Lebanon has had leaders that have shaped the political and social landscapes of this country. It has also had leaders who have exemplified true leadership and reform throughout their terms. Fouad Abdullah Chehab served as the President of the Lebanese Republic between 1958 and 1964. So why is he significant to remember him today as peaceful demonstrations take place across Lebanon for almost three consecutive weeks now?
Chehab’s mandate remains to be seen as one of the most distinguished in Lebanon’s history, mainly due to the important reforms and large scale social development projects that he introduced and initiated.
The country prospered during his term, as he maintained his will to build the institutions of the modern state. He was viciously opposed to the sectarian, feudal political leaders of the country – is all of this beginning to make sense now?
Born 19 March 1902 in Ghazir, Kessrwan during the Ottoman ruling, General Fouad Chehab became commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces in 1945 after Lebanon gained its independence that ended the French mandate and French military presence.
Up to 1958, Chehab devoted himself to give Lebanon a strong Lebanese Army based on high values of national belonging, ethics, discipline, and efficient organization. The troops of Infantry and Artillery were reorganized and reinforced.
All departments, from the headquarters and administration to the engineering, communication, and intelligence were restructured and modernized. He went on to create Lebanon’s Navy and Air Forces, and build the military caserns across Lebanon.
Believing in the importance of education for the military, he raised the level in the Military School. Lebanese young officers were sent to enhance their military knowledge in French and English Military Academies.
In 1952, Lebanon lived a strong political opposition to President Bechara El Khoury who had renewed his mandate, pressuring him to resign. Chehab refused to allow the Lebanese army to engage in the uprising, for or against any party, preserving as such the Army impartiality and the trust of the nation in its army.
Upon the resignation of Bechara El-Khoury, Chehab was appointed Prime Minister to ensure an emergency democratic presidential election. Chehab refused to yield to the pressures of some to run for the presidency.
He had no such ambition or desire other than the stability of his country, adamant against any interference of the Army in the public life, and in assuming his emergency mission, which he did. Four days later, Camille Chamoun was elected president of the republic.
Widely trusted by the Muslims for his impartiality, Chehab was chosen as the consensus candidate to succeed Chamoun as President of Lebanon to restore peace to the country. On taking office, Chehab declared: “The revolution has no winners and no losers.”
Following a path of moderation and cooperating closely with the various religious groups, and with both secular and religious forces, Chehab was able to mitigate tensions and bring stability back to the nation.
Two years into his mandate, in 1960, believing that he had accomplished his mission, Chehab resigned to dedicate himself to administrative reforms and State modernization.
A year later, upon a failed military coup by the Syrian Social Nationalist Party, Chehab empowered the Lebanese intelligence and security services in order to deter any potential similar threats and block foreign interferences in Lebanon’s internal affairs.
Fouad Chehab throve in bringing harmony to the coexistence of the Lebanese different sects. He saw to the implementation of various reform programs and regulations aiming towards a modern administration, efficient public services, and social justice.
Lebanon prospered economically, and also in social development and infrastructure projects, particularly in healthcare and education, including the neglected remote areas across the country.
Fouad Chehab died in 1973 in Beirut from a heart attack. In 1999, then Prime Minister Salim Hoss unveiled a monument at the Fouad Chehab Sports Complex in honor of the late President.
In his speech back then, representing President Emile Lahoud at the ceremony, Hoss said, “President Chehab started a political school of thought that was free of bigotry and that built on the past to bring about a better future. He saw his post as a mission, and didn’t use it for personal gain.”
He went on saying, “He was a wise military man who was renowned for his loyalty to the country. He brought justice and equality to Lebanon and cooperated with neighboring Arab countries. He was honest and noble and his memory will never fade.”
Designed by Pierre Khoury, the 3-meter high statue was sculpted by Pierre Karam and paid for by donations from the families and businesses of Jounieh, Kessrwan.
It is at delicate times like these that we wish to see similar leadership, impartial leadership, as well as leadership that exemplifies the true essence of our co-existence as Lebanese citizens.
The revolution is indeed meant for everyone – and this means that no one is exempt from its outcomes. All the Lebanese nation must come to walk away from the current one included in the positive outcomes and the negotiation process, with our rights intact, the neglected ones implemented, and a strong and healthy democracy.
The question remains: With all the failures of the government to the nation, which have ended up triggering this massive uprising in Lebanon and the diaspora, who do we have today to match such an exceptional leader?