Bechara Khalil El Khoury (Arabic: بشارة خليل الخوري; 10 August 1890 – 11 January 1964) was a Lebanese politician who served as the 1st president of Lebanon, holding office from 21 September 1943 to 18 September 1952, apart from an 11-day interruption (11–22 November) in 1943. He had previously served two short terms as Prime Minister, from 5 May 1927 to 10 August 1928, and 9 May to 11 October 1929.
Early life and education
Khoury was born in Rechmaya, to Lebanese Maronite Christian parents in a town in the Aley district, Mount Lebanon governorate on 10 August 1890. He studied law.
Khoury founded the Constitutional Bloc Party and served as a Cabinet minister prior to his election as president on 21 September 1943. He was a strong nationalist who opposed the French Mandate, and on 11 November 1943, he was arrested by Free French troops and imprisoned in the Rashaya Tower for eleven days, along with Riad Al Solh (the Prime Minister), Camille Chamoun, and numerous other personalities who were to dominate politics in the generation following independence.
Massive demonstrations forced the Free French forces to release the prisoners, including Khoury, on 22 November 1943, a date now celebrated as Lebanon's national independence day.
Khoury is remembered for his part in drawing up the National Pact, an agreement between Lebanon's Christian and Muslim leaders that forms the basis of the country's constitutional structure today although it was not codified in the Constitution of Lebanon until the Taif Agreement of 1989. Christians accepted Lebanon's affiliation with the Arab League and agreed not to seek French protection, and Muslims agreed to accept the Lebanese state in its present boundaries and promised not to seek unification with neighbouring Syria. The Pact also distributed seats in the National Assembly in a ratio of six Christians to five Muslims, based on the 1932 census, shich has since been modified to represent followers of both religions equally. Most significantly, the three main constitutional offices (President, Prime Minister, and National Assembly Speaker) were respectively assigned to a Maronite Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shi'a Muslim, Lebanon's three largest confessions, respectively.
Khoury's years in office were marked by great economic growth, but the 1948 Arab-Israeli War in which Lebanon fought on the Arab side strained the Lebanese economy with its financial cost and with the influx of some 100,000 Palestinian refugees. Those factors, along with major corruption in Khoury's administration and presidency, provoked massive demonstrations, which forced him to resign on 18 September 1952. He was succeeded by Camille Chamoun although technically, Fuad Chehab succeeded him temporarily as acting president.
El Khoury is widely considered a national hero in Lebanon for his role in its independence, and to be one of the most significant figures in the modern politics of the country. However, he has been criticised for several points in his presidency, most notably corruption, nepotism, and electoral fraud.