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Franjieh, Suleiman (Lebanon)

Reference work entry

Introduction

A Maronite Christian and state president from 1970–76, Franjieh was considered in large part responsible for Lebanon’s descent in full-scale civil war in 1975. By that time his autocratic rule and alleged nepotism had alienated Shia and Sunni Muslims and rival Christian groups alike.

Early Life

Franjieh was born on 15 June 1910 in Zgharta in northern Lebanon. Having built a regional power base there, underpinned by clan allegiance and a private Maronite militia, he was elected to the National Assembly as an independent deputy in 1960. He held several ministerial posts in 1960–61, 1968 and 1969–70 before his narrow election by the National Assembly (by one vote on the third ballot) to the presidency in Aug. 1970.

Career Peak

He assumed office on 23 Sept. 1970. Early on in his troubled presidency there were frequent military exchanges between the increasing number of Palestinian guerrillas based in Lebanon (particularly after the PLO’s expulsion from Jordan in 1970–71) and Israeli forces. In 1973 serious clashes erupted between the Palestinians and the Lebanese army. Coupled with the Palestinian problem, Christian and Muslim differences became more marked over the constitutional distribution of power. Violent sectarian incidents in April 1975 led to more persistent fighting across most of the country. Despite the PLO’s official policy not to interfere in Lebanon’s internal affairs, many Palestinian fighters joined the predominantly leftist Lebanese Muslim forces against the right-wing Christian militias. Franjieh’s administration became increasingly ineffectual as the fighting continued and there were calls for his resignation in the National Assembly by March 1976. A successor was elected by the Assembly in May, but Franjieh refused to resign until the completion of his term of office in Sept. 1976, by which time Syrian forces had intervened to impose an uneasy peace.

Thereafter, Franjieh’s pro-Syrian clan continued to wield regional power in the north of the country, provoking frequent intra-Christian friction with the rival Phalangists (who assassinated his son Tony in 1978) and National Liberal Party. In 1988 he announced his candidacy for the presidential elections, but was forced to withdraw in the face of opposition from other Maronite groups. He died in Beirut on 23 July 1992.

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