She seduces Lebanon with her modern spirit and dynamism. If Mona Hraoui acknowledges being a privileged woman, happy, she remains sensitive to the great issues of today such as thalassemia, drugs, AIDS, wars, loss of values, the future worries her sometimes “but I trust human consciousness,” said the First Lady.
Very elegant in a navy outfit, the First Lady welcomed us at the Presidential Palace in Baabda on the hill overlooking the indomitable city of Beirut. The restored palace is full of life since the hostess awakened it from its long sleep and ripped the terrible neglect in which it had been for many years. In this sumptuous setting where are harmoniously combined taffetas, satins and lace trimmings with shimmering colors, where subtle shades of red, green and gold emphasize the elegant furniture, complemented with beautiful bouquets composed in the manner of a painting combining rigor and fantasy, you feel driven out of time in a dream world that perfectly reflects the personality of the prestigious guests who live in the Palace … «Human beings commit terrible acts and with time, they can repent of having a guilty conscience, which could possibly save mankind.» The life of Mona Hraoui was not always a smooth flowing river. We ask her to tell us the story. She nods, smiles, remembers and says. «I was born in Baalbeck, from a Palestinian father and a Lebanese mother. The oldest of three girls, I spent my childhood in Bethlehem until the tragic death of my father. I was nine years old at that time.» her voice breaks suddenly choked with emotion.
«This tragedy has changed my life because I had with my father very special relationship. I admired him, we got along wonderfully. My mother decided, after mourning, to return to Lebanon with my sisters. I chose for my part to stay in Amman with my paternal aunt and to continue my studies.»
What kind of a little girl were you? «The misfortunes through which I passed during my childhood made me sad, suspicious and solitary but under this appearance of hardness, was hiding the truth of a fragile sensitive heart who chose solitude for protection from bad shots, because very soon I learned to rely on myself.»
Until what age did you stay in Amman? «Until the end of my high school studies. At seventeen I returned to Lebanon, Baalbek, where my mother and my sisters had settled.»
The little Mona Jammal, the day of her First Communion in Jerusalem.
«The tragic death of my father changed my life … »
What was your life in Baalbeck and what impressions do you have of that time? «When I returned to Lebanon, I insisted to continue my university studies, but at that time, mentalities were different, I was refused this request despite my insistence. Lack of anything better, I became an English teacher at a nearby school. The only detail I have of that time was the discovery of Baalbeck Festival. It was for me a total glare. This event gave me a taste for life, charged with energy and projected in a magical world that I did not know.»
Were you ambitious and determined? «Yes, I dreamed of a place in society. And life seemed so rich that I wanted to enjoy it. ..»
Your encounter with your husband? Between you two, it was love at first sight. «It’s true. It was in 1961, thirty-four years ago! Yet I feel like it was yesterday. I met Elias in Zahle, with a relative, a good friend to him. I had often heard my cousin talk about him. I knew he was divorced with three children to support, he was a trader-farmer, intelligent, somewhat fickle and very charming.»
Have you guessed right away that he was the man in your life? Yes. We met, by chance, a miracle. It was a revelation against which we could do nothing.
We recognized ourselves right away. The same evening, Elias invited me to dinner with three other couples. We started with a movie and then we went to the Tam Tam restaurant in Aley to finally end the evening in the night club Chez Eve in Beirut. I remember a detail that amused me that night and marked me. We were driving and suddenly, Elias stared at my feet and asked me, astonished, with his Zahle accent «What is the size of your feet?» «41 ½ – 42» I replied with a smile. «Just my size,» he replied. Then he took off his shoe, asked me to try it and did the same with mine. «Well, he said in a laugh, if all matches between us like our foot sizes, I have only to propose marriage to you. Besides, I’m doing it» Then Elias looked into my eyes and asked me gravely: «Will you marry me?»
Moved, I replied in the affirmative and such a fairy tale began the magical time of awakening, exciting awakening but fraught with difficulties and pitfalls. Elias had put a condition sine qua non to our marriage: he wanted me to be accepted by his three children and gave me six months to win their affection and trust. As for our families, he informed them very quickly. And the rest, you know … »
And the President declared his Love in a strange way …
1992 tourists in Spain: Mona Hraoui and her daughter Zalfa.
Where is the fairy tale today? She smiled. «Touch wood.»
She continues. «We are in love with the same strength, a love strengthened by the bonds of marriage and matured by the experience of life together, the children, joys and sufferings that we shared, and currently the duty we have to jointly perform to our country, each one to his scale.» During their engagement, the President was involved in a serious accident that left him bedridden for six months. He did not know if he will get out of it unscathed. It seems he even tried to persuade her to break … «That’s right, but I have not accepted and the strength of our love saved his life …»
Have you gone through times of crisis? «Obviously and not very few. There is no real couple without crisis. We cried and laughed together. This is love. In these difficult times, we must try to understand and cope to get out of it strengthened. We must forgive and get that everyone respects the ideas of the other while learning to love what the other likes. And above all, be attentive at all times by keeping a constantly inquisitive look on the one that we love. The language of the eyes is always right!»
What is your relationship with those around you? «I like simple relations, direct and clear.»
Do you think you learn a lot by observing? Yes. It is even more exciting than talking sometimes, especially when talking about oneself.»
Do you follow a motto? «Do not promise and give as much as possible.»
What disarms you and what specifically hurts you? «The kindness and generosity disarm me, but I can not stand either ingratitude or injustice.»
Your main qualities and flows? «My quality is relentlessness, my flows are impatience and nervousness.»
What is the peak of bad taste for you? «Lacking natural elegance.»
What is the definition of happiness for you. «Nothing is definitively acquired and happiness is fleeting. It’s not the quantity that makes you happy, but the quality, intensity of a «relationship.»
What are your greatest happiness? «My daily life with people I love, relationships with my family, my friends and especially my humanitarian action to save children with diabetes and thalassemia. I felt a need to get involved personally in a useful activity since my husband acceded to the presidency. Support the people in need, I was used to that long before I came to the Palace.
I already took care of charitable works, works that have taken a national momentum when the Thalassemia Foundation was born. My husband immediately supported me. I have not received state subsidies. Without being discouraged, I sought donations by alerting local officials, the press, by hosting public meetings on this topic, finally creating a Lebanese telethon. The funds raised were gathered from businesses and foreign associations, Arab and European and private donations.
This allowed us to build a hospital for the needy sick, actually at the number of 800. We hope, thanks to the generosity of donors, to continue to alleviate the suffering of poor patients.»
We see you everywhere alongside President at official ceremonies, but also the openings and social gatherings. Many appreciate your overflowing activity, some criticize but all agree and admire your extraordinary energy. Where do you get this vitality? «I have no secret, it’s my nature. I like to move, learn quickly, living in an emergency. Besides, I do not feel relaxed at the height of exhaustion. Immobility scares me. As for the people who criticize me, I tell them that we cannot please everyone.»
Do you like confidences? «It annoys me quickly! For this reason, I cannot maintain a friendship. I keep everything for me, even if, sometimes, it can cause dramas.»
Do you forgive treason easily? «Not really. I forgive without conviction. I do not forget. I continue to see the person without seeming angry, but something is destroyed. At the time it hurts and suddenly it’s over. There is a curtain, a screen.»
What fascinates you the most? «Progress in medicine, space exploration and speed of changes that we need to catch up in a hurry.»
What qualities should you look for in a man basically? «The courage, generosity, intelligence, not to mention a certain charm.»
The President says that you are exceptional, what do you say about him? «That is the same for him, through whom I became that woman.»
The term of the president ends soon, we talk about renewal. Do you wish that to happen? «My answer is an emphatic no. The President did not want to either. When the «six-year term» will end on November 24th, 1995, we will be happy to regain our personal residence, a clear conscience to have accomplished our best in this difficult time, our duty to our country.»
You still have time to pursue your hobbies? The First Lady smiled wistfully and confides in conclusion, «I really have no time to devote to hobbies. You know, with all my obligations, First Lady, it’s really a full time job!» Interview by NADIA Bassous.
Occupation: First Lady, a role that she fulfills perfectly. Distinctive sign: a natural elegance asserted by the elegance of the heart. Mona Hraoui has created one of the most important medical and social foundations of Lebanon and established a new presidential lifestyle, which finds its refinement in simplicity. Doesn’t she spontaneously rise to shake the hands of the present? Shouldn’t some ladies of the High society, be inspired by her model?