Ilyas al-Harawi (Elias Hrawi, born 1930) became president of Lebanon in 1989 at a time when his nation was torn by war, its economy crippled, and its defense and foreign policy dominated by neighboring Syria.
Ilyas al-Harawi was born in 1930 in Hawsh al-Umara', a suburb of the city of Zahle in the Bekáa valley in the eastern part of Lebanon. He obtained a degree in commerce from the Jesuit St. Joseph University in Beirut. He was a scion of a family of large landowners that was represented in the Chamber of Deputies beginning in 1943. He married Mouna Jammal and they had five children. He was elected a deputy of Zahle in the 1972 parliamentary elections. He served in the cabinet as the minister of public works during the period 1980-1982. In 1979 Harawi had joined the parliamentary bloc called the Independent Maronite Deputies Bloc, which included many presidential aspirants. He was elected president on November 24, 1989, two days after the assassination of President Rene Mu'awwad.
A Weak President
President Harawi and his predecessor were elected in accordance with the Ta'if Accord, a blueprint of reforms agreed upon by 62 Lebanese parliamentarians on October 22, 1989, in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia. Harawi was elected under unusual circumstances, which made him a weaker president than any of his predecessors since the independence of Lebanon in 1943. First, he succeeded an assassinated president. Secondly, he had to face an entrenched interim prime minister, General Michel Aoun, who refused to accept the Ta'if Accord and continued to operate from the presidential residence in Ba'abda. Thirdly, the Ta'if Accord itself changed the Lebanese political system from a quasi-presidential system to a cabinet-parliamentary system, and this was done at the expense of presidential powers. Fourthly, Harawi became president at a time when Syria under Hafiz Assad virtually dominated the Lebanese polity.
The first problem that Harawi had to deal with was General Aoun, who had emerged as the popular leader of those who opposed the Ta'if Accord. The conflict, which pitted Aoun's army against the Christian militia, the Lebanese Forces, during the period January-May 1990, weakened Aoun and prepared the ground for a Syrian air and land attack that dislodged Aoun from his headquarters in Ba'abda on October 13, 1990. Although Harawi gained in this action by forcing his rival to seek refuge in France, he lost in popular support, as he was perceived as an instrument of Syrian dominance in Lebanon.
The first two years of the Harawi presidency witnessed a greater Syrian hegemonic role in Lebanon. The Ta'if Accord, which had no provisions for eventual withdrawal of Syrian troops in Lebanon, was fully endorsed by the Chamber of Deputies on August 21, 1990. President Harawi and Syrian president Assad signed the Treaty of Brotherhood, Cooperation and Coordination between Syria and Lebanon in Damascus on May 22, 1991. The treaty called for joint Syrian-Lebanese institutions in the areas of defense, security, foreign policy, and the economy. Later, on September 1, 1991, Syria and Lebanon signed an agreement that established coordination in military strategy and internal security matters and in the exchange of intelligence information. This agreement was ratified by the Chamber of Deputies on September 17, 1991.
During Harawi's presidency all American hostages were released by December 4, 1991, when the radical party Hizballah (Hezbollah) freed Terry Anderson. By December 27, 1991, the remains of Lieutenant Colonel William Higgins and William Buckley, the former CIA bureau chief in Beirut, were returned. This, however, did not end the ban on travel to Lebanon for U.S. citizens, because Hizballah remained armed and operated freely in Lebanon. Although this was contrary to the stipulations of the Ta'if Accord, which called for the disarming of all militias, Syria prevented the disarming of Hizballah on the grounds that it was engaged in a war against the Israelis and their allies in southern Lebanon. This low-intensity conflict in southern Lebanon was a contrived conflict that Syria and Iran kept alive to serve their own national interests while the Lebanese president was not allowed to use the Lebanese Army to disarm Hizballah and put an end to the conflict.
Another drawback to the implementation of the Ta'if Accord was Syria's refusal to redeploy its troops to the eastern regions of Lebanon (as stipulated by the accord) two years after the passage of the reforms by the Chamber of Deputies, which became due in the autumn of 1992.
Successful Domestic Policies
The domestic achievements of Harawi's presidency were more successful. Internal conflict, except for that in southern Lebanon, came to an end. The free enterprise economic system, which has always been a hallmark of the Lebanese economy, survived the civil war and foreign military interventions and received a boost by the appointment of the billionaire Rafiq al-Hariri as prime minister in October 1992. The partnership of Christians and Muslims that characterized the consociational democratic system beginning in 1943 remained intact. The 1992 parliamentary elections for an expanded Chamber of Deputies (from 99 to 128 members) which equally divided between Christians and Muslims, should have been another step in the right direction. They were to be conducted under United Nations' supervision and after the redeployment of Syrian troops. But in fact, the elections were on the whole neither fair nor free and were boycotted by large segments of the electorate. Moreover, the curtailment of the press and the banning of news bulletins and political programs by private radio and television stations, which began on March 23, 1994, did not augur well for the Lebanese polity, which had hitherto enjoyed this basic freedom. These developments marred the tangible positive advances achieved under President Harawi.
According to the Lebanese Constitution, each president was allowed only one six-year term and successive terms were prohibited. This meant that Harawi's term should have ended with elections in November of 1995. However, in October of 1995 the Lebanese government, with backing from Syria, amended the constitution so that Harawi could preside for three more years. This move was meant to encourage stability in the country, since Harawi was so successful at bringing peace to Lebanon, and because he had such good relations with Syria. Critics, though, saw this as a threat to democracy in Lebanon.
Further Reading on Ilyas al-Harawi
For additional information see the following works by Marius K. Deeb: The Lebanese Civil War (1980); "Lebanon in the Aftermath of the Abrogation of the Israeli-Lebanese Accord: The Dominant Role of Syria" in Robert O. Freedman (ed.), The Middle East from the Iran-Contra Affair to the Intifada (1991); and "Lebanon: Prospects for National Reconciliation in the Mid-1980s," Middle East Journal (Spring 1984); In Arabic, see Iliya Harik, Man Yahkum Lubnan (Who Rules Lebanon, Beirut, 1972).
Additional Biography Sources
"Lebanon. Their Master's Voice." Economist 337 (October 21, 1995): 42+.
MacSwan, Angus. "Lebanon Cabinet Petitions President to Extend Term." Reuters Ltd., 16 October 1995.
"President Elias Hraoui." Biography from the Lebanese Embassy, 1997.
Siblani, M. Kay. "Syrian Scales Seen Tipping in Favor of Keeping Lebanon's Hrawi In." Arab American News, 12 May 1995.