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Days that Left Their Mark

Days that Left Their Mark

Monday, 22 March, 2021 - 09:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

It was a long time ago. I made extraordinary efforts to persuade Mohsen Ibrahim, Secretary-General of the Communist Action Organization in Lebanon, to record some of his memories if he could not go further. The reason for my insistence was the characteristics of the person and the particularity of his role, in addition to the close relations that linked him with three men from the region: Gamal Abdel Nasser, Yasser Arafat and Kamal Jumblatt.

Ibrahim’s relationship with the late Egyptian leader is well known. And his ties with the Lebanese leader were very close. As a journalist, I examined the extent of Arafat’s appreciation of Ibrahim, who had the right to bring the visiting journalist into Abu Ammar’s office without permission or formalities.

Mohsen Ibrahim agreed, and we have explored his rich memory, which included accounts and friendships that extended from Algeria to Aden.

I started preparing the episodes to get his initial approval on the release date. On the next trip to Beirut, he called to say that he wanted to see me. I was excited as I thought the time has come to publish his interviews. But I was surprised to hear him say: “I know that what I am asking for will annoy you… But I consider you a friend, so I ask you not only to forget about publishing the dialogue, but to give me the recording tapes to keep them with me, with a promise that we would publish them when possible.”

I was upset and wanted to know why. He replied: “I am worried about my security. My interviews might get me in trouble. You know I'm not one of those who feel afraid, but I have to act responsibly. I know these systems and their rooted assassination culture. Your file could be on the shelf, but then put on the table for the execution phase. Poor is he who thinks he enjoys immunity that provides him with some protection. Kamal Jumblatt’s Druze leadership and his Arab and international relations could not save him from assassination. Moreover, my appearance after a long silence should serve a purpose in a certain political atmosphere.”

I asked him whether the matter had anything to do with accusations that hinted at his role in the negotiations of the Oslo Accords on Arafat’s side, he responded: “Whoever intends to target you can find sensitive points, and can also blame you for things that you have never done.”

He added: “I know that you will keep the contents of the tapes, but I trust that you will not publish them at any inconvenient time. On the other hand, we will continue our open dialogue, and you can take notes if you hear anything of value.”

Ibrahim used expressions that drew my attention: “The conditions in the country are not reassuring”… “The coming days may be more difficult”… “The number of forces that believe in violence is increasing.”

He continued: “The state in Lebanon has a fragile structure.”

I was also struck by a phrase he jokingly said: “They elected Emile Lahoud as president to assist (the Syrian general) Ghazi Kanaan in running Lebanon.”

Years later, he said: “Michel Aoun did not reach the presidency through elections. These formalities are of no value. He arrived through a series of coups, including the events of May 7, which put the political forces before a fatal choice: either political vacuum or surrender to a candidate named Michel Aoun.”

He continued: “Aoun was paid the price for the position he took with regard to (Hezbollah’s) weapons and the series of assassinations that followed the killing of Rafik Hariri. He was rewarded with the presidency of the republic.”

I interviewed Ibrahim one day about the days that left their mark. We talked about June 1967, the “October War”, the Iranian revolution, the exit of the Palestinian resistance from Beirut in 1982 and the invasion of Kuwait. I found him interested in two particular days: The US Army attack on Saddam Hussein’s regime on March 20, 2003 and the assassination of Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005.

Ibrahim said the US army toppling Saddam’s regime provided Iran with a historic opportunity to pour into the region, which had been impossible with the Baath regime. He noted that Bashar “al-Assad was not a fan of Iran at the beginning of his tenure. His fear that he would be the next target of the US Army prompted him to engage with Iran in a plan to prevent the establishment of a stable, pro-Western Iraqi government in Baghdad.”

He also saw that large parts of the Arab world would pay the price of removing Iraq from the equation, and with it the Syrian regime joining the Iranian project after the withdrawal of its forces from Lebanon.

Ibrahim believed Hariri was assassinated in wake of the new balance created after Saddam’s ouster. He noted that the assassination might be more dangerous than the killing of Kamal Jumblatt and Bashir Gemayel, because it aimed at putting Lebanon in a different axis. He also said he believed that the Syrian regime was seriously harmed in the assassination, as it had lost its most important card - the military presence in Lebanon - which would have enabled it to use the “Lebanese arena” to solve its problems and ensure its interests. He considered that the withdrawal was perhaps one of the factors that, years later, contributed to the terrible crisis in Syria.

I remembered the words of Mohsen Ibrahim on the occasion of the anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq. I also recalled his words when he told me: “I fear that you will have an early retirement. Lebanon’s problems are bigger than the country itself and much bigger than its politicians. It won’t be long before you won’t be able find anyone to interview or whose memoirs to publish. The country is falling. Michel Aoun is part of an agenda to create a problem, not a solution. Hezbollah’s agenda is greater than the ability of the Lebanese structure to contain. The sects do not know how to win or lose. The prospects for state-building in Lebanon are bleak.”

I remembered the words because Lebanon continues its decline, while the number of people living below the poverty line increases in that area between Beirut and Baghdad.

Fortunately, Mohsen Ibrahim left before witnessing the final chapter of Lebanon’s story. I also recalled the day I went to see him following the assassination of his companion, George Hawi. He said: “Did I not tell you? There are those who are assassinated because of their present, others because of their future, and there are those who are assassinated because of their past.”

Those days left their mark on the destinies of peoples, individuals and maps.

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