Ghassan Tueni: Journalist and politician who fought oppression

 

Lebanon has a way of sending its icons to the grave with rather a lot of honours, but Ghassan Tueni was a brave journalist in an often grubby profession. A man of immense kindness and deep religious piety, he will forever be remembered for his words at the funeral of his assassinated son in 2005: "Let us bury hatred and revenge along with Gebran." He lost his first wife and his daughter to cancer, another son to a road accident and then Gebran to – well, dare we suggest the Syrians? – a bomb which atomised him on the outskirts of Beirut

Certainly, Tueni's an-Nahar newspaper was a beacon against oppression – and the self-oppression which the Arabs practiced so well under our tutelage – although Syria's own tragedy has now deeply affected many Lebanese, not least its journalists. Tueni, a Greek Orthodox in a country where religion is as much a part of a citizen's heritage as their blood group, was originally of Syrian extraction. But Tueni was more than a writer. He was a diplomat at the UN, politician, a wicked chaser of scandal and a clairvoyant who sometimes got it a bit wrong.

When US Marines arrived in Beirut in 1982, he predicted to an American colleague that "the Che Guevara era of Lebanese politics is over. People have had their fling with radicalism. Beards and jeans are out now. Neckties are in." Lebanon promptly sank into a very bearded world indeed, in which radicalism was nailed to Islam as surely as Tueni's polite world of politicking faded away.

The age of the technocrats eventually took over the country in which Tueni was born 86 years ago, leaving him with the trail of dignity heaped upon him in Beirut last week. He was a figure from Greek tragedy, the Beirut press announced, a Sisyphus – and he did spend a lot of his time valiantly rolling stones up hills – and a Tiger in the mould of the old President Camille Chamoun (or, one supposes, Clemenceau). President Michel Sleiman placed the Order of the Cedar upon Tueni's coffin, which was ceremoniously taken into the editorial offices of his newspaper for the very last time, along with a clutch of priests, bishops and attendant lords. No Fleet Street proprietor ever got that honour.

He had been a minister, a parliament member, a doughty fighter against censorship – and was banged up in jail several times for his battle against this ever-present Middle Eastern institution. When Antun Saada was sent off for execution without so much as a trial after the outrageous decision by Bechara al-Khoury and Riad el-Solh to do away with him after a supposed coup attempt, Tueni published a magnificent and excoriating piece of journalism which Patrick Seale recalls in his magnificent biography of el-Solh.

"The public does not know whether Antun Saada was executed or assassinated, whether it was a trial or a plot... But Antun Saada did not spark a revolt for the sake of a revolt, nor did he incite his followers to attack, rebel and commit crimes for the pleasure of attacking, rebelling and killing. No! Antun Saada was a man with a doctrine, the bearer of a message, the leader of an organised political party. But the Court chose to ignore that..."

Tueni once observed that in Lebanon, "the government does not exist, and whatever part of it that does exist has no authority, and whoever has authority is not in the government." Too true. De Gaulle once noted that the Lebanese "must build a state", and it's been trying to do that ever since. The problem is that Lebanon's sectarian state cannot work as a modern state – it's a Rolls Royce with square wheels – unless it abandons confessionalism. And it can't do that – because the identity of Lebanon is sectarian. Without confessionalism, it ceases to exist. You have to be Sisyphus to fight against that.

An-Nahar fought on under Tueni's editorship. Not only did it lose its most prominent journalist, Gebran, but – only months before – the great columnist Samir Kassir, whose history of Beirut was published posthumously but who famously named the Syrian acolytes in Beirut who threatened him. Tueni took all these blows as if they were ordained. Other great Lebanese families have suffered, too, several of whom were at the funeral service. Walid Jumblatt's father Kemal was assassinated. Amin Gemayel's brother Bashar and son Pierre were murdered.

Tueni spent his last month at the hospital of the American University in Beirut where he was educated. He was also an alumnus of Harvard, where a fellow student was Henry Kissinger, a fact which Kissinger tried to use in talks with Tueni decades later. Tueni tried to prevent the election of Bashir Gemayel – Israel's choice for president in 1982 – and lobbied in Washington against the appointment of the Phalangist leader. To no avail. Bashir was elected and murdered and his warriors then stormed into the Palestinian camps of Sabra and Chatila to rape and murder the civilians trapped inside. Whether or not you can bury hatred and revenge, Tueni tried to do the impossible. Now it is the turn of the people of his ancestry, in neighbouring Syria, to look into the fires.

Robert Fisk

Ghassan Tueni, journalist, diplomat and politician: born Beirut 5 January 1926; married firstly Nadia Hamdeh (died 1983; one daughter deceased, two sons deceased), secondly Shadia al-Khazen; died Beirut 8 June 2012.

News
i100
News
people Emma Watson addresses celebrity nude photo leak
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
News
peopleHis band Survivor was due to resume touring this month
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Robert De Niro, Martin Scorsese and DiCaprio, at an awards show in 2010
filmsAll just to promote a new casino
News
i100
News
In this photo illustration a school student eats a hamburger as part of his lunch which was brought from a fast food shop near his school, on October 5, 2005 in London, England. The British government has announced plans to remove junk food from school lunches. From September 2006, food that is high in fat, sugar or salt will be banned from meals and removed from vending machines in schools across England. The move comes in response to a campaign by celebrity TV chef Jamie Oliver to improve school meals.
science
Life and Style
Red or dead: An actor portrays Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory, rumoured to have bathed in blood to keep youthful
health
Arts and Entertainment
James Dean on the set of 'Rebel without a Cause', 1955
photographyHe brought documentary photojournalism to Tinseltown, and in doing so, changed the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
News
i100
Sport
Tom Cleverley
footballLoan move comes 17 hours after close of transfer window
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Quant Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Developer C++, Python, STL, R, PD...

Java/Calypso Developer

£700 per day: Harrington Starr: Java/Calypso Developer Java, Calypso, J2EE, J...

SQL Developer

£500 per day: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer SQL, C#, Stored Procedures, MDX...

Front-Office Developer (C#, .NET, Java, AI)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-Office D...

Day In a Page

Chief inspector of GPs: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

Steve Field: ‘Most doctors don’t really know what bad practice can be like for patients’

The man charged with inspecting doctors explains why he may not be welcome in every surgery
Stolen youth: Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing

Stolen youth

Younger blood can reverse many of the effects of ageing
Bob Willoughby: Hollywood's first behind the scenes photographer

Bob Willoughby: The reel deal

He was the photographer who brought documentary photojournalism to Hollywood, changing the way film stars would be portrayed for ever
Angelina Jolie's wedding dress: made by Versace, designed by her children

Made by Versace, designed by her children

Angelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Anyone for pulled chicken?

Pulling chicks

Pulled pork has gone from being a US barbecue secret to a regular on supermarket shelves. Now KFC is trying to tempt us with a chicken version
'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.