from the Aramco World Magazine September - October 1982, Vol. 33 No. 5
ISSN 0003-7567.

Written by Paul Hoye with Jeanne Mullin, John Cooley and William Tracy

To those who were there Lebanon from the mid 50's to the mid 70's was
- and is - unforgettable. As the Arabs said of the Golden Age it was a
time "when the world was young."

Most visitors to Beirut, and many of the foreign residents tended to
think of Lebanon as Beirut and understandably so; it is a memorable
city. But there was much more to Lebanon than Beirut. Standing astride
the crossroads of Europe, Africa and Asia - its green hills and
snowcapped peaks both oasis and barrier between a sea of water and a
sea of sand - this small country holds incomparable riches of climate,
geography, architecture, and of course, history.

Down by the waterfront, for example, there was an old, quite charming
hotel called the Normandy. With its mirrors and staircase, the
Normandy looked like some- thing out of an MGM musical, but it's chief
claim to fame in the 1960's was Kim Philby, KGB agent and
spy. Possibly the most famous traitor since Benedict Arnold, Kim
Philby had made the Normandy his head-quarters until, on the verge of
arrest in 1963, he fled to Moscow. It was a quick departure and in
1965 one reporter chatting with the room clerk learned the
results. "You see" the clerk said, holding up a mail order catalog,
addressed to Philby, "they still send his mail here."

Further on, but not much further, there was the harbor where in the
60's the U.S. Sixth Fleet would anchor and send its sailors ashore for
a week of riotous leave. For a time, Beirut also played host to cruise
ships, including, once, the Queen Elizabeth II. A flotilla of Greek,
Turkish and Italian vessels almost always seemed to be going to

Beyond the harbor area was a huge Armenian quarter, reflecting the
presence of the 100,000 or so Armenians who escaped to Lebanon to
avoid the 1914 massacre that sent 1,750,000 fleeing into "Syria" a
region that then included Lebanon. An estimated 600,000 died en route
but some of the survivors found refuge in Lebanon - as did the
Palestinians in later years.

Past the Armenian section, the coast road widened into a new
expressway that swept north toward Tripoli with exits along the way
for a series of small, picturesque - and sometimes historic - towns
and villages. One of the first was Jounieh, now an important center in
the Christian dominated area of Lebanon, and once one of the jewels of
the Lebanese coast: a village of small stone houses with traditional
arched windows and red tile roofs opposite a soaring cliff 610 meters
(2,000 feet) high with a great white statue on the summit- Our Lady of
Lebanon - and, directly in front of it, a shimmering bay. Jounieh's
key attraction was its natural beauty, but astute entrepreneurs had
added a telepherique, a one-and-a-half-kilometer (one mile) long cable
car to the summit, and on a high bluff at the end of the bay, a
complex of theaters and restaurants: the famous Casino du Liban,
modeled, in every way, after the Folies Bergeres in Paris, and, in
that early period, one of the highlights of virtually every tour of
the country.

Further north still, there is Byblos, possibly the oldest city in the
world, with a Roman port and a castle built by the Crusaders. Turn
left on any one of a number of roads in that general area and you
would find what in the 1960's was a novel - and tremendously popular-
attraction: the ski resort of Faraya which offered
above-the-timberline skiing and elegant year round villas with access
to a pool. En route, burrowing into the cliffs, were the fairyland
wonders of the caves of Jeita - which you could row a boat
through. Trips in any direction in Lebanon disclosed a similar mix of
modem development and ancient artistry. Toward the east, for instance,
climbing the sheer, hairpin highways that lead to Syria, you would see
off to the right the tracks of a cog railway that still hauled trains
up into the mountains and off to Damascus, and on the left one of the
many French casernes, or forts, that France put up during the Mandate
period. Like the military highways and the fine lycees, these casernes
suggest why Beirut and Mount Lebanon have had such a distinctly French

Toward the summit were orchards that grew, one Lebanese photographer
would unfailingly point out, "the finest apples in the world," and a
sign pointing toward the Ksara wine cellars, another legacy from the
long French presence in Lebanon. Over the summit, in a purplish haze,
was the great fertile plateau between the Lebanon and the Anti-Lebanon
ranges: the ekaa Valley', with the incredible ruins of Baalbek at the
northern end, and the vital Litani Dam at the other- both symbols of
the agricultural riches of this 120 kilometer (75 miles) long valley
nearly a kilometer (half a mile) above sea level.

The Bekaa Valley is a wonder in itself. Driving east you used to see,
first, the vineyards and then, among the cliffs, the marvellous
"casinos" of Zahle - open air restaurants along streams and waterfalls
pouring out of the heights . Further on there are the ruins of Anjar,
a beautifully preserved Umayyad city, and then north, the experimental
farm of the American University of Beirut (AUB) agricultural school
and, at the tip of the valley, the ruins of Baalbek.

The construction of Baalbek went on through the reigns of eight
emperors- three centuries - and includes one of the largest temples in
the world: the Temple of Jupiter whose enormous corinthian collumns
have become as much a symbol of Lebanon as its cedar trees.

In modem times Baalbek won additional fame as the site of a well-known
musical festival; it drew such regional greats as the late Umm
Kalthum, the most famous Arab singer of modem times, Lebanon's own
Fayrouz (See Aramco World January- February 1982) and such
international greats as Dame Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev and, on one
unforgettable even- ing, America's Ella Fitzgerald.

Baalbek is only one of the monuments left by the Romans in Lebanon. At
almost every point there are traces of the Roman period, as the 1960's
construction boom proved: every time the bulldozers bit deep they
found another temple. This applies even to the deserted reaches of the
mountains where, in the vicinity of Mrouj on the limestone shoulder of
Mount Sannin, there are 100 or so Latin inscriptions incised on the
cliffs and flat stones. This was the "Boundary of the Forests of
Emperor Hadrian Augustus"

Driving south in the Bekaa Valley, it is immediately obvious that this
area is dominated by the small but important river called the Litani
which ends, abruptly, at the Litani Dam in the shadow of a great peak
that straddles the Lebanese border. From there an old, cracked track
winds up into the mountains and then down again trough places like
Jezzine with its umbrella pines and its famous cutlery, to the
coast. South there is Tyre where, they say, divers still find coins in
the sea from the time of Alexander the Great to that Napoleon.

As you wind down from Jezzine you can also see on the shore the
outskirts of Sidon, with still more traces of outsiders who came to
Lebanon. One is the ruins of Crusader castle; another is the complex
berths and oil tanks that marks the end the terminal of the
Trans-Arabian pipeline Tapline.

One of the factors in the growth Lebanon in the 1950's, Tapline was
then the largest oil pipeline in the world: 1720 kilometers, in all
(1069 miles). At its peak, was delivering some 465,000 barrels a day
from more than 20 storage tanks on the hills above the loading berths
and buoys to many as 900 tankers a year. Reduced importance by
economic and political changes in the area, Tapline, at the time the
Israeli invasion of Lebanon, was delivering only 73,000 barrels of
crude oil a day to refineries in Jordan and Lebanon, and this summer,
because of war damage to the Tapline facilities and the refinery,
deliveries to Lebanon stopped.

North of Sidon there were dozens small charming areas and, as always,
points of historical interest. One, little known, was the Damour
River, where the forces of the Free French and Vichy France fought a
battle in World War II.

Not far from Damour there was a curve in the road from which drivers
on their way to work could catch a glimpse of Beirut just as the sun
cleared the mountains and touched the towers of the new buildings with
the special light of the eastern Mediterranean. It was a fleeting
glance, but for one writer it captured what Beirut seemed to be: the
heart of what then seemed to be a Golden Age.

Beirut, to be sure, could not really compare with Baghdad in the real
Golden Age - the 200 years of brilliant Islamic achievement in
science, literature, agriculture and trade. But there were
parallels. Like Baghdad, Beirut for 20 years was a hub of
international trade and regional finance, a center of education,
communication, shipping and transportation, a focus for entertainment,
art and fashion, and the home of a special, perhaps unique, multi-
national society.

As late as 1947, Jeanne Mullin recalls, Beirut was no more than a
quiet, picturesque port, known mostly for its American University,
which by then sprawled across 75 acres on the slopes above the sea. In
the 1950's, however, a series of developments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt,
Europe and else- where began to affect and then transform Lebanon. One
such development was the construction of the Trans-Arabian Pipeline
and its terminal in Sidon. Another was the overthrow in Egypt of a
line of kings going back to Muhammad Ali and the establishment of a
new government under Gamal Abdel Nasser. Last there was the beginning
of Europe's post war "economic miracle."

Years before, the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) had decided to
build a long oil pipeline from Saudi Arabia to a port in Palestine. By
the time construction got underway, however, war had broken out in
that area and the pipeline went to southern Lebanon instead. On
December 2, 1950, consequently, the first oil from Saudi Arabia began
to flow into the tanks at Sidon, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of
Beirut. For the same reason, the Iraq Petroleum Company, in 1948,
chose Tripoli Lebanon's second city, as a replacement for Haifa and by
the early 50s, as a result, Lebanon unexpectedly found itself with two
important oil terminals.

Not long after, in 1952, a group of young army officers in Egypt
overthrew King Farouk and instituted a form of centralized government
that resulted in the exodus of many of the country's foremost
businessmen, industrialists and bankers - both Egyptian and
foreign. Some went to Athens to relocate, others to Amman, but most
chose Beirut because of its potentially fine harbor and airport, its
schools and universities, its commercially astute people and - a key
factor - a government eager to welcome what turned out to be an
extraordinary influx of the world's corporate and financial
representatives. Simultaneously, booming economies in Europe and the
United States were developing a new interest in Middle East
markets. The result, for Lebanon, was still another wave of immigrants
added to the already extensive AUB group, the relatively new Tapline
crews, the exiles from Egypt and hundreds of surgeons, engineers,
accountants, architects, and nurses - from Palestine, Syria, Egypt,
Jordan and Iraq. These new- comers from the west-bankers, diplomats,
sales representatives, geophysicists, educators, airline captains,
photographers, and writers - helped create, for a poignantly short
time, a dynamic multinational society. Paths crossed commericially in
places like Cairo, Amman, Damascus, Teheran and Dhahran - and socially
at the endless circle of business receptions, balcony parties and
elegant dinners in Beirut.

To some observers, this unending round of parties, receptions and
dances- faith- fully, if sometimes haphazardly reported by such
indefatigable Daily Star social columnists as Genevieve Maxwell and
Peggy Johnson- seemed useless, and possibly decadent. In fact, they
were usually a quick efficient way for, say, IBM's new man in Beirut
to penetrate necessary commercial and governmental circles, or for a
Time correspondent to start the network of contacts and sources he
needs. "In one night" said a correspondent, after one of Times famous
receptions at the Phoenicia, "I met half the people I needed to know
in Beirut for the next three years "

Not all correspondents could afford receptions at the Phoenicia Hotel;
that was oil company territory, they'd say, a reference to the fact
that the Phoenicia was a favorite with Aramco and Tapline. They didn't
object, of course, to the lounge downstairs from which, over a cod
lemonade, you could observe - while observed - underwater swimmers in
the Phoenicia's pool. Mostly though, correspondents while not
travelling spent lunchtime across the road at the Hotel Saint-George
s. Famous the world over, the Saint-Georges offered a superb cuisine
served on a lovely terrace overlooking Saint-Georges Bay - but was
also the journalist's best listening post, as well as his post office
and bulletin board.

This apparently posh life style was deceptive. First, it was quite in
keeping with the leisurely, open-air way of life that the Lebanese
themselves expected and encouraged; foreign expense accounts may have
helped, but Lebanon's life style existed long before the expatriates
settled in.

Second, it concealed, for the newspaper crowd, demanding jobs;
coverage of the shifting patterns of intricate Middle East politics
could be one of the hardest newspaper beats in the world.

As a result, Beirut, became the press center; by the 1950's Beirut's
press corps had swollen to 124 correspondents and stringers, a total
that would wax and wane over the years until, in the late 1970's, the
Civil War forced most of the resident reporters to move to places like
Athens and Cyprus.

The highly visible life styles of the foreign communities - Asian and
Middle Eastern as well as European and American -also tended to
obscure another important fact: that to a large extent the economic
boom of the late 1950's was stimulated by Lebanon itself - primarily
by its people's energy and commercial aptitudes and their ability to
take advantage of the events that reshaped the economic patterns of
the Eastern Mediterranean in that period - an ability that the
Lebanese themselves vaguely label "the Lebanese mentality."

As Yusuf A Sayigh said in 1978, in "The Economies of the Arab World",
"Lebanon is not a typical Arab economy" By that, he meant that
Lebanon's economy was not based on the extraction of petroleum, but on
trade and, to a lesser extent, industry and agriculture. But Lebanon
was a typical in other ways too. It was committed, to an unusual
degree, to a flexible, free wheeling form of laissez faire capitalism;
its literacy rate was 88 percent, its per capita income was high.

There were other characteristics of a sophisticated economy too. One
was, quite simply, prosperity. With the exception, perhaps, of the
Palestinian refugee camps and some areas in the south, Lebanon was, at
least in regional terms, a prosperous country with a large, relatively
successful, socially mobile middle class.

Like Baghdad's success in the Golden Age, this prosperity was based
largely on trade and that, in turn, demanded and stimulated dramatic
expansions in other sectors of the economy: banking, transportation
and shipping.

Banking was particularly important, as development of oil production
in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait began to generate the first of the huge oil
revenues. By 1974, as a result, there were 38 Lebanese banks of
various sizes, 18 jointly owned Lebanese-foreign banks and 18 foreign

This, one banker explained, came about because Lebanese trade began to
need financing just at the time that the oil- producing Arab countries
began to look for already established banking facilities with which
they felt comfortable. The resulting faith in Lebanon as a financial
center came to be so strong that, according to an executive in one
Beirut company, deposits in Lebanon's banks doubled between 1975 and
1980 - the years when the Civil War had not only torn the country
apart, but had even triggered raids on such banks as the Bank of
America and the British Bank of the Middle East.

Similarly, the 1950's saw an increase in, and improvement of,
transport and ship- ping- partially because trade was increasing, but
also because the Arab world, by then, was turning away from
Palestinian ports like Haifa and Jaffa which had formerly provided
important entry ports and trans-shipment points for the Middle East.

Another factor was newly introduced economic reforms in Egypt which
interrupted normal patterns of transport. Benefiting from this
Beirut's harbor began to flourish - as did its trucking sector after
the 1967 Arab-lsraeli War closed the Suez Canal.

The most dramatic change was the transformation of Beirut's airport
into a key international crossroad and the growth of two small,
heretofore unimportant airlines into international carriers: Middle
East Airlines (MEA) and Trans-Mediterranean Airways (TMA).

In 1945, Middle East Airlines owned just three De Havilland bi-planes
and its main route ran between Baghdad and Haifa. About the same time,
a former Aramco employee named Munir Abu Haidar was converting two
World War II bombers into cargo planes to ship vegetables to Dhahran,
the headquarters of Aramco. Things were so bad that at one point
executives at MEA seriously tried to barter Lebanese apples for
British VC-10's.

Later, as a measure of what happened in Lebanon in the golden years,
both these operations ballooned into big effcient profitable
industries. By 1974, for example, MEA employed 80 airline captains, 90
first officers and 70 flight engineers - part of MEA's total work
force of 5,000 employees.

TMA also did well. In 1973, TMA was, in route mileage, the biggest air
cargo carrier in the world and netted close to $15 million. By then
TMA had also expanded its work force - to about 1,800 employees.

Those changes, moreover, were but part of the impact that burgeoning
trade was to have on Lebanon. To service the airlines a catering
company run by Albert Abela began to grow too; after expanding into
catering for schools, hospitals and oil camps, Abela's firm wound up
with 11,000 employees in 30 countries. To service MEA itself an
adjacent maintenance operation expanded from one engineer and six
mechanics into a $5.5 million complex of hangars and shops employing
1,400 or so skilled craftsmen able to totally renovate a Boeing 707 in
six weeks.

Trade was still only one component in Lebanon's economic
achievements. Other kev factors were industry and agriculture.

Until the 1950's, agriculture was second in importance, after trade,
to Lebanon's economic well being. As part of the famous "Fertile
Crescent," and the Bible's'1Land of Milk and Honey" Lebanon's coastal
plain and terraced hills, along with the fertile Bekaa Valley, have
always played a key role in the economy. Palestine, it is true, made
contributions to the food supplies of both Romans and Ottomans, but
the Bekaa Valley to this day is far more productive and the coastal
plains, until the civil war, were rich in oranges, bananas and other
fruits. By 1978, Lebanon had in cultivation 106,00Q acres of wheat,
19,768 acres of barley and 7,600 acres of corn. In addition, olive
groves cover 69,200 acres, vineyards 40,700 acres, apples 34,700
acres, citrus 27,000 acres and tobacco 16,300 acres - a total of
966,000 planted acres.

Industry, began to grow in the 50's and 60's until in 1972, 100,000
workers or 20 percent of the labor force, were listed as industrial
workers - a change that one economist called an important economic
frontier. Most of it was small industry, but statistics suggest,
nonetheless, that the country had made some impressive strides: $8
million worth of copper cable manufactured; 450 workers hired to
assemble elevator cabs and controls for Otis Elevator; 14.5 million
tons of fuel produced at the two refineries; $16 million worth of
pharmaceuticals known to be exported; 1,000 people employed in a
teak-furniture factory.

Figures from that period also show that Lebanon had two steel rolling
mills, two aluminum extrusion plants and two glass makers, one
affiliated with France's famous Saint Gobain. In addition, there were
140 publishing houses listed, and enough presses to put out 40
newspapers a day and 100 periodicals, both monthly and weekly. That
aspect of Lebanese industry also suggests another vital role that
Lebanon played in those golden years - the role, in fact, that first
turned Beirut into a world press center. Through those newspapers and
publications, Arab countries, political parties, movements of every
shade of the spectrum found an outlet, a forum, a platform from which
countless factions from all corners of the Arab world took part in,
and tried to influence, regional and international debates.

The variety of those opinions and the fierce manner in which they were
aired suggests, that Lebanon was not a melting pot, but rather, as
Daniel Moynihan and Nathan Glazer wrote of New York, "a mosaic," in
which each group retained its own distinct coloring - political,
religious and social.

To put it another way Lebanon may have declared a truce with history,
but could not avoid it altogether: among Lebanon's two million
inhabitants, after all, were well over a dozen religious groups: Sunni
and Shi'ite Muslims, Greek Orthodox and Maronite Christians and other
Christian sects, some dating back to the time of Jesus, small numbers
of Protestants, converted by Western missionaries in modem times plus
Druze, Kurds and Jews. In addition there were numerous ethnic groups;
like the United States, Lebanon is largely a nation of immigrants,
many of them exiles. both of whom fled massacres and wars.

Since those communities brought with them all the fears and suspicions
of the past, they quite naturally tended to guard their identities
closely - maintaining their own hospitals, schools, civil codes and
even cemeteries.

Nevertheless, Lebanon of the golden years did exist. Lebanon
historically, was a haven for wave upon wave of immigrants who,
despite differences, did rock along in friendship and peace for long
periods of time. Lebanon was, undeniably, a sanctuary as well as a
playground, and far more forum than arena.

Bill Tracy, for instance, lived for seven years in an apartment in a
stately old building near the later famous Holiday Inn. It stood on a
narrow twisting street in a neighborhood that underlines what Ras
Beirut was like. His neighbors included two Armenian families, an
elderly Jewish doctor and his wife, a Kurdish family, two Maronite
Christian grocers - one with a wife from the Seychelles - an American
photographer and an American newscaster from his home state of
Illinois ... all of whom were close friends and neighbors.

Nearby, furthermore, was a walled compound at the end of an alley in
which stood six one-story tin-roofed cottages. Obiously the
"villagers" who lived in them were of more modest means, but, Tracy
once wrote "their solid homes and their fresh fruit trees and flower
gardens lent the neighborhood charm without borrowing from its

This was not unique John Cooley says: in those happy, distant days,
there were few, if any, physical barriers between Muslim and Christian
areas. In much of Beirut, in fact, there weren't, really, too many
clear-cut "areas". Invisible social barriers did separate what the
news agencies, in their awkward, often inexact generalizations, called
"predominantly Muslim West Beirut" and "mainly Christian East Beirut"
- and those barriers grew stronger as tensions arose in the 70's. But
the barriers had as much, or more, to do with the growing gap between
rich and poor in Lebanon, as with sectarian disagreements. In the
charming `Ain al-Mraissi, for example, George the Maronite Christian
grocer - and a member of the Phalange - remained the best of friends
with his neighboring shopkeeper Muhammad, almost until the final
sectarian division of the city in 1975 because both w ere modest
merchants, George had far more in common with Muhammad than with his
Christian cousins, Charles, Maurice or Pierre, in Ashrafiye, Sursock
or Sinn al-Fil, the "Christian districts."

To an extent, of course, this tolerance was a mask, hiding the
stresses. As correspondent Albion Ross once put it, Lebanon was "a
cloak of many colours," meaning, as Cooley later wrote, "that every
village, every patch, every bend in the road housed another family,
another clan, another way of looking at the world"

This is true. Few, if any, Lebanese put country ahead of family or
clan - or even neighborhood. As Edouard Saab, editor of Beirut's
l'Orient - Le Jour put it, "None of us really ever thought he was
fighting for a nation called Lebanon. Many of us fought only for
selfish interests."

The formal and charming manners of the Lebanese were adopted as a way
of easing the inevitable frictions in a crowded, competitive,
multi-religious and multinational society. As small-town Americans
have long been aware, small talk about the weather or football is a
safe way to avoid serious discussion and argument.

As a result, therefore, the cracks in the foundations of Lebanon's
unique society were ignored, or at least not detected, until the
combination of overcrowding, inflation, urban sprawl and economic
inequities -intersecting with the fears and conflicting interests
among the different factions - ignited a deep and dangerous anger and
triggered the series of tragic events from which came first civil war
and, this year, what is not only the latest but the most destructive
invasion in the country's long history.

This summer, as nightly television newscasts showed Beirut, Sidon and
Tyre being reduced -by Israeli bombs and shells - to rubble, Lebanon's
"Golden Age" seemed very remote, and its unique possibilities and
pleasures gone forever. But for those who were there during its golden
years the memories, at least, remain - to come flooding back with each
air raid, artillery bombardment and street battle. Many of these
memories are deeply personal. "Long drives in the mountains with my
wife,"recalls Tracy, "in search of the perfect spot with the perfect
view for the house we would someday build (but now never will). Proud
fathers, on Sundays, buying ice cream on a stick for dark-eyed
daughters in bright dresses... masses of dark thunderclouds sweeping
suddenly in from the sea, and cloudbursts turning the streets into
torrents and washing them clean and, so often, a rainbow..."

Now, however, as we watch the last throes of invasion by a foreign
power the cold reality of the present is super- imposed on these warm
memories of the past.


Paul Hoye took over as editor of Aramco World Magazine in 1964, when
the magazine's offices were moved from New York to Beirut. John
Cooley, formerly Middle East correspondent of the Christian Science
Monitor, lived in Beirut from November 1965 until March 1976, and has
returned regularly to Lebanon since. The author of four books and
numerous articles and essays about the Middle East and North Africa,
Cooley is now staff correspondent for ABC News based in London. Jeanne
Mullin, who lived in Beirut from 1947 to 1954, subsequently moved to
Puerto Rico, then Peru, settling eventually in Garrison, New York, on
the Hudson River where she writes, paints and sculpts.


"Aramco World is distributed without charge to a limited number of
readers with an interest in Aramco, the oil industry, or the history,
culture, geography and economy of the Midlle East." Editorial
correspondence should be addressed to: The Editor, Aramco World,
Aramco Services Company, PO BOX 2106, Houston, Texas 77252-2106,
USA. Requests for subscriptions and changes of address should be sent
to: Aramco World, Box 3725, Escondido, California 92025-0925, USA.

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