Fu'ad Shihab (1903-1973) was the Father of the Lebanese Army, which he organized after World War II and headed until his election as president of Lebanon in 1958. Although he worked hard to forge a sense of national unity among Christian and Muslim Lebanese, this legacy was lost in the period following his retirement and death.
Fu'ad Shihab (also spelled Chehab) was a scion of the princely family which had ruled Lebanon from 1711 to 1842. Fu'ad Shihab was born in 1903 in the town of Ghazir in Kisrwan and was the fourth generation descendant of Prince Hasan, the brother of Prince Bashir II (the Great) who was the ruler (Hakim) of Lebanon intermittently during the period 1788-1840.
Father of the Lebanese Army
Shihab studied at the School of Freres Maristes in Junya and after finishing his secondary school enrolled in the military academy in Damascus, from which he graduated as a lieutenant in 1923. He continued his military studies in France at L'Ecole d'Application de L'Infanterie à Saint Maixent and at L'Ecole Supérieure d'Etat-Major de Versailles. In 1930 he was appointed commander of the Rashaya (Southern Biqa') garrison, a position he held until 1937. In 1938 he was sent to Paris to study at L'Ecole Supérieure de Guerre.
During World War II he was in charge of organizing the forces called Troupes Spéciales du Levant which participated in fighting on the side of the Allies in North Africa, Italy, and France. On August 1, 1945, he was promoted to the rank of general and became commander-in-chief of the Troupes Spéciales du Levant which rallied under the Lebanese flag to become the Lebanese army. The Lebanese army was built under Shihab on a non-sectarian basis, creating an institution which instilled in its members the spirit of loyalty to Lebanon rather than to their religious sects.
Whenever Lebanon was engulfed in a crisis the assistance of General Shihab was invariably sought. For instance, in the political crisis which centered around the demand for the resignation of President Bishara al-Khuri (1943-1952) in September 1952, General Shihab was appointed prime minister for a brief transitional period until a new president was elected. In the civil war of May to October 1958 President Camille Chamoun (1952-1958) was challenged by an armed opposition whose leaders were mostly Muslim and Druze politicians. General Shihab as the commander of the Lebanese army neither allowed the opposition to overthrow Chamoun nor agreed to put down the rebellion by force. He kept his army united and acted as the indispensible arbiter, furnishing the basis for his election as president on July 31, 1958.
Shihab's Presidency, 1958-1964
Coming to power in the wake of the 1958 crisis, President Shihab (a Maronite Christian) tried to inculcate a sense of national unity among the Lebanese. He pursued a foreign policy which reaffirmed the unwritten pact of 1943 by coming to terms with the rising tide of Arab nationalism, led by Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, without infringing upon Lebanese sovereignty. The amicable understanding between Shihab and Nasser stabilized Lebanon and consolidated Shihab's popularity among Lebanese Muslims.
Domestically, Shihab sought to introduce reforms in the civil service by establishing a Civil Service Council and a Central Inspection Board to reduce corruption and to base civil service recruitment more on merit rather than on patronage. He also initiated the policy of equal division of administrative posts between Christians and Muslims.
Politically, Shihab expanded the Lebanese Parliament to 99 members, rendering it more representative in order to lessen the chances for the use of violent non-democratic means to achieve political objectives. This was particularly significant in light of the abortive coup d'etat attempted by a few army officers and the Syrian Social Nationalist Party on December 31, 1961. Their major grievance was Shihab's foreign policy, which was favorable to Nasser. The heavy-handedness of Shihab's security apparatus in dealing with the leaders of the coup d'etat tarnished the image of his presidency, but it was to his credit that none of the political prisoners was executed and that within a decade they were all freed.
President Shihab realized that no national unity could last unless the underprivileged population in the less developed regions of Lebanon were drawn into the political process. With this objective in mind Shihab asked Louis Joseph Lebret of the Institut de Recherches et de Formation en vue de Développement (IRFED) to undertake a thorough social and economic study of Lebanon. This resulted in a report which has ever since been regarded as a landmark in determining the development needs of Lebanon as a whole.
Shihab's influence continued throughout the 1960s. However, he declined, in 1970, to run again for the presidency, and his handpicked candidate was defeated in the elections. Consequently, Shihabism came under attack and Shihabist officers were purged from the army. Fu'ad Shihab died on April 25, 1973, and his political legacy appears, in the light of the later civil wars and foreign interventions, to have been all but forgotten.
Further Reading on Fu'ad Shihab
Additional information on Shihab and on Lebanon during the period of his rule can be found in Marius Deeb, The Lebanese Civil War (1980); Michael C. Hudson, The Precarious Republic: Political Modernization in Lebanon (1968); and Kamal S. Salibi, Crossroads to Civil War 1958-1976 (1976).