Bashir Shihab II (January 2, 1767 – 1850) was a Lebanese Emir who ruled Lebanon in the first half of the 19th century. Having converted from Sunni Islam, the religion of previous Shihabi Emirs, he was the first and last Maronite ruler of the Emirate of Mount Lebanon.
Bashir was born in Ghazir, son of Emir Qasim ibn Umar Shihab of the noble Shihab dynasty which had came to power in 1697. Despite his noble roots he was born into poverty but married a rich cousin.
In 1788, after abdication of his predecessor, Emir Yusuf Shihab, he was elected emir and ruled under Ottoman Suzerainty, being appointed wali or governor of Mount Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley ad Jabal Amel, which together form about two thirds of modern day Lebanon. He reformed taxes and attempted to break the feudal system, in order to undercut rivals, the most important of whom was also named Bashir: Bashir Jumblat and had increasing support within the Druze community.
In 1799 Bashir refused to assist either Napoleon or al-Jazzar during Napoleon’s – siege on Acre. This was one of the factors causing Napoleon’s failure and eventual return to Egypt.
In 1822 the Ottoman wali of Damascus went to war with Acre, which was allied with Muhammad Ali, the pasha of Egypt. As part of this conflict one of the most remembered massacres of Maronite Christians by Druze forces occurred, forces that were aligned with the wali of Damascus. Jumblat represented the increasingly disaffected Druze, who were both shut out from official power and angered at the growing ties with the Maronites by Bashir II, who was himself a Maronite Christian (initially the Shihab family was Sunni Muslim and some of which converted to Christianity at the end of the 18th century, under Bashir)
Bashir II was overthrown as Emir when he backed Acre, and fled to Egypt, later to return and organize an army. Jumblat gathered the Druze factions, and the war became sectarian in character: the Maronites backing Bashir II, the Druze backing Bashir Jumblat.
Jumblat declared a rebellion, and between 1821 and 1825 there were massacres and battles with the Maronites, attempting to gain control of Mount Lebanon, and the Druze trying to gain control over the Bekaa Valley.
In 1825 Bashir II, helped by the Ottomans and the Jezzar, defeated his rival in the Battle of Simqanieh. Bashir Jumblat died in Acre at the order of the Jezzar. Bashir II was not a forgiving man and repressed the Druze rebellion, particularly in and around Beirut. This made Bashir Shihab the only leader of Mount Lebanon.
Bashir II, who had come to power through local politics and nearly fallen from power because of his increasing detachment from them, reached out for allies, allies who looked on the entire area as “the Orient” and who could provide trade, weapons and money, without requiring fealty and without, it seemed, being drawn into endless internal squabbles.
Trying to obtain greater degree of autonomy he supported Muhammad Ali’s rise against the Ottoman Empire and allied with Ali’s son Ibrahim Pasha who occupied Syria on his father’s behalf.
This way United Kingdom’s and Austrian interests were threatened, so in 1840 they both helped the Ottomans to drive Ibrahim Pasha from Syria. Bashir was captured and sent into exile to Malta then to Istanbul, where he would later die. Bashir played a very important role in the modernization and emergence of Modern Lebanon.
For a short time the direct Ottoman rule over Lebanon was imposed until Bashir Shihab III, another member of the Shihab dynasty, was appointed an emir.
Today, the Shihabs (also spelled Chehab) are still one of the most prominent families in Lebanon, and the third president of Lebanon after independence, Fuad Chehab, was a member of this family, as was former Prime Minister Khaled Chehab. The Chehabs bear the title of Amirs (or Princes). Today, a group of them are Sunni Muslims, and others are Maronite Catholics, though they have common family roots. The 11th century citadel in Hasbaya, South Lebanon, is still a private property of the Chehabs, many of them still living in it. A branch of the family, directly descended from Bashir II, resides in Turkey, known as the Paksoy family, due to Turkish restrictions on non-Turkish surnames.
One of the most remarkable Bashir’s monuments is a magnificent palace in Beit El Dine which he started building immediately after taking power in 1788.