BEIRUT: Standing outside Beirut’s Communist bar, Roula Hijaji reminisced about the man responsible for opening it over 20 years ago. His name was Naya Chahoud, otherwise known as Abou Elie, and was a dedicated member of the Lebanese Communist Party until the later stages of his life. He died suddenly last week from illness at the age of 60.
For many customers, Chahoud was a ghost who hardly frequented the bar he owned. Yet those who came to commemorate him Sunday night say that he lived vigorously without regret. His politics was much like his demeanor, meaning he was always more concerned with the well-being of others than himself.
“I learned so many things from him,” Hijazi told The Daily Star, holding back her grief. “He taught me how to listen to Fairouz. He showed me how to listen to her with passion.”
Although Chahoud is now gone, his memories still live on among the community of people he brought together at his pub. Like all men and women his age, he witnessed harrowing tribulations during the Lebanese Civil War. At the time, he fought with the Lebanese Communist Party, which sided with Kemal Jumblatt’s Lebanese National Movement – a front made up of leftist and pan-Arab factions during the early stages of the Civil War.
A young man in his early 20s, he picked up a weapon and joined the party that he believed could instigate the most change. The man he looked up to the most was George Hawi – the secretary-general of the LCP – who was later assassinated in 2005 by a bomb that was placed under the passenger seat of his Mercedes. Hawi, like Chahoud, was a critic of the Syrian occupation.
“He was never shy about his past. He used to tell me all the details about the war,” said Sahar al-Amine, a 31-year-old woman who became one of Chahoud’s closest friends before he passed away. “He became so depressed about the world today, especially after Hawi died. It was like his own leader had been killed.”
Chahoud lived with open wounds much like anyone else who experienced the war. The one difference, of course, is that he wasn’t afraid to talk about it. In a country where politicians prefer to ignore rather than acknowledge the past, Chahoud was a rarity. His memories weren’t only told to the many youths who shared whiskey with him during the latest hours of the night. They were also exhibited everywhere in the bar. Photos of Che Guevara, Samir Kassir and Hawi are plastered on the pub’s red walls, instantly attracting the eyes of every person who walks in.
Although the bar was technically a business, the cheap price of alcohol had to have made people wonder how much money Chahoud actually made. The fact is Chahoud was never interested in accumulating wealth. What he accomplished instead was simple but noble. He created a space where a generation of leftists could drink, laugh and cry about the country they inherited.
More importantly, Chahoud also believed in the goodness of those he met despite the harrowing violence he witnessed in his life. And though he’s now gone, his family and friends couldn’t think of a better way to pay their respects than to have a drink in his name.
“[If I could say one last thing to him] I would promise him that I’ll always remember all the things he said to me,” Amine said.
“I would tell him cheers,” added Hijazi. “His past was mixed with good and bad deeds like everyone else. But I still respect him.
“He was an icon.”