Lebanon’s Founding Fathers: Who’s Who

Members of the parliament counting the votes - Presidential elections,1958

Members of the parliament counting the votes – Presidential elections, 1958 (Archive -LIFE Magazine)

Today is the Lebanese Independence Day, and I wanted at first to write how we aren’t that independent, and how we’re in fact under the mercy of every foreign nation you can think of in the universe. But that’s more like the job of Beirut cab drivers these days.

So instead I’m going to talk a bit about some of Rijal Al Istiqlal (An Arabic word used to describe the men who fought for the independence in 1943)

1- The Dictator

History – unlike the Lebanese history book – does not stop at 1943.  True, Bechara El-Khoury made us an independent  country, but he later abused of his powers as president and of his status as the first among Rijal Al Istiqlal. Bechara El-Khoury’s administration was so corrupt that his brother, Salim El Khoury was often referred to in the press as the Sultan Salim. But that’s not the only abuse of power. Bechara El-Khoury will organize one of the worst parliamentary elections in the 70 years-history of our republic. Massive electoral fraud would bring him a parliamentary majority in 1947, and in 1949, the very man who changed the Lebanese constitution in 1943 for the sake of the independence, will amend the constitution again (with the help of the fake parliament), but this time for personal reasons. Instead of setting an example to the others by protecting the democratic principles in the new country, Bechara El Khoury will make sure that the constitution – that forbids reelection –  gets amended and that he gets reelected for another term (6 years).  Theoretically, he was supposed to stay till 1955 after his reelection, but in 1952 Lebanon would revolt and the white revolution (protests and strikes) along with political pressure from the opposition will force him to resign and abandon politics.  Who knows, if it weren’t for the protests, he might have stayed again from 1955 till 1961. And then from 1961 till 1968. And then till 1974. And 1980. And 1986 and 1992 and 1998 and 2004 and 2010 and 2016. Who knows, he might have been the one giving the Independence speech this week. Because you know he deserves to be dictator. After all, he made us independent.

2- The Assassinated

Every year, we have hundreds of gatherings for tens of martyrs. Every year, people remember them. But who cares about Riad Al-Solh. He’s not very important. He’s not a warlord, and he’s not a sectarian leader. If it weren’t for him, the Muslim regions of Lebanon would’ve been part of Syria, and the French army would still be in Beirut. But really, he’s not very important, he’s just that guy that was behind the independence, and the fact that the Muslim population decided to stop the boycott of the Lebanese state that lasted from the 1920s to the 1940s. He’s not even a martyr. Wait. What? He’s a martyr?!

 Riad Al-Solh, to refresh your memories, Lebanese, is the most important martyr in this country, because he’s the founder. He was assassinated in 1951 by the SSNP in Amman. That’s how he miraculously disappeared from Lebanese politics in case you one day wondered. Two times prime minister under Bechara El-Khoury, he made life easier for the corrupt regime men, even though he wasn’t  corrupt himself – apparently he was broke and in debt when he was assassinated. One of the mistakes of the regime was the  killing of SSNP leader Antoun Saade with no proper trial. When you don’t apply justice properly, justice won’t apply to you either. La loi de la jungle. No need to tell you the rest of story.

3- The Tyrant

Who would’ve thought that the same minister of interior trapped in his cell in Rashaya in 1943 for the sake of the independence would be in 1975 the same minister of interior that will let everyone arm themselves and destroy the very country he helped build? Who knew that this very man, Camille Chamoun, would destroy the national pact – that he helped to forge in 1943 – by allying with the west in 1956, paving the way for the first civil war in 1958? Who knew that the same man that turned against his party leader in 1952 because he extended his term, would try to do the same thing 6 years later? Who knew that the same man that fought for the French army to leave Lebanon, will ask the marines to enter Beirut in 1958, before calling for the Syrian army to occupy in 1976 and then welcoming the Israelis afterwards? Who knew that the man that fought for the independence of the Lebanese state in 1943 would secretly support the 1961 SSNP coup attempt? Who knew that the man that criticized the electoral fraud of 1947 in 1952 would create the most gerrymandered electoral law Lebanon has ever seen – ten years after the first elections after the independence were rigged by Bechara El-Khoury – throwing 3 of the 5 opposition leaders outside the parliament? There’s one big difference between Chamoun and El-Khoury. El-Khoury understood that he did something wrong, and he gave up power peacefully and immediately. Chamoun was ready to burn Lebanon with him every time he had to give up power. You can thank his selfishness and stubbornness for being the indirect reason behind of all our civil wars, sectarian problems (That we barely had before he decided to show up), and all the foreign armies that came to our country.

4- The Rebels And Counter-Rebels

“Repulse the enemy with your breasts! Fight them with your spears! Kill them with your bullets!” Saeb Salam promised a fight in “every block, every house, every room” – TIME, July 28, 1958

Men loyal to Kamel El Assaad were burning the Lebanese flag in Tyre during the revolution of 1958, while  Saeb Salam, the man whose house was the very place where that flag was designed, was now leading the insurgency against the Lebanese state in Beirut. Sabre Hamade – who convened members of the parliament in his house during the independence struggle – was the commander of the revolution in the Bekaa. Simultaneously in Tripoli, the son of AbdulHamid Karami – One of the six men that were imprisoned in Rachaya –  was now the leader of the revolt in Tripoli. On the other hand, Pierre Gemayel’s Kataeb party, whose paramilitary forces were essential in the struggle of 1943, was now used as a militia answering to a president abusing of his powers. Half of the politicians that were one day opposing the French  would side with the Americans, while the other half would side with the Egyptians. And what compromise was finally reached? Ironically electing Fouad Chehab – who will ally with Gaullist Frances during his rule – as president, 15 years after our independence from France.

See? I ended up talking how we’re under the mercy of foreign powers after all. Who knew.

The same men who fought for the independence of Lebanon will soon fight each others in 1958 and 1975. Don’t  get me wrong, some of  Rijal El Istiqlal are corrupt and some aren’t. Some are warlords and some aren’t. Some are good and some are bad. Some are bad and some are worse. And some are worthy of that name and deserve all the honor they should have, and even more.

Maréchal Pétain led the French to victory in WWI but allied himself to the enemy in WWII. Do you see the French paying too much respect to Pétain?

It’s not about 1943 that our  parties and deceased political leaders should be judged. It’s about everything that followed. The denial should end. If they screwed up afterwards, we should say that they screwed up, not just hide the facts and feel so lucky that we had them.

You know you’re independent when 70 years after the mandate, you can’t officially spell independant independent in the colonial language.

Reminder: We still don’t have a government. But who cares, we’re independent.

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