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Charles Helou

Charles Helou ( ) (September 25, 1913-7 January 2001) was President of Lebanonmarker from 1964 to 1970.

Born in Beirutmarker, Helou was the scion of a powerful Maronite family from Baabdamarker. He graduated with honours from St. Joseph's University in Beirut in 1929, and went on to complete a Law degree in 1934. Helou was also a successful businessman and founded two French language newspapers, L'Eclair du Nord and Le Jour. In 1936, he made his first foray into politics, when he joined with Pierre Gemayel and three others in launching the Kataeb Party. Differences with Gemayel later led Helou to quit the party, however.

Helou's first governmental appointment was as Ambassador to the Vaticanmarker in 1947. In 1949 he took part in the Israel/Lebanese armistice negotiations where Israel tried to gain diplomatic concessions in exchange for the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanese Sovereign territory. He later served in the Cabinet as Minister of Justice and Health (1954-1955) and as Minister of Education (1964). Initially Helou's lack of political affiliation gave him the appearance of a leader able to unite Lebanon and he was chosen to succeed Fuad Chehab as President by the National Assemblymarker in 1964.. The alliance between Chehab and Lebanese prime minister Rashid Karami, a staunch Arab nationalist, soon left Karami in effective control of the Lebanese government. Helou founded and launched the Institute for Palestine Studies in 1963.

The most pressing issue that was first to cause problems for Helou was the Israeli diversion of the Jordan river.

The impressive economic growth that characterized Helou's presidency was marred by the Intra Bank crisis of 1966 and Lebanon's increasing inability to avoid involvement in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Six Day War of 1967, strained sectarian relations in Lebanon. Many Muslims wanted Lebanon to join the Arab war effort, while many Christians wished to eschew participation. Helou managed to keep Lebanon from entanglement, apart from a brief air strike, but found it impossible to put the lid on the tensions that had been raised. Parliamentary elections in 1968 revealed an increasing polarization in the country, with two major coalitions, one pro-Arab Nationalism, led by Rashid Karami and the other pro-Western, led jointly by former President Camille Chamoun, Pierre Gemayel, and Raymond Eddé, both made major gains and won 30 of the 99 seats each.

In addition, government authority was challenged by the presence of armed Palestinian guerrillas in the south of the country, and clashes between the Lebanese army and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) became increasingly frequent. For a long time, Helou resisted their demands, but in 1969, after failing to end the rebellion militarily, he finally gave in and signed the Cairo Agreement, which permitted Palestinian guerrillas to launch raids into Israel from bases inside Lebanon, hoping that they would confine their operations to cross-border attacks against Israel and would stop challenging the Lebanese government. As it turned out, the clashes only intensified.

In 1970, Helou endorsed Elias Sarkis as his chosen successor, but he lost the election in the National Assembly by one vote to Suleiman Frangieh. Unlike other former Presidents, who remained politically active after retirement, Helou faded from the scene. He was involved in a philanthropic venture, founding a number of restaurants to provide free hot meals to elderly people.

Helou died of a heart attack on January 7, 2001. He was 87.

See also


  1. Podeh, Elie Kaufman, Asher and Maʻoz, Moshe (2005) Arab-Jewish Relations: From Conflict to Resolution? : Essays in Honour of Moshe Maʻoz Sussex Academic Press, ISBN 1903900689 p 164
  2. Lee, Khoon Choy (1993) Diplomacy of a Tiny State World Scientific, ISBN 9810212194 p 223
  3. Reich, Bernard (1990) Political Leaders of the Contemporary Middle East and North Africa: A Biographical Dictionary Greenwood Publishing Group, ISBN 0313262136 pp 298-299
  4. Meyer, Armin (2003) MeyerQuiet Diplomacy: From Cairo to Tokyo in the Twilight of Imperialism iUniverse, ISBN 0595301320 p 129

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