890E.00/155: Telegram

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

243. Reference my 238 July 26, 5 p.m.46 Lebanese electoral crisis assumed last week new disturbing aspect as compromise proposed by Spears and Helleu was accepted by Moslems, bitterly opposed by most Christians and imposed by Free French decree promulgated July 31.

[Page 981]

Spears returned from London July 25. On the 29th he reviewed situation for me substantially as follows:

He had consulted in Algiers with Catroux who expressed strong displeasure at Helleu’s handling of electoral problems and felt that issuance of Tabet’s June 17 decrees was a mistake certain to occasion Moslem–Christian conflict.

Only by Catroux’s intervention, on basis of Nahas proposal that 25–29 Moslem–Christian parliamentary ratio be adopted had Moslem ire been assured [assuaged?]; but Christians had refused to cooperate even though proposal assured them reasonable parliamentary majority.

He had agreed with Catroux that affairs must be solved promptly. Lebanon’s whole future was jeopardized. If Christians persisted in demanding 22–32 ratio or return to old chamber figure of 28–35, Moslems here and in Syria and neighboring countries might be incited to demand assimilation of the whole country in their post war political structure.

This his Government could not approve. Lebanon’s independence had been recognized. Britain had guaranteed it. They could not stand by and see that lost.

He had therefore considered with Helleu the various suggestions for compromise. The figure of 54 deputies was admittedly based on incomplete census records. Why not make it 55? Moslems would have their 25 seats and Christians the same proportionate majority as in last Chamber.

He wanted early elections. Any compromise ratio would probably have to be imposed. He had just seen Maronite Patriarch who was unreasonably obdurate. He had therefore agreed that Helleu issue the necessary decree without further effort towards compromise.

I commented that while the matter was none of my business he might be interested to know that my information was to the effect that the Moslem executive too would strongly oppose imposition of any compromise solution. Its secretary, speaking for the Mufti, and two of its leading members had given me clearly so to understand when calling early in the week.

This may have influenced Spears to postpone action, for next morning he called on the Mufti. Executive consent to 25–30 compromise ratio was obtained on condition that complete census be held within 2 years and Chamber seats be readjusted accordingly.

Meanwhile on afternoon 29th a “Christian Congress” was held under presidency of Maronite Patriarch. Lebanon’s seven leading recognized sects were represented by prominent bishops. Protestants were unrepresented, their official head being absent on church business.

This meeting denounced “the attitude of the Moslem Congress as an attack against both the Christian majority in Lebanon and the [Page 982]integrity of the state itself” and characterized January Blue Book proposals as threatening such integrity. It decided:

To oppose all intervention by foreign (Arab) governments “because animated by religious fanaticism”.

To refuse wholly the proposals of Nahas and Nuri.

To support the Tabet decrees of June 17 and in particular their provisions optant emigrants “most of whom live in the United States under whose flag many offer their lives in the cause of liberty”.

To accept alternatively the 2–35 [22–35] ratio “in proof of their Christian indulgence and to safeguard national brotherhood”; and

To boycott elections should “such minimum safeguard of Christian rights” be not realized.

This protest was communicated to Spears and Helleu, and the following morning the Maronite and Greek Orthodox Bishop of Beirut called formally on me. The Maronite “feared” a general Christian uprising; both petitioned American intervention. I was politely discouraging; diplomatic practice precluded my interfering in internal political matters.

Next morning the latter called again alone. He was troubled as to whether he should stand by Congress decision or welcome compromise as being in harmony with traditionally tolerant attitude of Orthodoxy. I did not discourage him in this attitude.

At noon same day Helleu promulgated his decree establishing 25–30 ratio and ordering general census within 2 years; and both he and Spears made radio appeal for brotherly unity. Refusal at this stage in world affairs, Helleu said, “would not be understood by world opinion” and, according to Spears, “would be to risk losing the sympathy of the democracies”.

Helleu stressed his “unenviable though necessary role of arbiter” and urged the taking “this step which will permit you to begin the free and full exercise of your sovereignty”.

Spears stressed that “completely free elections should take place at the earliest possible date”, supported by the decree and said: “Great Britain has guaranteed your independence, promised by France. France by the measures which have [been taken by?] Mr. Helleu has begun to implement the promise made”.

I wonder at this somewhat bold use of “France”. It cannot be popular among Lebanese generally and, knowing Spears’ personal inclination to play down Free French activity, it strikes me as being off key unless used under instructions given him in London.

There seems too to have been unnecessary haste in imposing this new decree; for, had the Christian Congress been told of Moslem action in accepting compromise ratio and consequent Franco-British decision to impose it, it is readily conceivable that at a second meeting. Christian acceptance, too, could have been obtained.

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As it was, Patriarch’s reaction to decree was one of bitter hostility and almost his first act was to call his cousin Aouad and direct him to resign his post of Assistant Secretary of State in the week-old Trad Government.

One cannot but speculate whether both Spears and Helleu might not have acted also on undisclosed motives of expediency: Spears hoping to regain for Britain a preeminence of prestige with the Moslems which Catroux’s recent visit here undermined; and Helleu being not unwilling to make Spears appear chiefly responsible for overriding Christian pretensions and to profit from possible resulting impasse by again deferring elections.

Wadsworth
  1. Not printed.