Military Governments in Lebanon

Government led by a military official

Lebanon endured in 1952 a severe political crisis, whose signs had started to manifest themselves in 1947 when early general elections, branded as fraudulent, were held to bring to power a new legislature that would support the aspirations of the President of the Republic, Sheikh Bechara El-Khoury, to remain in office after the expiry of his mandate in 1949. The renewal of Khoury’s presidential term, together with the public criticism directed at him and the rumors of corruption that targeted his brother, Selim, dubbed “Sultan Selim”, served to generate demonstrations against the President. These resulted in the formation of an opposing parliamentary front that called for his resignation. Against the strike staged to force him out of office, President El-Khoury tried to weather the crisis by forming a cabinet under Nazem Akkari on September 9, 1952. The Akkari government survived only for five days during which it failed to appear before Parliament.

On September 14, a number of MPs submitted a petition to the Speaker urging him to relay to the President his people’s desire to oust him. The petition included the following: “In compliance with the rights of our people and in fulfillment of its will, we, the undersigned, hereby urge the President of the Republic to relinquish office and tender his resignation. Anyone who takes sides with the President is considered to be defying the public will and conspiring against it.”

That same day, President Bechara El-Khoury made a second attempt requesting Nazem Akkari to resign from his post and designating Saeb Salam to form a new government. However, the Salam government was also short-lived and could not appear before Parliament during its four days in office, which lead President El-Khoury to realize that his demise was inevitable. And so, Fouad Chehab, the then Commander of the Army, was appointed as head of a tripartite transitional government formed by virtue of Decree No. 9442, dated September 18, 1952. The government consisted of:

  • Lebanese Army Commander Fouad Chehab (Maronite): Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense and Interior.
  • Nazem Akkari (Sunni): Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign affairs, Public Works, National Education, Post and Telegraph, Information, Agriculture and Health.
  • Bassil Trad (Greek Orthodox): Minister of National Economy, Social Affairs, Justice and Finance.

On the same day, President Bechara El-Khoury handed his resignation to Parliament. As soon as he took office, Fouad Cheheab addressed the Lebanese by saying:

“His Excellency President Bechara El-Khoury has submitted his resignation to Parliament and I, as per Constitution, have taken charge as Prime Minister. The Cabinet, which consists of myself and of Mr. Nazem Akkari and Mr. Bassil Trad will be assuming the presidential duties in pursuance of Article 62 of the Lebanese Constitution, until it becomes feasible for Parliament to elect a new president as soon as possible.

And while I supplicate the Lord to guide Lebanon toward what secures its welfare and the contentment of its citizens, I urge all the Lebanese to resort to utter self-composure and to cling to solidarity and fraternity among themselves and not to stage any demonstration of any kind in order to fend off the potential implications that may disturb security and tear apart the country, which we all glorify.”

Following the election of Camille Chamoun to the Presidency of the Republic on September 23, PM Fouad Chehab handed him his letter of resignation which read as follows:

“Whereas the mission of the government I chaired has come to an end upon your election as President of the Republic, and whereas your election has paved way for the emergence of a new constitutional government, my fellows in power and I, hereby approach you with our resignation, hoping that Your Excellency’s mandate will bring ease and prosperity to the nation.”

This was the first-ever Lebanese government to be run by a military official. It was a short-lived tripartite government that ruled only for five days and assumed a caretaker status for another seven days, without appearing in Parliament or presenting a ministerial statement.

First military government

The first time Lebanon experienced a government formed entirely by members of the military was during the 1975 Civil War. On the heels of the escalating violence and the resignation of PM Rashid As-Solh, and against failure to form a cabinet under Rashid Karami or Saeb Salam, President Suleiman Frangieh resorted to forming a military government on May 23, 1975. Several developments accompanied the formation of the government:

  • Extreme political pressure on the President of the Republic to designate Karami without any prior condition or agreement regarding the deployment of the Lebanese Army to bring back order.
  • Counter pressures protesting the designation of Karami and advocating any Sunni showing willingness to position the army in the field.
  • Meetings and communications with Arab ambassadors in order to reach a truce, which the Lebanese state would announce responsibly and would delegate joint Lebanese-Palestinian military committees to execute this truce, independently from the Phalangists and the combatants allied with them, thus prompting the Army’s intervention in an indirect manner. It had been mentioned that involving the army in the conflict could only happen following the formation of a government that would take upon itself such a responsibility or the appointment of a Prime Minister who would provide a political cover for it.
  • Clashes were intensifying and expanding so uncontrollably that many labeled them as “theatrical”, especially after the hideous sectarian turn that the fighting had taken in the last hours in Chiyyah and Ain Remmaneh.

Below is the lineup of the government:

  • Retired Brigadier General Noureddine Abdullah Rifai (Sunni): Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Public Health, Industry and Oil.
  • Deputy Chief of Staff Brigadier General Moussa Jerjes Kanaan (Greek Orthodox): Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Information, National Education and Fine Arts.
  • Lebanese Army Commander General Iskandar Asaad Ghanem (Maronite): Minister of National Defense and Electrical and Hydraulic Resources.
  • Chief of Staff General Said Hassan Nasrallah (Druze): Minister of Interior, Housing and Cooperatives.
  • Brigadier General Fawzi Ibrahim El-Khatib (Sunni): Minister of Economy, Trade and General Planning.
  • Brigadier General Francois Baseel Janadri (Greek Catholic): Minister of Labor, Social Affairs, Post, Telegraph and Telephone.
  • Brigadier General Zeineddine Ismail Makki (Shia’a): Minister of Public Works and Transport and of Agriculture.
  • Lucient Mounir Dahdah (Maronite): the only non-military member of the government. He handled the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Emigrants and of Tourism.

This government, which was considered a last-ditch attempt to prevent chaos, was greeted with staunch political opposition by different blocs and movements, more precisely by Saeb Salam, Rashid Karami, Raymond Edde and Kamal Jumblat (see his stance at the end of the article), while it drew strong support from Camille Chamoun and Pierre Gemayel.

Against its failure to elicit the desired impact, the government ended up tendering its resignation on May 26, three days after its formation, without standing before Parliament or submitting a ministerial statement. It continued its caretaker responsibilities until a new government headed by Rashid Karami was formed in July 1975.

Second military government

The expiry of President Amine Gemayel’s term of office was due on September 23, 1988. Until his last days in power, he maintained indefatigable efforts to extend his mandate for another year or two, but to no avail. Having failed at his endeavor, he set out in his last hours as President to form a new government that would assume the presidential functions until a new president was elected, for the existing government had been operating under a caretaker status following the resignation of PM Rashid Karami on May 4, 1987 and his death later on June 1, 1987 in an explosion that targeted the helicopter transporting him from Tripoli to Beirut. Back then, President Amine Gemayel issued a decree appointing the Minister of Labor, National Education and Fine Arts in the resigned government, Salim El-Hoss, as acting Prime Minister who would serve as caretaker until a new government was formed.

But the formation of the government was delayed and the country transitioned into the presidential elections phase when Speaker Hussein Husseini called for a parliamentary session on August 18, 1988 to elect a new President of the Republic. However, only 38 MPs appeared in Parliament at the scheduled date, which entailed the postponement of the session. On September 2, PM Salim El-Hoss addressed a letter to President Gemayel informing him that the government wished to retract its resignation, but the President responded with a counter letter detailing the unconstitutionality and unlawfulness of the demand. Efforts continued to shape a new transitional government before the expiry of the presidential term and there was a suggestion to nominate Suleiman Frangieh as Prime Minister on the condition that he withdrew from the presidential battle, a proposition that failed to gain support from the Lebanese Forces, the Phalanges Party and President Gemayel.

Meantime, the US-Syrian negotiations mediated by Richard Murphey conduced to agreement over Mikhael Daher as a presidential candidate. The agreement scheduled to materialize in the election session on September 22 was challenged by the Christian forces (President Amin Gemayel, Lebanese Forces, Phalanges Party, Al-Ahrar and the Army Commander General Michel Aoun). In the backdrop of the Christian intransigence, Murphey fired his notorious warning: “It is either Mikhael Daher or chaos.” But the parliamentary session was crippled and speedy negotiations kicked off to form a transitional government.

Several propositions arose to defy the deadlock. However, the idea of Dani Chamoun replacing his father and Omar Karami replacing his brother was also rejected by the Christians, and the calls on MP Pierre El-Helou to form a government hit a snag.

Options were narrowed down under tight time constraints, and the last two decrees under Amine Gemayel were finally issued in the last 15 minutes on the night of September 22/23, 1988.

1- Decree No. 5387 stipulated the appointment of General Michel Aoun as Prime Minister.

2- Decree No. 5388 stipulated the formation of a government consisting of the Lebanese Army Military Council as follows:

  • General Michel Naim Aoun (Maronite): Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense and Information.
  • Colonel Issam Nicolas Abou Jamra (Greek Orthodox): Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Post, Telecommunications, Housing, Cooperatives, Economy and Trade.
  • Brigadier General Edgard Fouad Maalouf (Greek Catholic): Minister of Finance, Industry and Oil.
  • Major General Mahmoud Fouad Tay Bou Dargham (Druze): Minister of Public Works and Transport, Tourism and Labor.
  • Brigadier General Nabil Mohammad Amin Quraytem (Sunni): Minister of Interior, Foreign Affairs and National Education and Fine Arts.
  • Colonel Lotfi Haidar Jaber (Shia’a): Minister of Electrical and Hydraulic Resources, Agriculture and Justice.

However, Muslim ministers (Abou Dargham, Qraytem, Jaber) announced their resignation from the government immediately after the decrees were out pledged their support to Salim El-Hoss. And so, September 24 marked the prelude to reinforcing divisions: a civilian government under Salim Eh-Hoss at the Serail against a military one under Michel Aoun at the Baabda Palace. The situation remained as such until the election of Elias El-Hrawi as President on November 24, 1989.

Future military government

Prior to the 1990 Taif Accord, the President of the Republic was the sole authority entitled to designate and appoint the Prime Minister. The appointment of the Cabinet was no exception to this rule provided that it gained parliamentary confidence. Article 53 of the Lebanese Constitution stipulates that the President of the Republic shall appoint ministers, nominate from among them a Prime Minister and dismiss them from the Cabinet.”

The situation changed drastically after the Taef Accord and the designation of a Sunni figure to form a government became subject to binding parliamentary consultations carried out by the President of the Republic and disclosed to the Speaker of Parliament, meaning that the selection of a Prime Minister became dictated by a quasi-election process rather than the decision and will of the President.

Therefore, the arising of a new military government is not possible in the future, except if the majority of Parliament were to approve it.

Kamal Jumblat: Against military rule

  • “First, this is a violation of the constitutional norms, which entail that the appointed Prime Minister refers to the highest representative power, Parliament, to make the necessary consultations with all the country’s political blocs and parties. Therefore the formation of this government is deemed an infringement of the constitution and not one President has dared to make such a transgression before, even during the French mandate period.
  • Second, this government is encouraging military officers to grab power thus thrusting us into the swirl of military governments.
  • Third, we are against any military rule in Lebanon for it is the parties, the syndicates and the civic and political figures, not the military that best represent the Lebanese people. We have always prided ourselves for being the only Arab country with a democratic parliamentary system enjoying full liberties and adopting the principle of popular sovereignty.
  • Fourth, the military rule would divide the country in an alarming manner, especially given our knowledge that the majority considers it a direct slap to their national will and their right to full participation and to be represented by a Muslim figure that speaks on behalf of the national current in Lebanon and expresses the will of the Muslims.
  • Fifth, this is indicative of the involvement of some entities in the Phalanges’ operations in preparation for the rise of military power.
  • Sixth, the military rule would pose a threat to the existence of the Palestinians in Lebanon and to the resistance in particular, much as it would be a first step towards fighting and exterminating it, an attempt that the Lebanese would fiercely challenge.
  • Seventh, the formation of this government would undoubtedly harm our relations with the Arab world, as most of the Arab governments would be harboring fears from any internal abuse against the Palestinians, the resistance and the majority of the Lebanese who are crucially connected to them.” 

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