Henri Helou, a “serious” candidate

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Presidential candidate, MP Henri Helou. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Ghassan Saoud

Published Wednesday, April 30, 2014

In the Lebanese parliament, greedy vicious beasts prevail, but there are also a few rather gentle creatures who reached the chamber by mere chance. MP Henri Helou is one of them. A decent man indeed, so decent you would think he belongs to one of those groups that gives free hugs. But after just one hour with him, you cease to ridicule his candidacy for presidency and actually start to sympathize with the man.

As a reporter, it may occur to you to listen to what MP Fadi al-Awar- a politician who disobeyed his sect- has to say. This man may surprise you by saying one thing inside the office and the complete opposite in public. You may even head to Mayrouba, in Keserwan, to find out that MP Youssef al-Khalil can actually garner the votes of two to three thousand people.

You also have a thousand and one reasons to knock on MP Walid Khoury’s door to try to discover the secret behind the man who has triumphed over President Michel Suleiman in their hometown of Amchit on every occasion.

But whether you are writing about politics, legislation, or demographics, it will never occur to you to knock on MP Henri Helou’s door. For you, he is just a piece of furniture - a decoration in MP Walid Jumblatt’s house.

In fact, a reporter will never ask for a meeting with Helou, unless he is maybe archiving some old information about his late maternal grandfather Michel Chiha or late father, MP Pierre Helou.

But, all of a sudden, Jumblatt pulled Helou out of a hat; he gave him a seat just next to his, and announced him as the new presidential candidate. Helou actually received 16 votes in parliament, an achievement that even his grandfather and father failed to accomplish.

His “Excellency” answered the phone by himself but our call got interrupted, so he took the initiative to call us back. Then, at the office, he sounded perplexed sitting behind his desk.

“My name is all over the papers, I am in the heart of the presidential game. I am so proud. I belong to a political family that has been giving back to the country instead of taking away from it like other political families. If I succeed, I will have to bear a great responsibility,” Helou said.

He rolled up the sleeves of his shirt, making expressive gestures with his hands. Meanwhile, his grey hair, his watch, his glasses and his shy demeanor all came together to paint the picture of this presidential hopeful.

According to his friends, Helou still checks on his construction projects before heading to parliament… his clothes clearly prove it. He uses the same old pretext as other non- productive deputies “I am media shy, but I do work in my region.”

You wait for him to start recounting his heroic stories but no, he won’t pretend to be a first class legislator nor a deputy of the nation. He only mentions a few issues he usually follows up on with the proper ministries involved.

Helou is always present in Jumblatt’s court at Moukhtara on Saturdays to host local voters. Even MP Akram Chehayeb would miss a meeting once in a while, but not Helou.

He told us that he went back to school in 2010 and enrolled at the American University in Beirut.

This man doesn’t feel the need to brag about a developmental project he sponsored as he expects neither praise nor applause. You can actually ask him about whatever comes to mind, and he will quietly think about the answer.

For Helou, it made little difference if Jumblatt had asked him to run or had he suggested his candidacy by himself. He told us it all started with a discussion among friends. Though Jumblatt was not present at the time, it ended up with announcing his candidacy. It is the results that matter in the end.

Also, he saw no problem in announcing his candidacy from Jumblatt’s residence rather than his own father’s. “I was born in a house where Moussa al-Sader and Kamal Jumblatt used to meet, therefore I don’t have any self doubt,” he explained, stressing “yes, I am serious about my candidacy.”

Helou denied that his candidacy is some sort of maneuver by Jumblatt, saying “it is impossible for a president who takes sides to reach power. It has to be moderate president and the Democratic Gathering is the main moderate bloc in parliament.”

In fact, Helou is more of a friend to Jumblatt than a member of his parliamentary bloc. Even when he left three years ago in protest of Jumblatt siding with March 8, the two families remained close.

As a friend, Helou enjoys a bigger margin to negotiate and express his point of view compared to the other MPs belonging to Jumblatt’s bloc. Maybe this is the reason why he sometimes gets confused and suggests that a democratic discussion takes place at these meetings.

Initially French educated, Helou received his college education in the United States and then moved to al-Khobar in Saudi Arabia for work. He later headed to Britain to continue his studies, and then was chosen as the architect in charge of building the palace of the former emir of Qatar in Cannes. He also lived for few years in Montreal, Canada, distancing himself from the war in Lebanon. In the meantime, Helou remained part of his father’s team of advisers until the latter’s death.

Helou ran for parliament in 2003 following his father’s death and beat rival candidate Hekmat Dib. “Many people underestimated me,” he said “But I succeeded and I am learning something new every day. That’s politics.”

He insisted that he won’t change after the presidential elections, although he admitted “I have been in the shadows for a while, but today I am under the spotlight. You have no idea how many interviews I am giving, every day I try to improve my performance.”

Helou’s friends revealed that his mother - Michel Chiha’s daughter- plays a prominent role in her son’s life. She believes that Pierre Helou’s political legacy came back to life just a few days ago.

Concerning his presidential program, it is based on “respecting the constitution, implementing the law and stressing that the president doesn’t take sides,” Basically, he focuses on article 49 of the constitution and calls on other candidates to examine it very well.

A friend of Helou told us that the latter was wondering a few days ago how can any deputy cast his vote for Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea, but he didn’t ask about the votes he received himself, even though he had more friends in parliament than the number of votes he got.

“One hand cannot clap alone,” he said, stressing “if I am elected, I will be the president, not Jumblatt… I do hear that accusation a lot, but in fact I make my own decisions.”

Helou said that he won’t be visiting the leaders of parliamentary blocs to get their support, “my program is quite clear… the country is heading toward a presidential vacuum and I presented a solution.”

Accompanying us to the elevator door, Helou said he was ready for any further questions or clarifications. Then, he used an old French proverb to tell us that there will be no parliamentary session today, since nothing has changed from last week. Today, the quorum is more important than the votes.

He recently started reading a book by late President Bechara al-Khoury and the memoirs of former minister Fouad Boutros, which convinced him further that political conflicts have always existed in Lebanon. Today, the main problem is that political bashing is getting too personal, while officials are advancing their own interests at the expense of the national interest.

He called on the Lebanese to focus on what he had to say, explaining that he does hear the complaints of common citizens; from the street vendor to the policeman and even the taxi driver. They all seek a president who would offer solutions for their problems instead of making matters worse, and he truly believes that he can be that kind of president.

When you have someone like Tammam Salam as prime minister, there is no shame in having Henri Helou as a president. Maybe then, MP Okab Sakr can be elected speaker of parliament.

In any case, it is enough to take a closer look at the names of some of the people’s representatives in the parliament to make sure that anything is indeed possible.

Honestly, a country with Michel Suleiman as a president should have no problem in taking Helou’s candidacy seriously.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Henri Helou might be a good options. But I do not feel good about anyone at present. I just got a disease of disbelief.

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