If former Premier Rafic Hariri provided the grand plans and vision for how he thought Lebanon could and should grow into a modern prosperous state, Basil Fuleihan injected the precision, the research, the experience and the knowledge to put those ideas into practice. Although most recently remembered as a deputy and former Minister of Economy and Trade, Fuleihan was also recognized as a brilliant academic from the moment he graduated with distinction from the American University of Beirut in 1984 as a Bachelor of Arts in economics.
He was just 41 when he died in the Percy military hospital in Paris, 64 days after the February 14 murderous blast at St Georges that claimed the life of his friend and patron Hariri, as well as 19 others. Before becoming a deputy on Hariri’s Beirut ticket in the 2000 elections, Fuleihan had carved out a career and a reputation as a thoughtful, competent and thorough behind-the-scenes adviser on economics.
His first degree at AUB was succeeded in the following year by a Master of Arts at Yale University in International and Development Economics and the meticulous study continued until he was awarded a doctorate in economics at Columbia University in 1990.
Fuleihan worked as an adviser to the executive director of the International Monetary Fund and was well on his way to a dazzling career on a global level when he returned to Lebanon to become an economic adviser to the Ministry of Finance in 1993. And for six years until entering Parliament he passed on his infectious enthusiasm for the subject as an economics lecturer at his old university, AUB.
It was in large part down to Fuleihan’s patient homework on the subject that Lebanon was able to tap the international markets for cheaper eurobond loans to begin the process of reducing debt costs and, also in his role as an adviser to the finance ministry, he was responsible for devising reforms of the Customs administration, land registration and internal training.
Yet it was not until he became a minister that Fuleihan was in a position to publicly claim credit for his work. He was the lead negotiator for the country’s entry into the EuroMed Association Agreement. He argued persuasively – and successfully – that Lebanon should have a privileged position as far as tariffs were concerned until its economy was strong enough to withstand open competition. He also played a major role in formulating the economic plans submitted to the Paris II talks that resulted in an easing of the burden of debt service and led to the slashing of interest rates. And he took up the causes of copyright and consumer protection, issues both at the core of encouraging investment in Lebanon by major foreign companies.
But Fuleihan didn’t claim credit publicly. He wasn’t that sort of man. Totally devoid of the arrogance that plagues many politicians, Fuleihan had a ready smile, a friendly hello for all who crossed his path and a fluency on matters concerning his ministry that never deviated into the meaningless obscure generalities beloved by so many politicians.
A close and faithful ally to Hariri, Fuleihan was by his side to the last. He was a passenger in the premier’s car when it was blown to pieces.
This gentle, loving husband and father is an enormous loss to his widow Yasma, and their two young children, Rena and Rayan, to whom we extend our deepest sympathy. Our condolences, too, to Lebanon. Men of talent, integrity and honesty, like Fuleihan, are rare.