x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Tried to stave off Lebanon's civil war

Amin al Hafez was prime minister of Lebanon for a brief, but crucial, period in the country's history.

Amin al Hafez, seen here in 2006,  died in hospital on Monday after a long period of illness. He was 88.
Amin al Hafez, seen here in 2006, died in hospital on Monday after a long period of illness. He was 88.

Amin al Hafez was prime minister of Lebanon for a brief, but crucial, period in the country's history. His tenure lasted less than two months, but it came at a time when Lebanon was fast descending into civil war following clashes between the various political parties within the country over the emotive issue of the presence of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, liquidated in Jordan in 1970. As Lebanon became the central staging area for PLO military operations against Israel, tensions between the Lebanese Christian right and the PLO escalated, culminating in bloody clashes in May 1973.

At the time, Amin al Hafez was a young, not particularly experienced politician. An economist with degrees from Lausanne and The Hague universities, and a former lecturer at Lebanese University, he represented Tripoli, the country's second largest city in parliament under the presidency of Suleiman Franjieh (1970-1975). Franjieh had feuded with his previous prime minister, Salam, whose time in office witnessed monthly raids by Israel against Palestinian elements within Lebanon. When Salam was forced to resign amid demonstrations protesting the army's failure to resist Israel, al Hafez was chosen as the new face of the government in the hope of heralding a change in the country's fortunes.

The pro-Palestinian al Hafez appointed a cabinet that included six new recruits and ran the gamut of Lebanon's ideologies, leaders, sects and interests; big business and rightist factions had strong representation, but there was also a leftist among its members. Despite such promising beginnings - and despite being a Sunni Muslim himself - al Hafez never won the support of the Sunni clerical establishment, whose opposition to Franjieh found a target in his new prime minister. He was unable to stop the fighting between the army and the Palestinians and the country moved into a state of emergency.

He later served as a member of parliament representing his hometown of Tripoli from 1960 to 1996. Al Hafez died aged 88 after a long period of illness. His wife, the Lebanese novelist Leila Osseiran, whom he married in 1948, predeceased him. A politically motivated writer, Osseiran took great interest in the Palestinian cause, participating in a number of demonstrations in the 1960s. Amin al Hafez was born in 1921. He died on June 13. He is survived by a son, the journalist and publisher Ramzi al Hafez.

* The National