Ayoon Wa Azan (Farewell, Ghassan)
Thursday, 21 June 2012 05:37 GMT
I went to Beirut to attend the wedding of the son of some dear friends. The party ended after midnight, but I was awoken by a phone call in the morning from a friend in Riyadh, who called to offer his condolences for the death of Mr. Ghassan Tueni.
Then on the next day, I attended the funeral of Al-Nahar’s Doyen, his burial and then his funeral service.
Such is life, ‘a wedding or a funeral’, as the Lebanese say.
In the following days, I received several phone calls and e-mail messages offering condolences for the passing of Mr. Ghassan. Perhaps my entire generation of journalists can be considered among the close relatives of the deceased, as we have always looked to him as our ‘eldest brother’.
I also received calls asking me to write about my memories with al-Ostaz [Tueni’s sobriquet, meaning the Teacher, or the Master], which while being many, are nothing compared to what his family and relatives would know about him, or even the Al-Nahar family, and I expect to see in the near future many books that tell the story of his life and his feats.
It was notable in all that has been written about Ghassan Tueni, after his death, that there is a consensus on praising him both as a person and as a journalist (I found one exception in a Lebanese journalist known for his inanity). In truth, I find this consensus to be the best thing to describe the personality of Ghassan Tueni, who was a principled writer, a partisan man –once-, and a politician who occupied the posts of Deputy Prime Minister, Deputy Speaker, Minister, and Ambassador, and who had no enemies.
This is the real miracle of Ghassan Tueni, as the enmities he had were limited to the ‘security services’ which attempted to punish him or stifle him because of his boldness in speaking the truth.
I have an anecdote about this topic. When journalists boycotted the courts in 1975, after being charged of disclosing military secrets when they quoted statements by Prime Minister Rashid Solh, I went with Ghassan Tueni and the other defendants to the military court near the Hippodrome. The judges welcomed Tueni warmly, and spoke with him like they were friends or fans, so I said to him that there is no reason to boycott as long as we are on good terms with the military judges. However, he said to me: Be quiet and stay where you are (by his side). So I did, and the boycott continued.
(The courts then singled me out as well as colleague Mohammed Annan out, who passed away recently. I had returned from my first interview with Sultan Qaboos in Muscat, and found that I and Mohammed had an appointment with the court. However, we stood our ground and boycotted, and my prize in the affair was a picture that I cherish dearly, taken by Al-Hayat’s photographer Afif Khair, who had concealed the camera in his coat. The picture shows me from behind the court bench with three judges sitting under a plaque with the motto: Justice is the Foundation of Rule).
I noted my opinions on Ghassan after his death, and so did many colleagues, leaving nothing more to add, except perhaps some more anecdotes.
When I was working with Ghassan to publish an English-language digest, there was an American woman assisting me in the editing called Carla Smith. Her husband (Dr. Harley Smith) was responsible for the Third World Languages division, and was the head of a major agency in Beirut; in the civil war, he was transferred to Tunisia.
Carla was a good-looking Vice Consul, who lost her job when the administration of Jimmy Carter decided amid a financial crisis to ban married couples from working together in government. This was when she came to work with us when the lowest earner between the spouses resigned. However, married couples then brought a successful lawsuit against the U.S. administration, and were reinstated, compensated and promoted.
This is the difference between democracy in their countries and democracy in ours, just like Ghassan Tueni embodied the difference between a professional, cultivated and ethical journalist and the journalists of today.
There is a decline happening at every level, and I speak here of what I know well: The Arab uprisings, which started out to demand democracy (I speak about today, not what might happen years from now) portend new dictatorships that may perhaps prompt us to soon feel nostalgia for the old ones.
The Arab press today is either suppressed in repressive countries or completely undisciplined and out of bounds where there is a relative freedom of the press, and the Arabs are the victims of these uprisings and this press, and of the regimes before them.
Farewell, Ghassan. You will see and bemoan no evil anymore.