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Melto D’Moronoyo: Patriarch Howayek’s lessons about leadership

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Lebanese independence Patriarch Elias - The Catholic Weekly
Proclamation of the state of Greater Lebanon. Photo: Supplied.

As we wrote in a recent article, Maronite Patriarch Elias Howayek dealt with the political crisis of his time in Lebanon with great courage and thought.

His regard for human dignity and freedom, and his own political acumen, enabled the Maronites to survive World War I and the threat of usurpation by invading armies.

Today we look at how the patriarch was pivotal in establishing stability and independence for Lebanon, an issue the country is once again facing.

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At the General Syrian Congress in 1919, King Faisal called for an independent Greater Syria which would include Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Palestine and the Arabian Peninsula, which was supported in the Balfour Declaration on 3 January 1919, also called the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement.

Patriarch Elias Howayek was alarmed by these and other moves against Lebanese independence.

Patriarch Howayek looked towards Paris, rather than Damascus, to attain an autonomous Greater Lebanon to be fulfilled.

The close relationship between the Maronites and the French during the years of the Ottoman Empire would help realise the extension of Mount Lebanon to that of Greater Lebanon.

A delegation of seven members, headed by Daoud Ammoun, were sent to address the Paris Peace Conference members on 13 February 1919, requesting Lebanon’s independence.

When there was no evident outcome, a second Lebanese delegation was sent, led by Patriarch Howayek, who well understood the political dynamics of Ottoman, French, and Lebanese affairs.

On 15 July 1919, the patriarch left Lebanon and headed the second Lebanese delegation to the Peace Congress in Versailles. He was 76 years old at the time.

Lebanese independence Patriarch Elias - The Catholic Weekly
Patriarch Elias Peter Hoayek, 1919.

On his way to Paris, he famously said, “I cannot imagine relying on politics, but on God and this rosary.”

On 27 October 1919, he presented at the Peace Conference a lengthy memorandum demonstrating the right of Lebanon to independence and the ability to exercise national sovereignty.

He also requested the restoration of Lebanon’s natural and historical borders, including regions usurped by Turkey.

In demanding the formation of Greater Lebanon as a separate Christian entity, Patriarch Howayek used the Phoenician idea to demonstrate the non-Arab ethnicity of the Lebanese.

He was addressing Western ears, in which Phoenicia was a familiar and well-liked note. The Maronite Church provided the foundation for a separate non-Arab ancestry.

The patriarch argued for independence, referring to Article 22 of the Charter of the League of Nations. He was very much about his country. He was patriotic and this remained with him his entire life. In his most recognised publication, Love of the Nation [محبة الوطن] published in 1930, he writes:

“Whether you are meek or great, you are not permitted to excuse yourself from involvement in the destiny of the Nation, and the advancement of society, of which you are one of its members. This is because each one of us has benefits and interests that we gain from society.”

Again, he writes, “The one who refuses to help their country, not only sins against graciousness, but also against justice.”

French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau offered Prince Faisal a compromise, wherein he would rule over Syria, but not Lebanon.

However, this agreement was voted down by the Syrian General Congress in January of 1920. Subsequently, the Second General Syrian Congress in March 1920, declared an independent Greater Syria which encompassed Lebanon and Palestine, with King Faisal as constitutional monarch.

On 27 May 1920 the French Commander in Beirut, General Gouraud, was ordered to take the field against King Faisal and on 26 July the king was removed from Syria.

In Beirut, on 1st September 1920, after nearly two years of struggle, the French high commissioner, General Gouraud, with Patriarch Howayek on his right, and other Lebanese notables, pronounced the creation of Greater Lebanon.

The mountains, territories, plain and access to the sea, were all included in the Greater Lebanon boundaries.

Thus, the patriarch was assured of preserving the traditions, of developing political and administrative institutions and of reclaiming completely the Country of Lebanon.

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