Mohamad Chatah - Lebanon's man of dialogue - is murdered in Beirut

Mohamad Chatah died in a car bomb that killed five others

It was a bomb against the Saudis. Mohamad Chatah represented the most reasonable face of the Saudi-supported March 14 party in Lebanon – moderates are usually the first targets of Lebanese assassins – and the bombing in which six others, including the former finance minister’s bodyguards, were killed, was carried out with the usual meticulous planning.  In the very centre of Beirut, too, in the new city built by Saad Hariri’s father Rafiq and within half a mile of where Rafiq himself was assassinated almost nine years ago.

As usual, the killing was condemned by all the usual suspects:  the Syrians, the Hezbollah, the Russian embassy, the Iranian embassy and just about anybody who might have wanted to strike the political party of Lebanon’s Sunni community.  Last month, a Shia Muslim Hezbollah man was murdered outside his home, before that the Iranian embassy was bombed with 26 fatalities, before that the Shia southern suburbs, before that two mosques in Tripoli (Chatah’s home town), total dead 46.  Tit-for-tat isn’t the word for it.  Mohamed Chatah had been a financial adviser to Hariri father and son – and must have known that he was, like many good guys in Lebanon, a target.

Several years ago, I met him in a West Beirut restaurant – ironically in the same Ein Mreisse district in which he was to die – and he was trying to decide then if he should leave his post at the International Monetary Fund in the US for the cantankerous, dangerous, addictive world of Lebanese politics.  My host was trying to persuade him to make the journey back to Beirut – he may regret this now, since his advice led Mohamed Chatah to his martyrdom – and Chatah came across as an eminently moderate man who believed in dialogue rather than military force, even when it came to disarming the Shia Hezbollah militia.  He was, as his friend Marwan Iskander said to me yesterday, a man of integrity.  And integrity is a rare quality in Lebanon.

Like most of Lebanon’s finest, he had been educated at the American University in Beirut but gained his doctorate in the States where he would later serve as Lebanon’s ambassador.  Diplomat and politician, his death caused the March 14 movement to blame Hezbollah and the Iranians.  Najib Mikati, the caretaker prime minister in a Lebanese government that doesn’t exist, claimed that Lebanon was now a “hostage to terrorists.”

Oddly, Arabs – from General Sissi in Egypt to Messers Assad and Maliki in Syria and Iraq – now use the word ‘terrorist’ more frequently than the Western mentors who taught them to use this meretricious, generic and frightful expression.  But in Lebanon, it is difficult to dispute the fact that violence has always imprisoned the Lebanese.  Indeed, the killers of this tiny state make a point of eliminating all those who might cure Lebanon’s cancer peacefully – hence Chatah’s murder – thus leaving the field open to the wild men of every party.

Up to 70 Lebanese were also wounded in yesterday’s bombing – which may or may not have been a suicide killing – and none missed the obvious fact that the assassination occurred in one of the most heavily guarded central areas of new Beirut.  Surrounded by banks, boutique shops, ancient churches and mosques and the prime minister’s own offices – all restored by Hariri senior after the country’s 1975-90 civil war — Mohamed Chatah was a prestige target in a prestige part of town.  The smoke of the explosion which killed him drifted across the facade of the old Turkish serail in which the caretaker cabinet – the prime minister-designate has not been able to form a government for eight months – regularly meets.  In Lebanon, democracy often comes shrouded in smoke and fire.

Mohamed Chatah, as everyone in Lebanon knew, opposed both the rule of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria and the Hezbollah’s armed role in Lebanon.  Scarcely an hour before his death, he had tweeted a warning that the Hezbollah was “pressing hard” to be granted the same security and foreign policy powers once enjoyed by Syria.  He had several times written that “a united and peaceful Syria ruled by Assad is simply not possible.” 

As long ago as 2007, on the eve of presidential elections, Mohamed Chatah had talked of the assassinations still to come in his country.

Yet it would be naive to think that these views – freely expressed by many in the Lebanese opposition, some more prominent than Chatah himself – provoked his murder.  In reality, he was just another face of the Sunni-Shia cold war which has burst through the crust of Muslim society over the past 30 years, increasing in ferocity as the old American-Soviet Cold War faded into history.

It is easy to forget that until the Iranian Revolution – which brought the power of Shia Islam into perspective within the Middle East – Saudi Arabia was virtually the only focus of Muslim attention.  The holy cities of Mecca and Medina ruled the Islamic world;  once the Iranian clerics of Tehran and Qom claimed the latest Muslim revolution in 1979, Saudi Arabia was challenged.

Thus in Iraq and Syria as well as between Saudi Arabia and Iran itself, the Sunni-Shia conflict – so long deep-frozen by the East-West Cold War and scarcely spoken of within the Middle East for fear of its repercussions – has boiled over into a terrifying and real war.  Insofar as Syria’s sectarian battle has infected Lebanon, poor Mohamed Chatah was a victim of this same conflict, slotted neatly and fatally into the Saudi-Iran struggle made manifest in one of the region’s smallest countries.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
The guide, since withdrawn, used illustrations and text to help people understand the court process (Getty)
newsMinistry of Justice gets law 'terribly wrong' in its guide to courts
News
Bobbi Kristina Brown with her mother Whitney Houston in 2011
people
News
Starting the day with a three-egg omelette could make people more charitable, according to new research
scienceFeed someone a big omelette, and they may give twice as much, thanks to a compound in the eggs
News
Top Gun actor Val Kilmer lost his small claims court battle in Van Nuys with the landlord of his Malibu mansion to get back his deposit after wallpapering over the kitchen cabinets
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
The actress Geraldine McEwan was perhaps best known for playing Agatha Christie's detective, Miss Marple (Rex)
peopleShe won a Bafta in 1991 for her role in Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit
News
newsPatrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
News
Robert Fraser, aka Groovy Bob
peopleA new show honours Robert Fraser, one of the era's forgotten players
Life and Style
Torsten Sherwood's Noook is a simple construction toy for creating mini-architecture
tech
Sport
David Silva celebrates with Sergio Aguero after equalising against Chelsea
footballChelsea 1 Manchester City 1
News
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

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Now our rapidly expanding and A...

Recruitment Genius: Public House Manager / Management Couples

£15000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you passionate about great ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Planner

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Recruitment Genius: General Factory Operatives

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing reinforcing s...

Day In a Page

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

As in 1942, Germany must show restraint over Greece

Mussolini tried to warn his ally of the danger of bringing the country to its knees. So should we, says Patrick Cockburn
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign

The short stroll that should be our walk of shame

Courting the global elite has failed to benefit Britain, as the vast disparity in wealth on display in the capital shows
Homeless Veterans appeal: The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty

Homeless Veterans appeal

The rise of the working poor: when having a job cannot prevent poverty
Prince Charles the saviour of the nation? A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king

Prince Charles the saviour of the nation?

A new book highlights concerns about how political he will be when he eventually becomes king
How books can defeat Isis: Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad

How books can defeat Isis

Patrick Cockburn was able to update his agenda-setting 'The Rise of Islamic State' while under attack in Baghdad
Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

Judith Hackitt: The myths of elf 'n' safety

She may be in charge of minimising our risks of injury, but the chair of the Health and Safety Executive still wants children to be able to hurt themselves
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse

The open loathing between Obama and Netanyahu just got worse

The Israeli PM's relationship with the Obama has always been chilly, but going over the President's head on Iran will do him no favours, says Rupert Cornwell
French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

French chefs get 'le huff' as nation slips down global cuisine rankings

Fury at British best restaurants survey sees French magazine produce a rival list
Star choreographer Matthew Bourne gives young carers a chance to perform at Sadler's Wells

Young carers to make dance debut

What happened when superstar choreographer Matthew Bourne encouraged 27 teenage carers to think about themselves for once?
Design Council's 70th anniversary: Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch

Design Council's 70th anniversary

Four of the most intriguing prototypes from Ones to Watch
Dame Harriet Walter: The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment

Dame Harriet Walter interview

The actress on learning what it is to age, plastic surgery, and her unease at being honoured by the establishment
Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Art should not be a slave to the ideas driving it

Critics of Tom Stoppard's new play seem to agree that cerebral can never trump character, says DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's winter salads will make you feel energised through February

Bill Granger's winter salads

Salads aren't just a bit on the side, says our chef - their crunch, colour and natural goodness are perfect for a midwinter pick-me-up
England vs Wales: Cool head George Ford ready to put out dragon fire

George Ford: Cool head ready to put out dragon fire

No 10’s calmness under pressure will be key for England in Cardiff
Michael Calvin: Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Time for Old Firm to put aside bigotry and forge new links