890E.01/207: Telegram

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

306. Supplementing my 305, November 8, 7 [5] p.m. By publication of communiqués reported in my 302, November 5, 8 p.m., clear issue was joined in Franco-Lebanese political crisis, French having publicly declared they would not recognize validity of proposed constitutional amendments unless made with their assent and Government having answered by its bill to Parliament called to meet in special session November 8.

Bill proposed amendment of articles 1, 11, 52, 92, and 102 and repeal of articles 9–94, designedly to bring constitution into conformity with country’s present recognized independent status, briefly as follows:

In article 1, deletion of reference to France and League of Nations. Frontiers are those now existing.

In article 11, deletion of provision that French shall be second official language. Envisaged law will permit its use for special purposes, e.g., in mixed courts and diplomatic correspondence.

In article 52, deletion of provision that President’s power to negotiate and ratify treaties is subject to article 3 of mandate.

In article 95, deletion of reference to article 1 of mandate. Further modification of this article will, in line with Ministry’s program be proposed in promised second constitutional bill which will also open question of changing Lebanese flag to avoid use of French colors prescribed in article 5.

In article 102, deletion of sentence placing constitution under safeguard of France as mandatory.

Articles 90–94 are repealed because made up solely of “dispositions relative to mandatory power and League of Nations”.

Bill was circulated to Deputies November 6. Attitude of leaders Government and Chamber was that it should be voted without further Franco-Lebanese negotiations. Their arguments were substantially as follows:

When French Delegate General Helleu left for Algiers94 October 26 we agreed not to force issue pending his return with new instructions. French broke this gentleman’s agreement by publishing their communiqué of November 5. It is they therefore who have precipitated crisis.

Meanwhile French have consistently endeavored to sow discord and uncertainty in Lebanese ranks by whispering campaign against Government and through “Fausses nouvelles,” e. g., that Helleu was to be replaced by General bearing revived title of High Commissioner, [Page 1004] that latter would be supported by division of North African troops and that de Gaulle himself would come shortly to settle matters; were Parliament to delay vote those machinations might bear some fruit among the timid.

More important, however, is consideration that by further negotiation with French we would afford them opportunity to give their assent to proposed amendments. This they might well do both to save face and to maintain facade of their pretended mandatory authority.

November 7 Lebanese Premier and Vice Premier met with Syrian Premier and Foreign Minister at Chtaura95 where full Syrian support of proposed Lebanese action was assured. Syrian Premier confirmed this specifically to Farrell96 same evening in Damascus, adding that inept French policy has unconsciously aided Lebanese policy by consolidating Lebanese public opinion behind it.

Latter was strikingly borne out yesterday morning by apparently spontaneous closing of majority of stores in Beirut central shopping district as protest against French attitude. They reopened upon Premier making tour in person accompanied by other leaders who urged that demonstrations and disturbances would only play into French hands.

Yesterday morning the French made eleventh hour efforts both to induce Government to postpone parliamentary session pending Helleu’s return and, if failing in this, to prevent parliamentary action by assuring lack of two-thirds quorum.

As proof of latter, I have interesting testimony of four reliable Deputies of Edde97 opposition group that French Sûreté98 chief urged their dozen members to absent themselves, assuring them at same time full security by Sûreté agents of their persons and properties.

With former object in view French Delegate to Lebanon called on President of Republic and read to him and Premier memorandum of message “just received from Helleu in Cairo”. After requesting postponement of session pending personal presentation of “interesting propositions” from Algiers Committee this read: “Mr. Helleu asks that he not be faced with fait accompli. Otherwise he will be obliged to reserve entire liberty of appreciation and action. This should not be taken as threat but expression of desire frankly to define his attitude”.

After brief consideration Government expressed regret that “in actual state of things postponement of sessions could not be proposed [Page 1005] by it” Reply added “This attitude should not prevent any negotiation with representative of Committee of Liberation”.

Lebanese Minister of Interior99 who brought me these texts on instructions from Premier asked me to assure my Government that Lebanese Government intends to keep dispute on constitutional plane and do nothing to precipitate trouble. He cited Premier’s morning action in reopening shops adding that effective police precautions had already been taken to prevent demonstrations during Chamber session.

He did not hide however serious concern (which I have heard expressed in all circles over week end) as to what action French might take in event of vote modifying constitution. Would they run true to past form and in exercise of pretended mandatory authority issue decree suspending constitution and proroguing Parliament? If so, he said, deputies will ignore it because under constitution only press [President?] possesses power of prorogation. What then? Would French use force and physically close Parliament with armed Senegalese troops? This would also mean fall of Government, an emanation of Parliament.

What, he asked, would be my Government’s reaction to this? Trouble might well ensue because, while Government could [apparent omission] certainly not prevent popular protest strikes and these might lead to serious disturbances.

Fortunately, for the Minister’s visit was hurried, I was not pressed to elaborate my reply that, as he already knew my Government’s sympathetic attitude toward Lebanese aspirations, I felt sure I would not be misunderstood if I counselled personally and on general grounds against use of force [while] we were still very much at war. Not only would breakdown of public security prejudice our common war effort, but it would afford welcome propaganda material to our enemies.

On this score British Ninth Army authorities are somewhat apprehensive. Ranking staff Brigadier and Judge Advocate have both consulted me informally. They and Army Commander would view with strong distaste necessity of British military intervention to support French suppressive action.

I commented that from my considerable contacts of last fortnight I believed possibility of disturbances could certainly not be dismissed but that were British military police to appear on streets they would probably be met with cheers rather than with any bricks not thrown at French.

[Page 1006]

Beirut was in fact ordered out of bounds to all British troops yesterday. But as events proved this precaution was unnecessary. Parliament met in atmosphere tense with excitement but with well-circulated word of Government’s wishes supported by strong contingents of Lebanese police and gendarmes kept crowds orderly and relatively quiet.

Parliament session itself was serious and orderly. Proceedings were opened by one of Edde group proposing and Edde himself seconding motion that bill be referred to committee. This being defeated Edde and one follower withdrew leaving 48 of 53 Deputies to continue discussion.

Debate was at times heated notably on article even [eleven] regarding which several Deputies urged deletion of any reference to French language. Prepared speeches on general subject of independence and in support of Government were, according to Legation’s interpreter, well delivered and well received. Final voting on roll call was unanimous.

Early in evening French press director called to his office representatives of all local newspapers and instructed them that no mention whatsoever of parliamentary sitting or vote could be made in any newspaper, that for them “it hasn’t happened”; any infraction would be severely dealt with.

Editors later met and decided that despite this censorship order and warning they would publish the facts. They did, and today French Sûreté has seized all newspapers except a few copies which were early delivered or smuggled out of newspaper offices. Copies are now quoted at approximately one dollar.

Next move is presumably up to Helleu who, I have just been informed, will arrive from Cairo this afternoon. French Sûreté chief is reliably quoted as saying “All is prepared for effective reprisals”.

Two final points: British Brigadier referred to above informs me French have actually proposed sending additional troops here from North Africa and that General Wilson1 has categorically refused.

Belgian Chargé d’Affaires informs me Syrian Foreign Minister stated textually in recent conversation “After mature consideration we have decided without reservation to throw our lot (marcher) with Anglo-Saxon bloc”.

Repeated to Algiers.

  1. Headquarters of the French Committee of National Liberation.
  2. Lebanon.
  3. William S. Farrell, Second Secretary at Damascus, and Charge in the absence of the Diplomatic Agent (Wadsworth), who was in residence in Beirut.
  4. Emile Edde, former Lebanese President.
  5. French security police.
  6. Camille Chamoun.
  7. Gen. Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, Commander in Chief, British Forces in the Middle East.