Lebanon: Profile of Samir Qassir
Samir Qassir after assassination.
Lebanese academic, author and editorialist Samir Qassir died yesterday when a one-pound bomb placed under the driver's seat of his car detonated outside his apartment building. [A group calling itself Combattants for a United and Free "Sham" (historic name for greater Syria) claimed credit for the act on a Arab website in Britain. The existence of the group is dubious]. Many Lebanese again blamed Syria: The Damascus regime is behind it! The Syrians won't leave our country before they've destroyed it.
A friend of Rafik Hariri, Qassir's murder is sending seismic tremors through Lebanese society in advance of Sunday's second round of elections, which Hezbollah is expected to win. But it's a little too convient, though, that the murder occurs just as the events of February 14 and condemnations of Syria are waning from the headlines. The timing doesn't seem point to Damascus but rather to someone interested in inflaming passions and jeopardizing the elections. But what do I know? BTW, Qassir's mother was a 1948 Palestinian refugee and his father was Syrian.
Le Monde's reporter Mouna Naïm fills us in on the background.
SAMIR QASSIR had such a keen sense of a nation governed by laws that no violation escaped his acerbic pen. For the last ten years, this 45 year-old Franco-Lebanese academic has been tirelessly denouncing the abuses of power committed with impunity by Syria against Lebanon for 29 years. Beginning in 1998, whether directly or through what former Lebanese Culture Minister Ghassan Salameh termed a clone, Syria ran a political espionage and security apparatus in the Land of Ceders.
Samir Qassir displayed a certain amount of pride for having introduced the expressions apparatus, Syrian tutelage and even gangland tutelage into the national vocabulary which best qualified, in his eyes, Syria’s fraternal presence, the “gargle” used by Damascus, the Lebanese government and friends of Syria in Lebanon. He set the tone in 1995, Qassir recounted in an April interview with Le Monde. The risk to his life which became reality was visible along the horizon with the extension of the term of former President Elias Hrawi on orders from Syria in violation of the Constitution. Since that moment, Friday’s fateful chronicle of this Greek Orthodox Christian, Professor of Political Science at St. Joseph’s University in Beirut, History PhD and editorialist for the newspaper al-Nahar was sensed or feared.
Beginning in January 2000, Qassir's activities provoked threatening phone calls from the Chief of Security, General Jamil al-Sayed, who has since been replaced. It was certainly on behalf of Ghazi Kanaan-the chief of Syrian military intelligence in Lebanon at the time, said Samir Qassir. In 2001, the same Jamil al-Sayed renewed the threats, this time acting on his own and on behalf of Emile Lahoud, President of the Republic. He was then tailed by a security detail. On his return from a trip to Amman, his passport was confiscated and Qassir was accused of being an agent of the Palestinian Authority.
The stake-out recommenced and for forty days, up to and including an evening when, invited to dinner by Rafic Hariri--who wished to throw dirt in the eyes of the security detail--had Qassir's car included in the former Prime Minister's official convoy.
It goes without saying that Samir Qassir did not disguise his joy when Syrian forces evacuated Lebanon on April 26. Nor when the intelligence and security chiefs were asked to resign or quit their functions. He knew very well that the coast was not clear, that the residual effects of the “services” were still to be feared, but he added, Who would have thought that things could happened so quickly?
But Qassir did not spare the Lebanese political elite inside the Opposition of which he was a staunch defender. He accused them of not having drawn a lesson from the political earthquake which had just shaken Lebanon and of having “surfed” the popular revolt to pursue old sectarian quarrels. In private, he attempted to find an explanation for this step backwards and tried to contain his impatience to see the Lebanese Republic establish itself.
Samir Qassir never failed to express unflagging praise for the opponents of Syria, among whom he could count many of his friends, and for the courage they demonstrated in their actions and in their criticism. More recently, Qassir had signed a petition for the release of the members of the steering committee of the last political salon tolerated by Syria as well as the end the suspension of liberties within that country. He warned foreign journalists in Syria against becoming the dupe of official whitewash.
Over the years, the former brilliant leftist student lost his smugness but he never gave up on the promotion of a nation governed by laws. Father of two girls by a first marriage, Qassir recently married Gisèle Khoury, a celebrity television anchor on al-Arabiya TV. Samir Qassir is the author of several books in Arabic and in French, including A History of Beirut, Journeys From Paris to Jerusalem, co-written with Farook Mardam Bey, and Meditation on the Arab Malaise.