Lebanon/ 3.4 International cultural co-operation  

3.4.1 Overview of main structures and trends

Lebanon constitutes a link between three continents and has been through the ages an exchange center between the East and the West in all fields. The unique cultural characteristics of Lebanon's religious and sectarian mosaic has been a cultural wealth for the country, despite the other clashing side, and has opened many doors for cultural exchange and cooperation with the West as well as Arab and Islamic countries.

For example, the early openness of Maronites on Arabic culture from the beginning of the 10th century AD made them adopt Arabic as their own language and with time they became amongst the pioneers of Arabic and the motivators of its revival and they were the first to introduce the Arab "Mashreq" culture to the West, the first to bring Arabic letters to be used in printing in Europe and the first to translate the holy bible to many languages.

Maronite intellectuals played a key role in bringing culture closer to the broadest section of the Lebanese public until 1736 when the Lebanese Academy organized the Maronite Church and became the first institution to call for freedom of education for all students, including female students.

After this era of openness, missionaries began to enter the country, schools were built and the Lebanese cultural renaissance began.

It is known that the sociocultural changes that took place in Lebanon in the 18th century were part of the modernization and reform movement that swept the whole region.

As a result, Lebanon opened its doors very wide to many foreign influences more than any country under Ottoman rule, and with the country becoming under the French mandate after World War I, the Lebanese found themselves between two worlds, which put them in a perfect position and allowed them to assume their role as a translator between the Arab Mashriq and the West.

Thus Lebanese culture opened its doors wide open to the West but also it managed to maintain its unique identity.

As a result of the settlement of French religious missionaries in Lebanon in the middle of the 18th century an intellectual elite generation emerged at the beginning of the 20th century filled with the values of the French Revolution and it used Molière language to express its ideas and its national or individual aspirations.

On their part, Beirut Sunni elites wanted to revive the public civil education sector and they established the Islamic Maqased of Beirut (a charitable society) following the example of Christian missionary schools in order to preserve their Islamic identity.

So with the establishment of the state of greater Lebanon in 1920, two modest but solid types of revival amongst the country's Muslims existed: religious reformatory revival and civil education revival led by the Islamic Maqased of Beirut and Sheikh Ahmad Abbas Al-Azhari School and both trends made Egypt their destination.

As for higher education, Lebanese knowledge seekers were distributed on various countries according to religious affiliation. So Sunni Muslims went to Al-Azrah University, Egypt, Shiite Muslims went to Najaf, Iraq and to Iran and Christians went to European religious institutes.

This diversity secured an interaction with various cultures, which not only contributed in accepting international cultural cooperation but also opened new horizons for intellectuals, something the state has not been able to offer.

It didn’t develop a comprehensive plan to promote cultural exchange with other countries but this orientation was very important to a number of key officials in Lebanon. In the near past, specifically the 1990s of the previous century, the late Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri attached much importance to this exchange and tried to invest his international relations to acquire practical and useful results in this regard. We will not mention his achievements in this field but we will indicate ESA which was established in 1995 pursuant to an international decision made by former French president Jacques Chirac and the late Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri to be similar to the grand business and administration schools in Europe. ESA was entrusted to Paris Chamber of Commerce and headed by the French ambassador in Lebanon and the governor of Banque du Liban. ESA is a prestigious educational institution different from other universities in Lebanon and it constitutes a place for cultural and civilizational exchange in different areas even outside its fields of specialty.

Different cultural organizations attach importance to developing cultural exchange with other countries in order to secure the needed budgets for their projects and exchange expertise and utilize experiences of others in different cultural fields. 

Chapter published: 07-04-2016