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Lebanon mourns veteran journalist, politician Ghassan Tueni

In this picture taken in April, 2008, Ghassan Tueni, a veteran Lebanese journalist and politician who headed one of the Arab world's leading newspapers An-Nahar for decades, arrives at the Lebanese parliament, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: Lebanese leaders and religious figures on both sides of the political spectrum praised Friday veteran journalist, politician and diplomat Ghassan Tueni, who died at 86, as a unique example of patriotism and a staunch defender of freedoms, saying his death was a great loss for Lebanon and the Arab world.

“This man was an example of true patriotism. He defended Lebanon in all international forums through a diplomacy which was never lenient on national principles,” Prime Minister Najib Mikati said in a statement.

“The ‘let my people live’ speech became a demand by all,” Mikati said, referring to a famous speech delivered by Tueni as Lebanon’s representative at the United Nations Security Council which was the emotional force behind the 1978 U.N. resolution to establish the United Nations peacekeeping force in south Lebanon known as UNIFIL.

“We will miss him in the National Dialogue sessions. He was a main pillar of the dialogue, where he called for the unity of Lebanon and its people and strongly defended its distinctive coexistence formula. His right opinions united rather than divided,” he added.

Speaker Nabih Berri praised Tueni as one of the pillars of National Dialogue.

“We will always miss him because we loved him and I was one of those. I think what Ghassan Tueni left behind is eternal, by which I mean An-Nahar newspaper,” Berri said in a statement after offering his condolences to Tueni’s family and the press at Saint Nicolas Greek Orthodox Church in Ashrafieh.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri lauded Tueni as “a legendary figure and a staunch defender of freedom.”

“Rarely have so many titles gathered to describe great men like they have with the great late Ghassan Tueni, who occupied a special place in Lebanon’s conscience. The generations who followed his example and learned from him will never forget these titles: a distinctive politician, an intelligent diplomat and a great writer, journalist and thinker, who defended freedom and became one of its most fervent guardians for more than half a century,” Hariri said in a statement.

He added that Tueni did not bend or back down and he never changed his national convictions and orientations despite threats to his life and imprisonment and even when his only son, Gebran Tueni, was assassinated in a car bomb in 2005 while serving as An-Nahar’s editor-in-chief.

Information Minister Walid Daouk, who described Tueni as the “doyen of Lebanese Journalism,” said the An-Nahar head had “dreamed of a unified country” and that throughout his working life as a Lebanese politician and envoy he “always [tried] to translate this dream [into reality].”

Former President and Kataeb Party leader Amin Gemayel said Tueni’s death was “a great loss for Lebanon, the Arab world and the world as a whole.” He said Tueni, who had served as a political adviser to Gemayel when he was president, had been a very successful ambassador to the United Nations. “Tueni was able to get [U.N. Security Council] Resolution 425 to Lebanon which was very essential to the liberation of the country and protection of its national sovereignty,” Gemayel said.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai phoned Tueni’s granddaughter, Beirut MP Nayla Tueni, and offered his condolences. “With Tueni’s absence, Lebanon has lost a great man who had sincerely given much to the press and politics,” Rai said in a statement.

Grand Mufti Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani said Lebanon had lost a national figure and “a symbol of the Lebanese press,” while Sheikh Abdul-Amir Qabalan, the vice president of the Higher Shiite Council, hailed Tueni as “a great journalist and a veteran diplomat and politician.”

The late Tueni, who headed one of the Arab world’s leading newspapers, An-Nahar, for half a century, died Friday at the American University of Beirut Medical Center where he was admitted more than month ago after a history of heart problems.

Born on Jan. 5, 1926, to a Greek Orthodox Christian family, Tueni studied philosophy at AUB and went on to earn an M.A. in political science from Harvard University in 1947. He returned to Lebanon and took over An-Nahar, founded by his father, serving as its editor-in-chief and publisher for decades.

He was involved in some of the most seminal moments of the country’s history as a diplomat and politician, cementing a controversial tradition of trying to value political participation at his newspaper along with journalistic objectivity.

In 1951 Tueni became an MP at 25. By 1953 he was deputy speaker of the house. He would go on to become deputy prime minister and the ambassador to Greece and later to the UN. He handled all his political duties while 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.

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 it.

Tueni’s life was marked with tragedy. In addition to Gebran’s assassination, his wife Nadia, a poet, died young after a struggle with cancer, as did his daughter, Nayla, at the age of 7. His son Makram died in a car accident in Paris in 1987.

At his son’s funeral, Tueni stood at the altar and pleaded, “Let us bury hatred and revenge along with Gebran.”

Tueni is survived by his wife, Shadia al-Khazen, and four granddaughters. His funeral will be held Saturday in Beirut.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 09, 2012, on page 1.

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