Articles

The Return Speech

By Dr Edmond Melhem

 In his speech upon his return to Lebanon from exile in South America in 1947,[1] Sa’adeh congratulated the Social Nationalists for participating in the battle for the independence of Lebanon. However, he regarded this political independence as an incomplete achievement. Nevertheless, it was an important and useful first step towards the real and full independence of the nation.[2] Sa’adeh emphasized that the consolidation of independence and Syrian unity remained tasks to be addressed by the Syrian states.

Sa’adeh seemed to have irritated the Lebanese government, which was preparing for elections in the country. It was said that the government was nervous about the large number of crowds that gathered to welcome Sa’adeh on his return.[3] The government promptly issued a warrant for his arrest. According to the government, Sa’adeh had declared in his speech that the existence of the State of Lebanon was null.

The government’s pretext for arresting Sa’adeh was based on its interpretation of the speech. In fact, Sa’adeh did not say anything negative against the existence of Lebanon. In his speech, he welcomed the political independence of Lebanon from France, but asserted  that this independence was not in fact actual and complete. It can only be such, he maintained, when the nation regains its sovereignty over all lost territories and exercises its will without interference by foreign powers and/or bodies.

Furthermore, in his speech, he presented his welcoming followers with an analysis of Syria’s condition after its having gained political independence. He expressed his happiness at the absence of foreign “occupation flags” by saying:

Today, our flags are waving and there are no foreign occupation flags waving beside them. It is due to your teachings, to your faithfulness, to your labour and to your unified struggle that our flags are today waving alone.[4]

He added:

Today, we are in a state of independence. We do not believe it constitutes the utmost limit to our progress in life. It is a step among others initiated by this great and powerful nation. [Nevertheless], it is a decisive step. I repeat and say that its achievement is due to your ordered labour and struggle.[5]

The political independence of Lebanon, accordingly, could not be considered by Sa’adeh as complete independence, but rather a decisive step towards it.[6] This step, he stressed, should be followed by other necessary steps in order to achieve complete independence.[7] As he maintained:

This is the outstanding fact about this independence and this first step, which we maintain has to be followed by other steps until the nation achieves that final aspiration to which it constantly directs itself.[8]

These steps, he explained, constitute a good measure of economic, social and political reforms that would transform the entity from a weak and dependent state to a strong and independent state.

For his part, Sa’adeh considered the real reason behind the government’s decision to arrest him the desire to paralyze his political activity and eliminate his freedom of action before the elections.[9] In this context, Kader argues that “the Lebanese government was aiming to put a wedge between the SSNP and the Lebanese population.”[10] Whether or not this is true, the government failed to capture Sa’adeh and withdrew the warrant after it had secured its victory in the elections. It must be noted that Sa’adeh had resorted to the mountain regions, where his party enjoyed wide popularity and where he could hide until the government’s anger had abated. He remained in hiding for seven months, until the warrant was finally withdrawn.

To counter the government’s tactic, Sa’adeh issued four communiqués to the Lebanese people, clarifying his party’s position and its dedication to preserving the independence of Lebanon.

In the first communiqué, [11]  he asked: “.. is it possible that I, the son of Lebanon, will deny my country’s sovereignty when everyone is acclaiming Lebanon’s independence?” He affirmed: I have not returned, following an absence of nine years, to fight Lebanon’s sovereignty but to help in building this country, so that it may grow stronger and stronger…” In the second communiqué he asserted that “there is no campaign against the Lebanese entity or any declaration to the effect of its abolition. Rather, there is a declaration, deep in its meaning, that some noisy people have tried to conceal from the Lebanese people.”[12] In this declaration, Sa’adeh affirmed that the future of the Lebanese entity would depend on the will of the Lebanese people. The same posture was adopted by Sa’adeh in his homecoming speech in March, 1947. He had said:

The Lebanese entity depends for its legitimization on the will of the Lebanese people. In all its positions, the party has demonstrated that, on this issue, it places the will of the people above every other consideration. The fact that the party was ready to cooperate with the [successive] Lebanese Administrations in everything touching on the issue of sovereignty, even in times when it disagreed with their internal policy, clearly shows that the party does not want to impose anything on the Lebanese people.[13]

Similarly, in the third communiqué Sa’adeh declared that “there could be no one in Lebanon who is more sincere in seeking to preserve this country’s independence than the leader of the National Party.”[14]

In conclusion: Although Sa’adeh did not consider Lebanon’s political independence as complete, he never denounced it or denied the country’s sovereignty. Rather, he claimed repeatedly that his party had been working for the realization and preservation of Lebanon’s true independence. This objective, he believed, could only be achieved by spreading his national doctrine. For this doctrine would: a) abolish confessionalism and replace it with secularism; b) unite the Lebanese and do away with their divisions and weaknesses; and, c) ensure national revival in Syria by replacing conflicting loyalties and negative attitudes with a single healthy national loyalty. As he affirms, “real independence and real sovereignty will not be fulfilled and will not endure unless they rest upon this genuine social unity which is the only sound basis for a national state…”[15]

In the next chapter, it will be seen that Sa’adeh used constitutional means and participated in the parliamentary elections in order to deliver his program of secularism, social unity and national loyalty. 

FOOTNOTES:

[1] Antun Sa’adeh, al-In’zaliyyah Aflasat (1947-1949) (Isolationism Has Gone Bankrupt), Beirut: SSNP, 1976, pp. 23-28.

 [2] Ibid.

 [3] The number of SSNP members and supporters who gathered to welcome Sa’adeh was estimated by Salim Mujais to be over 50,000. See his work, Antun Sa’adeh wa al-Iklirus al-Maruni, (Antun Sa’adeh and the Maronite clergy), USA: [n.], 1993, p. 79.

 [4] Antun Sa’adeh, al-In’izaliyyah Aflasat (1947-1949) (Isolationism Has Gone Bankrupt), op. cit., p. 23.

 [5] Ibid.

 [6] Ibid.

 [7] Ibid., pp. 46-55.

 [8] Ibid., p. 24.

 [9] Ibid., p. 59.

 [10] Haytham A. Kader, The Syrian Social Nationalist Party: Its Ideology and Early History, Beirut: Haytham A. Kader, 1990, p. 101.

 [11] Antun Sa’adeh, al-In’izaliyyah Aflasat (1947-1949) (Isolationism Has Gone Bankrupt), op. cit., pp. 29-30.

 [12] Ibid., p. 31.

 [13] Ibid., p. 25.

 [14] Ibid., p. 35.

 [15] Ibid., pp. 100-101.

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