Gebran Tueni          1957-2005
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An Appreciation

'He didn't look the part of the bravest
newspaperman in the Middle East.
But after he was assassinated at the
age of 48 this week in a car bombing
that obliterated his Range Rover as
he traveled to work in Beirut, it's
clear that's exactly what he was'  

For a scribe, Gebran Tueni was
shockingly high mannered. In his
dapper suits, crisp shirts and
designer ties, wearing a thin
moustache that was always
immaculately trimmed, he seemed to
belong in a gentleman's club, not a
newsroom. He didn't look the part of
the bravest newspaperman in the
Middle East. But after he was
assassinated at the age of 48 this
week in a car bombing that
obliterated his Range Rover as he
traveled to work in Beirut, it's clear
that's exactly what he was. Many
Arab journalists are fearless when it
comes to criticizing Israel or the
United States. None other has
written so passionately-and in the
face of such peril-in support of
freedom against Arab dictatorships.

In early 2000, a few months after
Tueni took the helm of An Nahar,
one of the Arab world's most
respected dailies since his
grandfather and namesake founded
it in 1933, I went to see him at the
newspaper's editorial offices, then in
Hamra Street. He was a young writer
when I had first encountered him
there in some of the darkest days of
the Civil War, but 17 years later he
was bursting with hope. As we
sipped Turkish coffee, he articulated
a coherent vision of a new Middle
East free of authoritarian regimes,
well before the Bush Administration
discovered that democracy could be
a good thing for the Arab countries.

"We can't be ruled by one-man
regimes anymore," he said. "The
Arabs went down, down, down for a
half century, so a new generation
has to re-think the Middle East. We
could achieve anything. We have the
people, the minds, the money." A few
days earlier, Tueni had dared to pen
an open letter in An Nahar to Bashar
Assad, who was being groomed to
succeed his father Hafez as the
unelected leader of Syria. Though
addressing him cordially with "an
open heart" as "Dr. Bashar," Tueni's
words were stinging. He told him that
the Lebanese "detest" and "reject"
Syria's occupation and asked that he
allow Lebanon to be free. He had no
illusions that the letter would prompt
Syria to withdraw its military and
intelligence apparatus. But, Tueni
told me then, somebody had to
break the fear barrier and speak out
for freedom. By doing so, Tueni was
paving the way for others to join the
challenge to Assad's regime,
eventually including Lebanon's
billionaire tycoon turned Prime
Minister, Rafiq Hariri.

Tueni thought of Bashar as a "new
generation" leader and had hopes
that Syria would finally loosen up
when Assad Sr. suddenly died in
June 2000. But he was disappointed
as the months and years passed.
Instead of backing Lebanon's
democratic forces, he complained,
the younger Assad aligned himself
with Lebanese President Emile
Lahoud, a former army commander
known for his subservience to
Damascus, and Sheik Hassan
Nasrallah, leader of the
Iranian-backed militant Shi'ite group,

Widespread fury toward the Syrian
regime over Hariri's assassination
last February changed everything.
Tueni went for broke, turningAn
Nahar into the mouthpiece of the
Cedar Revolution that took over
Beirut's streets demanding that
Syrian troops leave the country. He
addressed the historic
demonstration of two million
Lebanese that filled Martyrs' Square
on March 14. Little more than a
month later, Syrian solders ended
their 29-year stay in Lebanon.

For an ambitious visionary like
Tueni, the Syrian exit, the "miracle"
that it was, was not the end but the
beginning. In May, aligned with
Hariri's son, Saad, he won a seat in
parliament, following in the footsteps
of his father Ghassan, an elder
statesman and doyen of Lebanese
journalism. Tueni liked the idea of
having the opportunity to legislate
change, but there was no question
that running An Nahar would remain
his day job. He sought to harness
the energy of the young protesters
to scrap Lebanon's age-old
sectarian system in favor of one that
allowed all Lebanese to participate
fully in the country's future. "We can
speak the language of the new
century," he told me at the height of
the demonstrations. "But we can't
build a new Lebanon with old ideas."
An immediate problem was that
Syria's hand was still felt in Lebanon,
thanks to the infrastructure of
agents, informants and black
operations that it had used to
manipulate the country over the
years. A wave of bombings occurred,
then more assassinations. All were
widely blamed on Syria or its
Lebanese supporters, but as with
the Hariri killing, the Syrians denied
any involvement. Tueni learned that
he was on the top of a hit list and
started taking precautions, like
switching cars every other day. In
June came the anticipated explosion,
targeting not Tueni but his star
columnist Samir Kassir.

By then, it was no more "Dr. Bashar."
He referred to Assad's "tyrannical"
and "despotic" regime, and
increasingly mocked it with sarcasm.
Like other opponents, he went
abroad for awhile to escape the
threatening atmosphere, but his
criticism of Syria continued in An
Nahar's pages. On the last Monday
evening of his life, shortly after his
return to Beirut, he invited me over
to An Nahar's gleaming new office
building in Beirut's reconstructed
downtown. As we sat in his stylish
corner office, which overlooked
Martyrs' Square, he was hopeful as
usual about the future. He believed
that the United Nation's investigation
into Hariri's killing, which issued a
second interim report last week,
would eventually expose the Syrian
regime's involvement. He waved a
copy of the day's An Nahar, which
front-paged a story on mass graves
discovered at the former Syrian
military intelligence HQ in Lebanon.
In his last, acerbic editorial three
days later, he would blame the
Syrian regime for the "crime against
humanity," call for an international

Tueni's eyes momentarily froze at
the suggestion that his dogged
pursuit was putting him at even
greater risk. "That's what journalists
have to do, get out the truth, isn't it?"
he asked. He was trying to convince
himself that the assassins wouldn't
come looking for him in the end. He
explained that the Syrians knew that
he had been honest and consistent
in his criticism, that he was no
political opportunist. "Even among
people in that regime, there is some
kind of honor," he reassured me.
That was Tueni's optimism for you.
"No tears," said his 79-year-old
father, who went to An Nahar's
newsroom after his son's murder to
console the weeping staff members.
"Gebran is not dead." Tueni's dream
of a free Lebanon, in other words,
lives on.

Born on September 15, 1957
Nationality: Lebanese
Married to Siham Asseily
Has 4 daughters.

International Relations

- Publisher, Chairman of the Board, General
Manager and Editorialist of AN-NAHAR
since 01/01/2000.
- General Manager of the daily newspaper
AN-NAHAR (1993-1999) & General
Manager of the monthly magazine NOUN
- General Manager, Editor in Chief and
Editorialist of the weekly magazine” An-
Nahar Arab & International” (1979-1990).
- Regular lecturer and guest to radio & TV
programs (political Subjects).
- Executive producer and host of TV
programs on politics.

- Member of the Lebanese Syndicate of the
Press since January 2000.
- Member of the Board of the WAN (World
Association of Newspapers) (since 1991)
- Member of the “Fund for Press Freedom
Development” created by WAN (since 1994).
- Special Advisor to the President of the
World Association of Newspapers for the
Arab World (1997)
- Member of the IAA (International
Advertising Association) (since 1996).
- Member of Press Weeklies Syndicate
- General Secretary of the “Lebanese Front”
- Founding Member of the “ Mouvement de
Soutien à la Libération (1989)
- Member of the “Lebanese Front” (1986-
-Member of Qornet Shehwan Gathering
(since 2000) and the Lebanese Opposition