The Pope in Lebanon

Pope-Benedict-XVI-lebanonEarly this year, Pope Benedict had a three-day visit to Cuba, where he called for greater freedom and a bigger role for the Catholic Church in the communist-led nation, warning against radicals. Celebrating Mass in Havana’s Revolution Square to a crowd estimated by the Vatican at 300,000, the Pope said both Cuba and the world needed change ”but this will occur only if each one is in a position to seek the truth”. While urging Cubans to seek out ”authentic freedom” he also criticized ”restrictive economic measures imposed from outside” in reference to a half-century-long US embargo against Latin America’s single dictatorship.

The Pope in his homily cited a biblical passage in which men persecuted by a king preferred to face death rather than betray their conscience.”There are those who wrongly interpret this search for the truth, leading them to irrationality and fanaticism,” he told the crowd, including the communist party leadership.

Today, the Pope is arriving to Lebanon after the historical visit of his predecessor Pope John-Paul II in 1997.When John-Paul II came to Lebanon, the Lebanese government was largely dominated by Syria. The Pope had to convince extremists of both Christian and Muslim faiths to ignite a permanent dialogue with one another and to persuade young Christians not leave their homeland.The Pope called for the international community to help the Lebanese “live peacefully” within borders “respected by all.” The Pope also had to face the rising religious tensions in a land that was once a model of diversity in an agitated Middle East.Three years later, Israel pulled its troops out of South Lebanon and western Bekaa Valley in May 2000. Seven years later, Syrian troops evacuated Lebanon.

Did the papal visit make any difference?

Yes, John Paul II actually came here and said openly that Lebanon and the Lebanese needed to embrace change, and this change saw the light in 2005 after the assassination of PM Rafic Hariri.

In 2001, the Pope made another historic visit to Damascus where he was again received by all religious leaders. Tens of thousands of Muslims and Christians attended the Mass he celebrated in Damascus soccer stadium.

John Paul II told the crowd, “In this holy land, Christians, Muslims and Jews are called to work together with confidence and boldness and to work to bring about without delay the day when the legal rights of all peoples are respected and they can live in peace and mutual understanding.”

The Pope’s presence there highlighted the rich mix of cultures and history of Syria especially by visiting Umayyad Mosque. He made a point on how Christianity and the preceding Roman Empire were deeply rooted in the Middle East. In the Umayyad Mosque, the head of St. John the Baptist is believed to be buried under a tomb.To the Pope it seemed it was simply a holy place for humanity to commune with God regardless of the religion. It was another mark of his deep respect for all individuals and all faith.

What is John Paul’s final legacy to Lebanon and the neighboring countries? I guess we are seeing it: dialogue, tolerance, political freedom; however, those values are threatened today.

Lebanon and the region have never been as divided as they are today.Benedict’s visit coincides within an absolute turmoil the Arab World is witnessing.With the new regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, with the chaos in Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon-last but not least-; we are all looking up at that visit and wondering

“What is the Pope bringing to us? Is his visit purely “pastoral” or far above that?

Meanwhile, our hearts are with him; God bless him.


The rooster of the Arab world is silent…for good.

The knotted journalistic, political, and diplomatic careers of Ghassan Tueni narrate the history of Lebanon.

“Statesman, humanitarian, man of letters, and perhaps above all, social, as well as political conscience”, Ghassan Tueni always described himself as “only a working journalist”.
For him the freedom of the press has always been sacred. With thousands of editorials written over the years, Ghassan Tueni has made An-Nahar a persuasive and trustworthy voice in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world.
For more than half a century as journalist, politician, diplomat, and educator, he has been in the frontline of the struggle for Lebanese freedom, independence, and national sovereignty.
In 1947, Ghassan Tueni was called away from studies in political science at Harvard University (MA ’47) by the sudden death of his father, Gebran. He returned to Beirut and took over the newspaper his father had founded in 1924. He then served as editor-in-chief and editor-publisher of An-Nahar newspaper for more than half a century.
In 1951, at the age of only 25 he became a Member of Parliament and speaker of the house from 1953 to 1957, and member of the Lebanese UN delegation in 1957. He later served as deputy prime minister, as head of several ministries, as emissary and personal counselor of presidents of the republic, and as Lebanon’s UN ambassador.

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William Zoghbi: International Lebanese success story

William Zoghbi, the chief of the Division of Cardiac Imaging at The Methodist Hospital is taking over the presidency of the 40,000-member American College of Cardiology, today March 26, at the college’s annual scientific session in Chicago.

William Zoghbi, M.D, is taking the helm of the world’s largest scientific society for cardiology in the midst of dramatic changes to the national health care landscape. In response to these changes, Zoghbi says he will use his presidency to improve patients’ access to the best health information, and to provide new tools for health care providers to improve the patient-physician relationship and better effect care.

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Venus.. We all bow to you!

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Every morning she wakes up, forgetting that she has published 40 books, translated to many languages and she says “but what have I done to deserve the title of a writer?”

Today, we shall be dwelling upon the story of a woman inhabited by great anxiety: Venus Khoury-Ghata. I had the chance of having her on one of my shows and this article is dedicated to her at a time where the whole world is celebrating her latest success which is the 2011 Goncourt Prize.

Born in modest circumstances, Venus was elected Miss Lebanon in 1959. After her marriage to renowned developer Joseph Khoury, she discovered Beirut’s worldly and lavish social life through fancy evenings, reigned by long dresses, cocktails and candlelight that made her giddy with happiness. It was the Beirut when “men’s looks made women beautiful”. Her days were spent grooming for evening events “to see people look at me with great admiration”; she was trying to seduce, to please, even from far. She had to please at all costs…

With three children in three years, a deep feeling inside of her knew that her husband was leading a different life but it meant nothing to her; somewhere in her, it does not hurt her since she thinks everyone has flaws through his life. Her first husband was taken by a beautiful woman who also became his wife.
Venus anticipated the death of her parents to write and reveal taboos she had to face; she therefore brought to light a book entitled “The House in Tears”. A brother poet goes to Paris to publish his poems; the city of Moliere does not publish his poems but takes him to the hell of drugs. He returned to Lebanon, completely lost, and his father, as punishment, instead of sending him to a rehab center sends him to an asylum where he lived in seclusion for 18 years. So, when her brother stopped writing, she wrote for him; she wrote in his notebook, with his pen, carrying a legacy of poetry that was his. Otherwise, she would have never written!

So, here she comes to Paris where her life changed overnight. We are in 1972. She needed a man to protect her, a strong man. If her first husband gave her what she missed in her childhood, she felt the need to have a companion who speaks her language, someone who speaks Arts and Culture… She met a remarkable researcher, Jean Ghata, and suddenly found herself in a different world. Among the medical and the academic communities, she flourished and became who she is.

After years of excessive and intense social life, here are Chillida, Miró, Bram Van Velde, all the great painters of the Maeght Foundation. It was the culmination of all her ambitions, a man she loves, a man she admires, who introduced her to painting and to all sorts of music, from Handel, Mozart or Beethoven, and whenever she saw him speaking among the Nobel Prize laureates, the leading scientists, the great poets, a sense of pride stirred up in her, and her only prevailing thought was ” I want to grow old with him, I want to grow old with him! “. When he left, it was madness; she went completely crazy. Venus felt the exile, the loneliness believing there is a curse on her as if she is doomed to live alone. But she is originally from Besharre, the village of Gebran Khalil Gebran and the land of Cedars; she is therefore unbreakable…Doesn’t she always repeat that “men are like trees although they walk contrary to the tree which spends its life in a same place facing in the same direction?”

The day her first book was published, she thought the whole world was hers. When she was once selected for the National Book Award, she had to tour 12 universities and institutes, French and American, in the United States. The moment she saw her books in bookstores, she said “Oh girl, you came from a village in Northern Lebanon where they run barefoot on pebbles, on the shingle, jumping creeks, you come from a village where they pick up snakes on sticks and scare shopkeepers people in the street”, and now that she has been through all these villages, all these cities, she comes to Paris, it’s not enough.. she published in all European countries; and now, she is in America! It was for her a real drink..

Today, when she thinks back of her years in Beirut, she realizes how fake that life was. It amuses her to believe that she could be loved … In fact, she has not been loved but she perhaps enjoyed a game which was not authentic. The authenticity came later with the austere life she lead- the living, the working, the sharing of thoughts with the most influential people in writing and painting, and the meetings with people discussing books, journalists, writers, people from television and radio. Instead of pleasing, she had to write things that would please. “At what time and when shall I give candlelight dinners, buy beautiful evening dresses, put makeup on, and have a haircut? I would love to find that time. I changed and became another human being. I sleep with books, wake up with books”, she constantly repeated.

When I asked her whether the dream or the reality prevails in her life, she answered: “Certainly the dream, I’m a big dreamer, I’m still full … I’m much more in the dream than in reality because if I see reality, I would say “My God, what have I done wrong in my life to end up like that, with only two cats sleeping in my bed with my kids away from me…it is terrible to have 4 children when none of them is around you, it’s a fiasco Ricardo, isn’t it?”

Venus Khoury-Ghata won the prestigious 2011 Goncourt Prize for poetry. In Lebanon, the Media hardly mentioned the wonderful news. Stories of our “remarkable” singers are much more important. Well, this is Lebanon of today. Nothing has changed. Actually, it can’t be worse and definitely wouldn’t get any better.

Fassouh disaster far from “Camelot” Kingdom

Photo Credit: NOW Lebanon Website


This is Lebanon, a country constantly bleeding with almost similarities between the load of grief and the innocent victim. But the form of death is not the same.

As mourners return home, they write the name of mercy on their wall and beg that death gives life to their beloved country. Enough coffins in Beirut! Let our people live and our city celebrate in joy and peace of mind. We have mourned thousands of friends, family members and innocent people for over 3 decades. Dying for silly reasons is the peak of madness.

Do you allow us to choose the “Camelot”, Kingdom of happiness and life, where people love and laugh and sing (equally) and rise above the wickedness of swearing? Not.

On July 20th of 1969, the day Neil Armstrong descended to the moon and spent 2½ hours exploring, six thousand people had already passed away as result of a football game between Honduras and El Salvador which finished: one – zero. The Football War (La guerra del fútbol, in Spanish), also known as the Soccer War or 100 hour War, was a four-day war .It was caused by political conflicts between Hondurans and Salvadorans, namely issues concerning immigration from El Salvador to Honduras. These existing tensions between the two countries coincided with the inflamed rioting during the second North American qualifying round of the 1970 FIFA World Cup. After the Salvadoran army launched an attack against Honduras, a cease-fire took effect on July 20th, with the Salvadoran troops withdrawn in early August.

Who could believe that rational thinking which brought man to the moon also brought six thousand ignorant to death in a game, “amicable and friendly”?

Similarly, who could believe that a seven-story building, located in Fassouh, in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut, crashed to the ground on January 15, claiming the lives of 27 people and trapping a dozen others under the wreckage. In addition to Lebanese, citizens of Sudan, the Philippines, Egypt and other nations were killed when the building collapsed. A memorial service was held “to remember those who died because of negligence, and those who have been discriminated against by our racist community, even at desperate moments like these and after their horrifying deaths”, I read as I was away.

There is one truth in this climate, the corrupt and disturbing and frightening, is that our young people leave because they are infected with color-blind. Freedom shades its people. I have once read that, in Lebanon the fault is always on the dead man. Why? Because he is well known and the only unknown is always the killer.

In American contexts, the word “Camelot” is sometimes used to refer admiringly to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, as his term was said to have potential and promise for the future, and many were inspired by Kennedy’s speeches, vision, and policies.

At the time, Kennedy’s assassination had been compared to the fall of King Arthur. The lines “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot,” from the musical Camelot, were quoted by his widow Jacqueline as being from his favorite song in the score. “There’ll be great Presidents again,” she added, “but there’ll never be another Camelot again … it will never be that way again.”

Indeed, in Lebanon, it will never be that way again.

There will always be broken mothers, abandoned children and a bloody story to tell.


Huda Shaarawi

Huda Shaarawi, Siza Nebrawi and Nabawiya Moussa

88 years, she removed her veil in public at a Cairo train station announcing the beginning of a new path towards equality for the Arab Woman.

A couple of weeks ago, we remembered her in the middle of the Arab Spring carrying the flag of justice, freedom, progresses and facing the shadow of fundamentalism and the rise of the salafism claiming the monopoly of the absolute truth.

This is an occasion to shed the light on a central figure in early twentieth century Egyptian feminism. Born into a very wealthy family, Huda Shaarawi spent her early years in the harem. She was involved in philanthropic projects throughout her life. As a matter of fact, she created the first philanthropic society run by Egyptian women, offering social services for poor women and children. She argued that women-run social service projects were important for two reasons. First, by engaging in such projects, women would widen their horizons, acquire practical knowledge and direct their focus outward. Second, such projects would challenge the view that all women are creatures of pleasure and beings in need of protection.

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Danielle Mitterrand


Danielle Mitterand - photo credit: Manuelle Toussaint


When I first met Danielle Mitterrand, it was clear that I was in front of a one of a kind woman.

Indeed, our TV interview was uncommon, I have to confess, and I have always said it loudly.

Uncommon in every sense of the word; so was her life path, a quest for justice

Her life at the Elysees did not affect Danielle Gouze who, as a young woman, was awarded the War Cross for her work in the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation in World War II.

Confrontational advocate for the poor, she broke the mold as first lady refusing to play the role of decorative accessory to her husband during his 14 years in power, the longest of any French president.

“There is no traditional role for a first lady”, she said. “Each woman has her own personality and acts according to her conscience and her sensibilities”

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Pierre Amin Gemayel


I remember Pierre Amin Gemayel in his first TV appearance. It was in 1997 on the eve of our National day, November 22nd, just like today. I wonder how much independent we’ve been since 1943 and Rashaya’s captivity days! Anyhow, I had invited 8 grand-children of the pillars of the Lebanese Independence, among whom Pierre, to my weekly show at that time “Maraya”. When we first met, I was impressed by Pierre’s energy, vivacity, wit and courage. I recall Joyce, his mother, and Joseph Abou Khalil, the prominent writer, while preparing for the show with them, how supportive and excited they were. D-Day: Top Camera and here we went. I have to admit that Pierre was the star among the participants! Later on, Pierre started re-organising the Kataeb Party and he rose at the top among tycoons of local Politics. Our paths crossed occasionally afterwards as we rarely met. In 2006, just like today as well, he was savagely killed. Today, Lebanon is remembering him in the midst of an Arab Spring which might yield to an Arab Winter. God bless his soul and may every courageous Arab citizen perpetuate his living memory.