the last war on which all Moslem groups have truly combined to defend their common interests. The Mufti presiding, Saturday’s protest was reaffirmed. Ablest Beirut leader Riad Solhkey [Solh?] noted “Lebanon is Arab and must find its strength in union with the Arab world.” It was argued that, if Maronite Mount Lebanon truly preferred French protection to Arab federation, the remaining districts with their Moslem majorities should rejoin Syria.

Tuesday I dined with Solh and other Moslem leaders at the Iraqi Consulate General. They propose full exposition of their case to Nuri Said42 (who will visit Damascus and Beirut next week en route to Cairo to discuss Arab unity plans with Nahas43) and will solicit Arab world support. With others who called on me yesterday they [Page 978] urge Anglo-American intervention. All bitterly attack French policy in general and characterize the decrees as the last straw in countrywide pre-election intrigues designed to return a French controlled parliament which would accept the 1936 treaty as the irrevocable basis of Franco-Lebanese relations.

In the local Greek orthodox community (influential by wealth and position rather than number which as [is?] only one-third the Maronites resident 318,000) there is considerable sympathy with the Moslem view. In Syria also, where a decree was issued June 21 calling elections for July 10 and 26, a growing sympathetic indignation is reported.

Finally it is of interest to note that, while no textual publication or editorial discussion of the Moslem protest has been permitted, the Lebanese decree promised for June 22 fixing the date of elections has not been issued. One cannot but speculate as to whether the French have not achieved a heads I win tails you lose position. For if the June 17 decrees are enforced their candidates should win the elections; and if not they will have gained at least another postponement thereof.

  1. Signed at Lausanne, July 24, 1923; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. xxviii, p. 11.
  2. Nuri as-Said, Prime Minister and Acting Minister of Defense of Iraq.
  3. Mustapha Nahas Pasha, Egyptian Minister for Foreign Affairs.