BEIRUT: Veteran politician, journalist and diplomat Ghassan Tueni died Friday at the age of 86.
His passing marks the end of a long and storied career as politician and newspaper man, playing a pivotal role in both the formative years of Lebanon and its post Civil War period.
Born in Beirut in 1926, Ghassan Tueni inherited the power of his family’s dynasty and embarked on his sweeping journey at a young age.
After getting degrees from American University of Beirut and Harvard University the 22-year-old Tueni took the reins of An-Nahar newspaper after his father died in 1948.
Under Tueni’s aegis An-Nahar became what many say was the most influential and widely read newspaper in the country. He led the paper as editor and publisher from 1948 until 1999 and again from 2005 until 2010, penning thousands of editorials through almost the entire history of the young nation.
He was a fierce advocate of press freedoms and was jailed several times in the years before the 1975-90 Civil War for his media rights advocacy and was known for opening An-Nahar’s editorial page up to a broad range of opinions.
But Tueni was more than just a giant of the newspaper business.
He was involved in some of the most seminal moments of the country’s history as a diplomat and politician and cemented an unusual and controversial tradition of trying to value political participation at his newspaper along with journalistic objectivity.
In 1951 Tueni became a 25-year-old MP. By 1953 he was deputy speaker of the house. He would go on to become deputy prime minister as well as the ambassador to Greece and later to the United Nations. He handled all his political duties while also running his newspaper that attempted to be objective. Tueni’s son Gebran and granddaughter Nayla, who now runs the newspaper, carried on his politics and journalism tradition.
After a short-lived stint as a member of the Social Syrian Nationalist Party, Tueni was a lifelong advocate of national independence and sovereignty.
His call at the United Nations Security Council to “let my people live, let my people live” was the emotional force behind the 1978 U.N. resolution to establish the UNIFIL peacekeeping force in south Lebanon. As a March 14 coalition MP in 2006 Tueni delivered the petition for pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud’s resignation after the killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
His newspaper leaned heavily against the Syrian occupation and his son Gebran and An-Nahar columnist Samir Kassir were killed for their stances against that occupation.
Later in his life Tueni was also very involved in Lebanon’s university system.
He was a founding president of the University of Balamand and on the AUB Board of Trustees where he received a doctorate for his achievements.
Tueni’s wife died from cancer in 1983. His son Makram was killed in a car crash in 1987.
In 2009, Tunei received the Lebanese Order of Merit from President Michel Sleiman for his life’s work.