Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gen. Emile Lahoud, Who Reunited Shattered Lebanese Armed Forces, Elected Lebanon's 11th President

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Gen. Emile Lahoud, Who Reunited Shattered Lebanese Armed Forces, Elected Lebanon's 11th President

Article excerpt

Gen. Emile Lahoud, Who Reunited Shattered Lebanese Armed Forces, Elected Lebanons's 11th President

Gen. Emile Lahoud was unanimously elected on Oct. 15 by Lebanon's parliament as the 11th post-independence president of Lebanon. Of 128 members of parliament, 118, equally divided between Christians and Muslims, voted for the 62-year-old army commander-in-chief.

Lahoud's election was secured after the Lebanese cabinet amended clause three of Article 49 in the Constitution which bars high-ranking civil servants from running for president while they are in office. The government's proposal was then sent to the parliament, which voted to amend Article 49 for "one time only and exceptionally."

The Constitution had already been amended in 1995, at the end of the six-year term in office of President Elias Hrawi, to allow for an extension of his mandate for another three years.

Lahoud's election was expected since polls indicating that 60 percent of the Lebanese public, from all regions and religions, favored it. But it only became certain when President Hrawi announced his selection as his successor after a LebaneseSyrian summit in Damascus on Oct. 5 between Lebanese President Hrawi and Syrian President Assad.

General Lahoud, who did not attend the parliament session, was escorted by house speaker Nabih Berri for a protocol visit to outgoing President Hrawi at the presidential palace in Baabda.

In a rare sight to Lebanese, the general, who has never given press interviews, was seen in civilian clothes. The road to Baabda was decorated with Lebanese flags and banners. One read: "The dream has come true and the dawn of the future has begun."

Lahoud will remain army commander until taking the presidential oath of office on Nov. 24, a day after Hrawi's constitutional term expires.

A festive atmosphere gripped all areas of the country following the election process that was broadcast live on Lebanese TV. In most of the major cities and villages across the country, from Tyre and Sidon in the south to Tripoli in the north and Baalbeck and Zahle in the Bekaa Valley, and in Lahoud's village of Baabdat in Mount Lebanon, people celebrated, singing and dancing the traditional dabke folk dance in the streets, while automobile convoys with beeping horns jammed the streets and passengers handed out free soft drinks.

Lahoud's election marks the second time an army commander has become head of state.

The manner in which both officials and the Lebanese people greeted Lahoud's election demonstrated what newspapers called "a national consensus on Lahoud's ability to rule the country."

The Beirut Stock Exchange also witnessed a sharp rise in volume as it became clear that the army commander was heading for victory in the presidential election.

While Muslim support was largely assured, the national consensus over Lahoud included Christian communities as well. Although by unwritten agreement the president is traditionally a Maronite, President Hrawi's popularity among his own community was almost nonexistent, and his relations with Maronite Patriarch Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir went through many strains.

It was therefore relevant that the Maronite Bishops' Council, headed by Patriarch Sfeir, praised the choice of General Lahoud as the country's next president. Although the Council expressed some reservations about "the way the choice was made" it also stressed its hope that General Lahoud will help solve the country's problems.

Lebanon's newly elected president has a reputation as a "workaholic" and a man of integrity, able to curb corruption.

First and foremost, however, the general is widely credited with carrying out the difficult task of reuniting the Lebanese army, which had splintered into feuding Christian and Muslim militias during 15 years of civil war. Lahoud accomplished this primary objective by restructuring army brigades to include both Christian and Muslim elements. …

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