Lebanon desperately needs a new political system
Thirty years ago to the day, at 9:01 a.m., a powerful car bomb exploded in front of 33 rue Marbeuf in Paris targeting the offices of Al-Watan Al-Arabi, the magazine that my late father Walid Abou Zahr had founded. The blast killed 30-year-old pregnant Nelly Guillerme and injured 63. The 22kg bomb in an orange Opel wreaked havoc on the streets of Paris in an unprecedented attack on a media outlet in France.
Al-Watan Al-Arabi was well known for his “insolence” towards the established order and his opposition to the Syrian regime. Indeed, a few years earlier, the offices of my father Al-Moharrer’s newspaper in Beirut had been attacked by Syrian-controlled Palestinian militias with heavy weapons. Opposition to the Syrian regime had two reasons: first and foremost, its intervention and occupation of Lebanon; later, and second, his alignment with Iran against Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war which began in 1980.
Over the years, there has been speculation as to why and who was responsible for the Rue Marbeuf bombing. In 2011, Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal was found guilty of planning an attack to free two members of his group imprisoned in France, and he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Al-Watan Al-Arabi had already been targeted in December 1981. A parcel bomb had been placed outside the door, but it had been defused in time. Several other assassination attempts against my father had also failed. But Carlos’ trial focused on the Marbeuf Street attack, while neglecting his obedience to Syrian Air Force intelligence. Al-Watan Al-Arabi, one of the biggest publicity-generating media outlets at the time with a quarter-million circulation, had become too dangerous and too powerful for the Syrian regime, and therefore had to be silenced.
The first call my father received condemning the attack was from Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, then governor of Riyadh province and now king of Saudi Arabia. At the time, there was no particularly strong connection between Al-Watan Al-Arabi and Saudi Arabia, but the phone call testified to the Kingdom’s understanding of the situation and the importance of the Lebanon in the region.
Looking back at all the facts and the situation at the time, everything indicates that the attack was aimed at Lebanon and not the Iraq-Iran war. Despite being framed that way by analysts, it was an early warning of things to come. This attack on an independent Lebanese media must therefore be placed on the same line as the assassination of President Bashir Gemayel later in the same year and the possibility of ending civil war and peace.
After 30 years and so many other attacks on Lebanese freethinkers, I can’t help but wonder what has changed in Lebanon. To this day, every voice or leader dreaming of sovereignty, freedom and independence – and, above all, capable of unifying the Lebanese people – is condemned and threatened with violence and erasure. Erosion has three forms: corruption, exile and death. There is no other option. How many free voices have been eradicated in the past 30 years? All. How much more will it take to achieve a free and independent state?
Today, the Syrian occupation of Lebanon, which ended after the assassination of Rafic Hariri, has been replaced by Hezbollah. After 30 years, Lebanon is still being punished for its diversity. Iran-sponsored Hezbollah controls and erodes the state in a steady and methodical manner, isolating the country from its regional neighbours.
Moreover, the real masterminds behind all these attacks go unpunished. They walk to our funeral, and we are forced to accept their condolences. The shifting geopolitical balances of the Middle East keep them protected, and it continues to reward evil, it seems. No need to relive these tectonic changes; it is enough to see that the civil war that raged in 1982 has been replaced by a new famine war in 2022. Yet we are not only victims but also accomplices of this situation which punishes us. We continue to put confession before the state. Loyalty is to the denomination, not the state; protection is sought from the denomination, not the state; and the duties go to the denomination, not to the state. Only grievances, complaints and shame go to the state.
We (the Lebanese people) are not only victims but also accomplices in this situation which punishes us.
Khaled Abou Zahr
And that’s why I can’t help thinking that Lebanon needs a new political system. More importantly, the Lebanese people should not (despite living under Iranian occupation) seek an outside savior to restore order and stability. If we look back in history, we will easily see that it was tried, and it never worked.
I firmly believe that federalism is the best solution, but that should be decided by the Lebanese people. The only certainty I have now is that for Lebanon to survive, it will have to give up its “insolence” and aim for neutrality vis-à-vis Syria, Iran and Israel.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and technology company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
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