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Tuesday, 10 April 2012 08:59

Faris al-Khoury (Arabic: فارس الخوري‎) (1877–1962) was a Syrian Christian statesman, minister, Prime Minister, speaker of Parliament, and Godfather of modern Syrian politics; born in Hasbaya in today's modern Lebanon, it was then part of Syria. Faris Khoury went on to become Prime minister of Syria from 14 October 1944 to 1 October 1945 and from October 1954 to 13 February 1955. Khoury's ascension to the upper echelons of Syrian politics is remarkable, in light of the fact that he was Christian.

 Faris Koury's position as Prime Minister is, till this day, the highest political position a Syrian Christian has ever reached. Khoury's electoral popularity was due in part to his staunch secularist and nationalist policies. As a die-hard Syrian nationalist, Khoury never compromised on his principles and was resolutely against pan-Arabism and the ill-fated union between Syria and Egypt. Khoury viewed the short-lived union between Nasser's Egypt and republican Syria, United Arab Republic, as a colossal mistake, which prompted Khoury to resign as Prime Minister in 1958. Through it all Faris Khoury served his country for almost 50 years. He was the grandfather of noted Syrian novelist Colette Khoury.



Early years

Faris Khoury was born in Hasbaya to a Greek Orthodox Christian family that eventually converted to Presbyterianism. Faris studied at the American University of Beirut, at the time called Syrian Protestant College. He started his career as an instructor at AUB and became involved in al-Fatat, the leading anti-Ottoman movement, after its creation in Paris in 1911. Khoury became the Christian member of the Ottoman Parliament representing Damascus in 1908. In 1916, Khoury joined the Arab resistance and promised to support the Arab Revolt, launched from Mecca by Sharif Husayn. His connections with Husayn, the prime nationalist of his era, resulted in his arrest and trial by a military tribunal in Aley. After King Faisal's arrival and liberation of Syria, Khoury pledged allegiance to King Faisal, the newly proclaimed King of Syria, by the Syrian peoples. In 18 September 1918 Khoury created a preliminary government with a group of notables in Damascus, spearheaded by Prince Sa’id al-Jaza’iri. Khoury then became minister of Finance in the new Syrian cabinet of Prime Minister Rida Pasha al-Rikabi. His post was renewed by Prime Minister Hashim al-Atassi in May 1920. He held this position until King Faisal was dethroned and the French Colonial forces imposed their mandate on Syria in July 1920. Khoury laid the groundwork for the Syrian Ministry of Finance, created its infrastructure, distributed its administrative duties, formulated its laws, and handpicked its staff. In 1923, he helped found Damascus University and along with a group of veteran educators, translated its entire curriculum from Ottoman Turkish into Arabic.

Later years

In 1925 Khoury joined Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar[1] to found the People's Party, of which he became vice-president. Minister of Education from April to July 1926, he was elected member of the Syrian Constituent Assembly in 1928, then elected to the Syrian Parliament in 1932, reelected in 1936 (and president of the Parliament till 1939) and 1943 (and again president of the Parliament till 1944). He was a member of the Syrian delegation that negotiated the Franco-Syrian Treaty in Paris in 1936.

Foundation of the UN

Faris Khoury was the first Syrian statesman to visit the United States and represent his country in 1945 at the inauguration of the UN. Syria was one of the original 53 founding members of the United Nations. As the head of Syria's delegation in San Francisco, Faris al-Khoury's superb oratory and astuteness made a strong impression in front of world leaders. After hearing Khoury's eloquent speech, a US diplomat remarked: "It is impossible for a country with men like these, to be occupied!" One of the amazing stories of the history of the United Nations is when Faris Al-Khoury sat on France's chair instead of Syria's, After a few minutes, The French representative to the UN approached Faris and asked him to leave the chair, Faris ignored the Frenchman and just looked to his watch, a couple of minutes later, the Frenchman angrily asked Faris to leave immediately, but Faris kept on ignoring the Frenchman and just staring to his watch, After 25 minutes of sitting in France's chair, Faris left the chair and said to the French representative: "You could not bare watching me sitting in your chair for a mere 25 minutes, Your country has occupied mine for more than 25 years, hasn't the time of your troops departure come yet?". It is worth noting that the process of Syria's independence started in this same UN session.[2]

He became Prime Minister from 14 October 1944 till 1 October 1945, then again president of the parliament till the military coup of Husni al-Za'im who dissolved it in April 1949. After free elections in October 1954, he returned as Prime Minister from 25 October 1954 till 13 February 1955 when his pro-Western government, hostile to a union with Egypt, was toppled by the parliament.


In his old age, Faris al-Khury never stayed at home, spending quality time with his wife, child, and three grandchildren, Faris Jr, Colette, and Samer. He continued to travel to attend annual law conventions in Switzerland, until he fractured his leg and was forced to stay at home for the final two years of his life. On 2 January 1962, the former Syrian prime minister died in Damascus, at the age of 85, ending a career that spanned over 50-years in Syria’s political sphere. He received presidential honors at his funeral as one of the founders of the Syrian Republic, unlike any prime minister before or after him. Making a statement even in death, Muslim community leaders were allowed to recite the Quran during the condolence service. Suheil al-Khury accepted this rare act to show how secular his father had been, and how close he had been to both Muslims and Christians.[3] Faris al-Khoury's death came three months after the dissolution of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria (1958–1961) during which he was an active political opponent.


  1. ^ "Abd al-Rahman Shahbandar". 
  2. ^ Moubay, Samy (24 December 2007). "Good Christians, and Orientalists to the Bone". The Washington Post. 
  3. ^ "The story of Asma and Faris". Forward Magazine. February 2009.
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