Mekkine, Ottoman Syria
29 December 1954|
|Occupation||Banker, Politician, Writer and Journalist|
|Spouse(s)||Marguerite Philippe Pharaon|
|Children||3 daughters: Micheline (d. 1940), Madeleine and Marie-Claire|
Michel Chiha (1891–1954) was a Chaldean Lebanese banker, a politician, writer and journalist. Along with Petro Trad and Omar Daouk, he is considered one of the fathers of the Lebanese Constitution. His ideas and actions have had an important influence on the shaping of the modern Lebanon.
Michel Chiha was born in 1891 in a Chaldean Christian family of Mekkine, in the Aley District, in the Mount Lebanon Governorate. He hails from an Chaldean family which have migrated from modern day Iraq. His father, Antoine, was a banker who has founded in 1876 the Pharaon and Chiha Bank in Beirut, in modern day Lebanon. His mother belonged to the rich Melkite family of Beirut, the Pharaons.
After completing his studies in the Université Saint-Joseph, he joined in 1907 the family business, the Banque Pharaon & Chiha in Beirut. With the outbreak of the First World War and the Ottoman occupation of the autonomous Mount Lebanon, Chiha left Beirut to settle in Cairo, Egypt in 1915. In addition to pursuing Law studies, he started there with a group of friends his political career and developed his political view about the future of Lebanon.
At the end of the war, he returned to Lebanon to lead the family bank. But soon afterwards, the French Mandate of Lebanon gave him the opportunity to put into practice his vision for his country Lebanon.
In August 1920 the state of Lebanon was created out of Ottoman Syria.
On 1 September 1920, the Greater Lebanon was proclaimed by the French High Commissioner. Michel Chiha played an important role in this proclamation, especially concerning the setting up of its borders and the establishment of its first institutions.
In 1925, Chiha was elected as the representative of Beirut in the Lebanese parliament. During his mandate that ended in 1929, he was very instrumental in the establishment of the Lebanese Constitution and the Monetary and fiscal systems.
In 1926, he married his cousin Marguerite Pharaon, the sister of Henri Pharaon. They had three daughters, Micheline (d. 1940), Madeleine and Marie-Claire.
In 1929, Michel Chiha left all his political responsibilities without, however, stopping the promotion of his vision of Lebanon.
In 1937, he acquired with a group of friends the French language newspaper Le Jour. Until his death in 1954, Michel Chiha delivered daily his editorial du Jour, exposing his political views and vision. During this period he started publishing poems, essays and lectures in French. In 1940, he participated in the foundation of the Beirut Stock Exchange and founded a newspaper in English, the Eastern Times.
In 1943, his brother-in-law, Bechara El Khoury, became the president of the newly independent Lebanese Republic. Chiha will play an important role as advisor during Khoury's Mandate (1943–1952).
One important cause interested him until his death, the Palestinian cause especially after 1948 Arab-Israeli War. He took an active role in defending this cause.
Death and afterward
The Palestinian Question
In May 1948, the State of Israel was proclaimed on a portion of the land of Palestine. This debacle was repeatedly commented by Michel Chiha in his editorials. In 1945 he had already written:
“No political preoccupation should turn our attention from Palestine! In our backyard, is currently developing one of the most anguishing questions of this world.”
For him this problem represents a direct menace for Lebanon, Michel Chiha writes in December 1947:
“(…) The decision to partition Palestine by creating the Jewish State, is one of the most serious mistakes of world politics. The most surprising consequences are going to result from an apparently small thing. Nor is it offensive to reason to state that this small thing will have its part to play in shaking the world to its foundations.”
In his editorials, the question of Palestine would recur often. Michel Chiha insists relentlessly on the dangers that would jeopardize the newly born state of Lebanon. We find in his editorials the following phrases:
- “There is no other country that recruits its population this way, by giving to strangers, wherever they came from and only because they’re Jewish, the right to be citizens!”
- “We forget often that the State of Israel is a racist and confessional issue.”
- “The mistake is enormous.”
- “The future of Palestine is being handled between the United States and the USSR exactly as if Palestine was uninhabited!”
- “In a few month inter-confessional cohabitation in Palestine would become impossible, forever.”
- “We have ahead of us a permanent danger, a hatred without end.”
- “A mistake of this size committed in the middle of this century, our grand-children will reencounter it in the middle of the next one.”
A text from 1946 would take today a particular value in the sense that it relates directly to current events:
“…The American interventions in Palestine are increasingly looking like they’re dealing with a purely American question. It’s a pity that the people of the United States, today the most powerful in the world, would cover-up from their vantage point such an adventure; they are putting themselves in a definitive contradiction with their most sacred moral and political principles.”
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- Politique intérieure (1964), Éditions du Trident, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC.
- Palestine (1969), Tridant Publications, Beirut, Template:OCLC
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- Essais (1950), Éditions du Trident, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC
- Visage et présence du Liban (1964), Cénacle Libanais, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC
- Lebanon : a rapid survey of Lebanon, yesterday and today in sixty-four photographs (1948), Paris, Template:OCLC
- Liban d'aujourd'hui : 1942 (1949), Editions du Trident, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC
- Variations sur la Méditerranée (1994), Fondation Chiha, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC
- Images du Liban : un aperçu en soixante-quatre photographies du Liban d'autrefois et d'aujourd'hui (1948), Éditions Lumière, Paris, Template:OCLC
- Propos d'économie libanaise (1965), Éditions du Trident, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC
- Lubnān fī shakhṣīyatihi wa-ḥuḍūrih(1962), al-Nadwah al-Lubnānīyah, Bayrūt, Template:OCLC
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- Plain-chant, propos dominicaux (1954), Éditions du Trident, Beyrouth, Template:OCLC
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- Salibi, Kamal S. (2003). A House of Many Mansions: The History of Lebanon Reconsidered. I.B.Tauris. p. 179. ISBN 9781860649127.