x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

After Tueini, Lebanon's future stands on a giant's shoulders

Lebanon lost a truly great man with the death last Friday of Ghassan Tueini, who devoted his life to his country.

As rival political leaders of Lebanon convened yesterday for the first time in more than 19 months to attempt to resolve the country's political crisis, a temperate voice was missing from that table. In fact, the man who had coined the very term for Lebanon's "National Dialogue", a man devoted to freedom and democracy, was being mourned by those who loved him best.

Ghassan Tueini was the sort of man whose passing brings an entire city to a standstill. On Friday, June 8, the man who had become the doyen of Lebanese and Arab journalism passed away at the age of 86 in a Beirut hospital bed after a lengthy battle with illness. In his books and his teachings, he left behind a wealth of knowledge about journalism, intellectual pursuits, politics and the basic human condition.

Indeed, it is difficult to eulogise Tueini in a few words. He was a veteran journalist, an honest politician, a seasoned diplomat, and a loving, heartbroken father. But above all, Ghassan Tueini was a man of principles. He believed in his ideals and lived by them until his last breath.

Tueini was only 22 when he succeeded his father as editor-in-chief and publisher of the prestigious Annahar newspaper, titles he held until his death. During his tenure, Annahar became Lebanon's leading publication and a paragon of journalistic credibility in the Arab world. He championed freedom of the press, often saying that it was an effective tool of change and the foundation of democratic regimes.

When he ventured into politics a few years later, to become a member of parliament at the age of 25, those principles made him trustworthy in an arena inured to lies. In the numerous political offices and diplomatic posts to which he was appointed throughout his long career, Tueini never strayed from his doctrine of honesty and transparency.

More than once, he was tested. In the 1940s, he was imprisoned for defying censorship laws and he later recounted how his time in prison had sharpened his determination to make people understand the truth behind their politics. You could always rely on Ghassan Tueini to tell it as it was.

Growing up, I didn't know much about him. At university, like my peers, I read his editorials in Annahar every Monday morning because they helped me to find my way through the labyrinth of madness that is my country's politics. Like us, he was an exasperated citizen. Like us, during the civil war, he wanted "my people to live", as he famously pleaded before the UN Security Council in 1978 after Israel's invasion.

Of course, nothing ever did change the course of that conflict, which Lebanon had been so long set on. But, amid the struggle, Ghassan Tueini was able to maintain a position as an outspoken journalist and a buffer of reason between the warring sides.

The violence didn't end with the war. On a fateful day in December 2005, he stood in the historic Greek Orthodox church in downtown Beirut over the body of his son Gebran, who had been killed by a car-bombing in a string of assassinations that threatened everything that we, the Lebanese, held dear.

There he stood, in the same church where he had bid farewell to his two other children - one had died in childhood, another in a car accident. He willed himself to part with his last, a brave man who had dared to defy Syria's control over Lebanon. "Let us bury hatred and revenge along with Gebran," he said faintly. No one expected it. It was surreal. It epitomised all that he was and all that he had strived to be: a man of peace.

It was with great sorrow and great pride that I watched Beirut say its goodbye to Ghassan Tuieni over these past days. Sorrow to lose a much-needed beacon of integrity, and pride for belonging to the country for which he lived.

In Arab communities, it is often said in the end a man's life is summed up by his moral stance. In that quest for moral certainty, Ghassan Tueini certainly triumphed.

Lebanon again faces danger, this time from a different form of instability spilling over from Syria. I don't know if anyone will be able to fill the void left by this man of intellect, but I am certain that his life's work will not go to waste. Too many have been touched by his life.

Ghassan Tueini was a luminous figure in our history. In true Lebanese fashion, I would say he was one of our glorious cedar trees that has honourably withstood the heavy winds of time. May his soul rest in peace.

 

rmakarem@thenational.ae