The French history behind Lebanon's problems

Between The Lines


Earlier this month, a deadly blast in Beirut killed more than one hundred and seventy people, engine thousands, and lift three, hundred, thousand homeless. And a vast landscape of destruction. Now, Lebanon was already in extremely bad shape before this blast exacerbated by the covid crosses the chronic corruption and dysfunction that had defined Lebanese politics for decades with all that had brought the economy to ruin. Many people have lost they laugh savings and investments no wonder widespread protests recently led to the resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister and his cabinet. So the poodle listen a broader historical context. Let's welcome back to the program Joshua Landis. He heads the Middle East Program at the University of Oklahoma Josh Welcome back to between the lines. It's a pleasure being with you Tom. Now Lebanon was once a model for the Middle East by route was dubbed the Paris of the East. Now, today Lebanon looks like Syria Iraq how did this happen? Well it happened because Lebanon is an extremely divided country it like Iraq and Syria there are Shiites and sinise dividing the Muslim side but there's also about thirty three percent of the population are Christians. Both marinade there and and Greek Orthodox. So you have the same. Religious Divisions in Lebanon that you do in Syria and Iraq but in fact, you have more and that's one reason why Lebanon fell into such a bloody civil war from nineteen, seventy, five to ninety, which was. Patched up. Most recently and They've been running in what turns out to be a real puns e scheme through the central. Bank. In which they shored up the Lebanese pound by borrowing gobs of money billions upon billions of dollars and. and. Supporting the exchange rate, but it turned out that that was a Ponzi scheme because tons of Lebanese in Australia. The United States Europe were sending their dollars to Lebanon to be in these dollar-denominated accounts that were getting interest rates as high as twelve thirteen percent. So everybody wanted that kind of interest rate, but it turned out to be a Ponzi scheme in just collapsed a few months ago, which was sparked these terrible demonstrations and instability because the country is now impoverished inflation has gone through the roof and people are discovering that they don't have any money and it's it's Lit tensions between different sectarian groups, and of course, as I mentioned in my introduction many people in Lebanon I've lost their life savings and investments. To people realize that it goes back to the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War One this in France and Britian what do they do that essentially created free great minority ruled regimes in the Middle East, tell us mall. Yes they did and Lebanon was carved out by France which got a both Syria and Lebanon from the League of Nations after World War One. The League of Nations conceded this to France to really rule over the mass colonies, but they are called mandates and. France carved out Lebanon as an independent country. And made the borders such that they were as big as they possibly could maintaining a Christian majority so that the government would be dominated by Christians at the center ruling over Shiites Druze a bunch of sending Moslems none of whom would be able to compete in theory with the Christians and this allowed for a very French friendly country on the Mediterranean that France thought would serve it. Well, the problem is that within the years. The demographics began to change and Muslims became the crushing majority and this led to the civil war in hundred, seventy five and ever since then the various religious groups have been squabbling over. Political power. And today fifty percent of all parliament members that have to be Christians. National Pact even though Christians are probably only a third, the population which underlines how You know precarious. The entire political system is, and of course, in Iraq following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire with the British mandate the Sunni minority pretty much ran the show from the time of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire right through the downfall of Saddam Hussein, and in Syria it was the Alawite minority that ran the show and of course Stiffer differs from the Sunni majority during the recent civil war. Correct. You're absolutely right and this was a pattern throughout the northern Middle East where the colonial powers whether it was. Britain or was France would establish a minority in power given the lion's share of power, and that helped them to rule by divide and conquer, but it left a terrible legacy. That the Middle East is suffering from today because the Alawites this religious minority that's twelve percent of the country ruled Syria and today the uprising was an attempt by the Sydney majority to overthrow that minority that's clinging to power in Syria Saddam Hussein sunny twenty percent of the country Cenis and the Shiite majority and Kurds rose up to try to get rid of Saddam Hussein leading to very bloody civil war ethnic war and and that's that's one of the major causes for instability throughout. The region is this terrible fight between these different religious groups

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