Abdallah Machnouk

Media, Freedom of Speech, Protests, and Abdallah Machnouk

As the anti-government protests in Lebanon continue and the crackdown on activists and protesters intensifies, the freedom of speech myth is quickly disappearing. A mini Lebanese awakening made all of us realize that we live in a republic where oppression seems to be the daily bread nowadays. After almost every protest or sit-in, several activists are arrested and sometimes beaten. Even censorship in Lebanon is at an all-time high. The country found out last month that the editors of a comic-book were ordered to pay a fine of 20000$ because of a Joke. In fact, a Lebanese security official has probably already read this sentence before you (and although you might be smiling after finishing it, he probably isn’t). Lebanon’s political class isn’t only turning a deaf ear to the rightful demands (accountability, an eco-friendly solution to the trash crisis, and parliamentary elections – They were cancelled twice, in 2013 and 2014 and postponed till 2017), but it is also trying to silence its own citizens. The most symbolic example: After pro-Berri men assaulted a man who was holding a banner criticizing the speaker of the parliament at one of the protests, Nabih Berri filed a lawsuit against that man for slander and defamation.

The sit-in protesters were treated like animals. One of YouStink’s best photographers, Hassan Chamoun, was recently beaten after being dragged from his car. Apparently, in Lebanon, you can be a photographer as long as you don’t photograph protests. Unless you want to end up with a black eye. The list goes on: Tear gas, water cannons, arrests, and many more. An activist was even held because he wrote “You Stink” on a Lebanese flag.)

That’s not all of it. The media – that is mostly controlled and owned by the political class – is waging a propaganda war against the protests. Future newspaper said on its 30 August front page – The day after the historic 29 August protest – that the “people wanted to elect a president and that “muchaghibin” wanted to bring down the regime” (الشعب يطالب برئيس.. والشغب يريد إسقاط النظام). In fact, electing a president wasn’t even one of the movement’s four priorities. Parliamentary elections – not a priority for the Future Movement – on the other hand, were. Another front page from Future newspaper in July said the trash crisis was over, and that Beirut could now breathe (أزمة النفايات حُلّت.. وبيروت «تتنفس» الصعداء). I would like to confirm that more than two month later, the trash crisis isn’t over and I’m currently smelling the lovely perfume of burned garbage while writing this sentence. The Al-Joumhouria’s front pages weren’t any better: ِThey accused some of the activists of being CIA agents, the source being a conspiracy theory blog that was closed the next day. Very professional, no? Another front page mentioned how “Thugs occupied Beirut” ” الزعران يحتلّون بيروت “(during one of the protests on the 8th of October, some chaos happened and a hotel’s glass was shattered. You Stink volunteered to fix it back. However, for the media, because a glass was shattered after protesters were hosed down, beaten, and suffocated with tear gas, the protesters all became thugs and our political class should thus be allowed to keep postponing elections and ignoring the trash crisis). Annahar also complained how the Journalists couldn’t get to their work in Down Town anymore because of the protests (don’t miss Elie’s criticism on the article).

Again, the list goes on. Oh, and that was just the print media.

I don’t think there are other ways from the media or the political class to insult our intelligence (or maybe there are, we’ll have to wait and see).

Anyway, and since it seems to be the all-time low of professionalism for Lebanon’s media outlets and since the crackdown on freedom of speech is getting more important by the day, here’s an article Abdallah Machnouk – Mohammad Machnouk’s father – wrote in Assayad after Fuad Chehab’s death in 1973. Machnouk talks about how Chehab asked for him in 1956 and questioned him because he added “…” (literally three points) after a sentence. He made him apologize for writing the “…”, and then kept on bullying him with the “…” even after he was elected president.

I’m republishing the “…” story for two reasons:

  • Abdallah Machnouk was clearly a victim of Chehabist oppression – he waited 16 years for Chehab to die in order to tell the story –  and now – the irony – his son is a minister who belongs to a political class that could teach methods of oppression and propaganda in universities.
  • In the end, Chehab died, and Machnouk told the story in what was supposed to be Chehab’s eulogy in Assayad. You can censor as much as you like, but it will eventually strike back at you: It’s an 1956 story that was told in 1973 and is being retold today, 60 years later, in 2015.

Freedom of speech always wins, and when it does, the story sticks even more.

Here’s the article (sorry, no English version. If anyone would like to translate it and post it in the comment section, please do.)

UPDATE:

One of the readers of the blog kindly translated the article in English and posted it on the post’s comment section on Facebook. Here it is:

I have met president ” Shehab” the time he was chief commander of the Lebanese army .
He summoned me upon writing my article in which I stated that the Lebanese army was adamant in preserving the 1948 ceasefire with Israel ( probably that was in 1956 after the triple attack ( France Britain and Israel ) on Egypt ) and followed these words with three points …
When I walked into his office accompanied by the head of the ” deuxieme bureau” (The name of the Army Mukhabarat at the time) he asked me about what I meant with the ” three points” or etc..
My reply was that I respect and value the Lebanese army and its leader and I did not mean a thing other than what I have mentioned otherwise I would have written it in words not in punctuation.
That is to begin with, secondly the editor and the worker can add  whatever they want in the printing including as many points as they want to which I am incapable of explaining.
Then he assured me that the Lebanese army will remain a defendant of Lebanon and will participate with fellow Arab countries in doing so. The meeting ended and I left and I didn’t meet with him until after he was elected as president of the Republic, and upon king Mohamad the fifth’s visit to Lebanon .
I was then invited along with my wife to attend a reception at the host’s house, Dr Feghali. As we were waiting in queue to meet and greet the president and his guest , president ” Shehab ” gestured for me to approach and when I did he told me that he shall introduce me to the king as the editor in chief of a Baathist newspaper published in Beirut where an article was published in that very same day attacking the Moroccan system and the monarchy .
I implored not to do so and that I will not repeat the mistake of the extra points. I went back to my place in the queue and when our turn was up he asked me : ” so mr abdallah? Are there any points ? ” so I smiled . Then he told the king ” I present to you mr abdallah el mashnouk the editor in chief of “Beirut El massa ” newspaper.
Time went by and I got elected as a deputy, then later I’ve become a minister for a period of 18 months in which I saw him once weekly at the cabinet session for a period of 6 hours each time. And even after his term ended, I visited intermittently at his house in Jounieh.
– And your impression about him ?
– Honest, objective, a great reader and doesn’t lack a sense of serious humour .. A bit withdrawn, tough and self-controlled which was fairly demonstrated during the incident of his cousin’s ” Henry Shehab ” death at the barbir’s hospital entrance during the events of 1958.. And despite all that he kept a neutral position preserving the unity of Lebanon .
– How do you explain his withdrawal from the public?
– I asked him once about the reason of him not inviting people over to his house and not throwing parties, he replied that he can’t come to a mutual understanding with exploiters and flatterers and bootlickers and I believe with this description he ruled out the majority of people.

 

Abdallah Machnouk Article

Abdallah Machnouk Article 2

On Abdallah Machnouk’s Resignation in 1961

Abdallah Machnouk (center)

Abdallah Machnouk (center). Image source.

It’s been a smelly month in Lebanon. For the past few weeks, thousands of citizens have been taking the streets asking for solutions to the garbage crisis and for the resignation of the environment minister Mohamad Machnouk, among other things. Earlier this week, activists held a sit-in inside the ministry, and on the 3rd of September, some Lebanese started a hunger strike in front of the environment ministry.

Until last month, Mohamad Machnouk was arguably one of the least known Lebanese ministers, and for obvious reasons: He’s a pro-Salam minister in the cabinet (so in a way or another, not directly M14 and definitely not M8) and serves in a ministry that was considered to be (at least by politicians) one of the least important ministries in the cabinet. He was also never a member of the parliament.

But his father was. In the 1950s Abdallah Machnouk was a prominent journalist from the opposition and had a role alongside Saeb Salam in the 1958 uprising against Chamoun.  Abdallah Machnouk subsequently ran in the 1960 parliamentary elections and won a seat in Beirut that he held till 1964. Salam would eventually bring him into two of his cabinets, first as minister of municipalities in 1960, then as interior and press minister in 1961.

It might seem at first as a boring history lesson from Lebanon’s forgotten past, but I did some digging and found out about this (from this book):

Le leader Sunnite de Beyrouth a dirigé deux gouvernements sous le ‘Ahd de Fouad Chehab: Le cabinet des dix-huit, du 1er aout 1960 au 20 mai 1961, et un cabinet restreint a huit membres du 20 Mai au 23 octobre 1961. A deux reprises pourtant, lors du deuxième gouvernement Salam d’une durée de 156 jours, le général doit arbitrer des conflits qui opposent son président du conseil à d’autres ministres. La tension s’envenime quand le chef de l’Etat prend des décisions qui contrarient son chef de gouvernement. La première grande crise ministérielle éclate le 13 septembre 1961. Saeb Salam s’oppose à la décision d’indemnisation (à hauteur de 500 000 livres libanaises) attribuée à Sami al-Solh, l’ancien premier ministre de Camille Chamoun, pour la destruction de sa maison lors des évènements de 1958. Comme ministre des Finances, Pierre Gemayel est chargé de verser l’indemnisation prévue dès 1958 par le cabinet Karamé de réconciliation nationale, et confirmée par le conseil d’Etat et la Cour des  comptes. Pierre Gemayel indique qu’il n’est pas disposé à revenir sur cette décision. Afin de protester contre cette mesure, Saeb Salam suivi d’Abdallah Machnouk, le ministre de l’intérieur, offrent brusquement leur démission au chef de l’Etat. L’autorité du général finit cette fois-ci par renoncer Salam, mais le principe de l’indemnisation à Sami al-Solh est finalement confirmé.

 In case you don’t know French (sorry, couldn’t find anything in English), it’s about the Prime Minister Saeb Salam (father of the current Prime Minister Tammam Salam) and his interior minister Abdallah Machnouk (father of the minister Mohamad Machnouk) resigning on the 13th of September 1961 as part of a political maneuver following a political feud in the cabinet (Gemayel wanted to give ex-PM Sami Solh – Saeb Salam’s Beiruti rival – 500 000 LBP as a compensation for his house that was destroyed in the 1958 events, and Saeb Salam didn’t want to) .  The irony here is crystal clear: Two Lebanese politicians in the cabinet are willing to resign for political gains, while their sons, exactly 54 years later, refuse to give concessions/resign even when 100 000 Lebanese protest and ask them to.

If those 54 years have taught us anything, it’s that the price of a politician’s house is more likely to bring a government down than the idea of a garbage belt surrounding Beirut.