When I saw his face flash up on TV, I thought I recognized him. Turning up the sound and hearing the story, I knew I did.
I had met Gibran Tueni at a conference in Jordan a couple of years ago. At the time, he was running the Lebanese daily An-Nahar. He hadn't yet gone into national politics.
While Lebanon was officially boycotting the conference - its trade minister at the time declared that it was "out of the question" for his country to participate in an event with a heavy Israeli presence - Tueni had told a Lebanese TV interviewer there that staying away from these kinds of gatherings would prevent Arabs from effecting any change.
We got talking at the end of a session devoted to media interaction across the region's various divides. I don't recall our entire conversation, but I remember being taken aback by the vehemence with which he criticized the ongoing Syrian presence in his country - something, he said, that could no longer be remotely justified now that Israel had pulled back to the international border. He told me that ordinary Lebanese wanted the Syrians out, and unleashed bitter criticism of the regime in Damascus for maintaining a stranglehold on his country.
What surprised me most of all, though, was that he said he consistently wrote all of this, and worse, in his newspaper.
When I marveled that he could openly publish strident anti-Syrian comment on his pages, he insisted that this was absolutely the case. And when I asked whether he wasn't putting his life at risk in doing so, he appeared to consider the question a little fanciful.
Late last spring, Tueni was elected to the Lebanese parliament, carried into office on the wave of anti-Syrian sentiment that had been sweeping through Lebanon since the assassination of former prime minister Rafik Hariri in February.
He continued to write regularly for An-Nahar, however, and I am indebted to MEMRI (the Middle East Media Research Institute) for translating excerpts from a column he wrote there just last week.
As was his habit, Tueni was virulent in his assault on the Syrians. He castigated Damascus for failing to resolve the Shaba Farms (Mount Dov) border dispute with Lebanon and Israel. Broadening the attack, he asserted that the Assad regime "does not want to recognize Lebanon as having clear, internationally recognized borders, and does not want to recognize that Lebanon never was and never will be part of Syria."
Relating specifically to the Hariri killing, Tueni mocked Syrian claims of innocence in the affair, asserting that "Syria will be pleased with the international investigation commission in one case only: if Judge Detlev Mehlis concludes that al-Hariri 'committed suicide.'" He then went on to highlight the other recent sudden deaths that Syria would have us believe were suicides - including that of Lebanese MP Basil Fleihan, who was blown up in the same explosion that killed Hariri; fellow An-Nahar columnist Samir Kassir, blown up in his car in June; George Hawi, a former Lebanese Communist Party leader and prominent anti-Syrian politician who died the same way in the same month; and Ghazi Kan'an, the Syrian interior minister, who was found dead in his office two months ago, at the height of the Mehlis investigation.
Aged 48, Tueni himself joined the lengthening list of the dead three days after this column appeared, blown up on Monday by a massive bomb that was detonated as his car made its way though the Beirut suburbs. His killing anything but coincidentally, occurred shortly before publi cation of the latest Mehlis report to the UN, which cited new evidence of Syria's role the murder of Hariri.
Tueni had evidently longsince been disabused of the notion that he could criticize Syria with impunity. Indeed, he had been spending much of his time in France, for fear of assassination at home. Hav ing only returned from one such trip the previous day, he was traveling in an armorplated car, in what was supposed to have been a protec tive motorcade, when he was targeted.
News reports, unsurprising ly, quoted the Syrians immediately insisting they had nothing to do with this latest murder. Or then again, reading exactly what a minister in Damascus told Lebanese tele vision, maybe the Syrians did n't claim that at all. What Mehdi Dakhlallah, Assad's information minister, actually said of the killing of Gibran Tueni was: "Those who are behind this are the enemies Lebanon."
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>