Editor’s note: Ahead of the 2014 presidential election, this is the first in a series of articles examining the circumstances and conditions that shaped the elections of Lebanon’s 12 presidents since 1943.
BEIRUT: Lebanon’s first post-independence President Bechara al-Khoury was elected after a compromise was struck between the dominant regional and international powers, kicking off a long-standing tradition of foreign meddling in the country’s presidential elections.
Following an accord between Britain and Egypt, Khoury was elected in September 1943, two months before Lebanon gained its independence from France.
Khoury and numerous other Lebanese politicians including late Prime Minister Riad al-Solh spearheaded the fight for independence and were incarcerated by French authorities in the Rashaya Fort in West Bekaa Valley before being released on Nov. 22, 1943.
A lawyer who hails from the Aley village of Richmaya, Khoury served as an MP, minister and prime minister before independence.
Khoury founded the Constitutional Bloc in 1932, which soon expanded to become a prominent Christian party backed by Britain.
At that time, two main political blocs governed Lebanon’s political life, Khoury’s Constitutional Bloc and former President Emile Eddeh’s National Bloc, which enjoyed robust support from France.
In his book, A History of Modern Lebanon, historian Fawwaz Traboulsi explains that the alliance between Solh and Khoury was forged in June 1942 during a meeting in Cairo under the patronage of Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Nahhas Pasha.
The Khoury-Solh alliance heralded the drafting of the famous National Pact, in which Khoury conceded to the demand for French protection and the idea of the political primacy of Christians in Lebanon. Solh, for his part, dropped the idea of Muslim annexation to Syria and accepted partnering with Christians in governing Lebanon.
In the summer of 1943, the Constitutional Bloc and its allies achieved a sweeping victory in parliamentary elections.
In September of the same year, Khoury was elected as president, garnering the votes of 44 MPs out of 47, who were present along with three blank votes. Eddeh, backed by France, then under Nazi occupation, withdrew from the race.
In what is to become a characteristic of presidential elections in Lebanon, international and regional factors helped in bringing Khoury to power at a time when France and Britain were competing for influence in the Middle East.
Traboulsi alleges that General Edward Spears, the mission Chief for Great Britain in Lebanon and Syria, favored Camille Chamoun over Khoury.
But he adds that in July 1943, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Said, an ally of Britain, met Chamoun and Khoury and assessed both.
“Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri al-Said, met Chamoun and Khoury in July 1943 and was more convinced by the latter,” Traboulsi wrote. “No doubt Khoury’s support for a Syria-Lebanese federal union was favorable to [Said], the champion of the Greater Syria project.”
Shortly after Khoury’s election, Solh formed his government. Two months later, Lebanon won its independence from the French mandate which lasted for over two decades.
During Khoury’s term, French troops left Lebanon and the country witnessed considerable economic growth. However, Khoury began to face growing opposition, particularly after Parliament amended the Constitution in 1948, renewing his six-year term, a precedent in Lebanese politics.
Opposition groups, which formed the Patriotic Socialist Front under Kamal Jumblatt, Chamoun, Raymond Eddeh and other Lebanese leaders, also accused Khoury and his entourage of rampant corruption, forcing him to resign in September 1952.