For more than half a century as journalist, politician, diplomat, and educator, Ghassan Tueni has been in the vanguard of the struggle for Lebanese freedom, independence, and national sovereignty. For him the freedom of the press has always been sacrosanct. Through his direction and thousands of editorials written over the years, he has made his newspaper,
An-Nahar, a compelling and trusted voice in Lebanon and throughout the Arab world.
Currently trustee emeritus of the Board of Trustees, Tueni began his AUB career as a student in philosophy (BA '45). He was a lecturer in political science from 1947 to 1948, and later served as member of the Board of Trustees from 1988 to 2002, when he became trustee emeritus. Over the years he has been a frequent lecturer at the University, speaking before student and other groups. He was commencement speaker in 1993 and Founders' Day speaker and guest of honor in 2002.
The competing tensions of his several careers emerged in 1947 when he 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, from 1948 until 1999. In 2003 he once again resumed his duties as editor-in-chief.
The intertwined journalistic, political, and diplomatic careers of Ghassan Tueni read like a history of Lebanon. His diplomatic and political activities paralleled his journalism. In 1951, at the age of only 25 he became a member of parliament. Serving until 1957, he was also 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.
Ghassan Tueni calls his half-century of journalism "a long, maybe too long, quest for liberty." Of his early decision to give up his graduate studies at Harvard and remain with the newspaper his father had founded, Tueni wrote that he made it a point "never to forget to measure policy by the yardsticks of liberty, human rights, national self-determination, democracy, and international peace based on justice."
In defense of these principles and above all, of the freedom of the press, Tueni was jailed several times early in his career. He went from government to jail to government. But Tueni was able to call these "glorious days - not withstanding the miseries of jail for weeks and months" - because they revealed the Lebanese press as defender of "freedom of information and opinion. . . , organizing the people's defense of their liberty, their civil, economic, and political rights."
Ghassan Tueni continued his pursuit of press freedom throughout the Lebanese civil war of 1958 and beyond. In 1970-71 he was deputy prime minister and minister of information and national education, but was once again briefly jailed. From 1975 to 1977 he was minister of social affairs, industry, and information, while continuing his work on the newspaper. During the civil war years readers referred to
An-Nahar as the "guardian of the national conscience, human rights, and moral values in society and politics."
As Lebanon's ambassador to the United Nations from 1977 to 1982, he recalls "yelling, literally yelling, in a Security Council meeting, 'Let my people live!' and proclaiming before the General Assembly, 'My country is not for hire nor for sale!'" During his five-year career with the United Nations, Tueni saw the passage of 28 resolutions in favor of Lebanon, including the historic Resolution 425 demanding the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Lebanese soil.
On his return to Beirut during the 1982 Israeli occupation, he continued his tireless support of efforts to end foreign occupation of the country. When he directly advised Lebanese presidents Tueni maintained his newspaper's neutrality, opening its pages to all points of view and vehemently condemning all violence. Not even the severe difficulties on the ground - a divided city, dangerous travel, and constant threats of bombing and shelling - deterred the ongoing mission of
An-Nahar in the waning years of the war.
Tueni's history in journalism goes beyond the pages of
An-Nahar. He was cofounder and president from 1970 to 1972 of the Board of Directors of the French daily,
L'Orient-Le Jour. During the war years, after the occupation of the
An-Nahar building by the Syrian army, he and his son started publishing a weekly paper in Paris. He was founder and former chairman of the Press Cooperative, SAL, and since 2000, has been president and director general of Les Editions Dar
Yet Ghassan Tueni has always been more than a journalist; he has left his mark on government, on the reconstruction of Beirut and Lebanon, and on the arts and education. As a young man he was cofounder and lecturer at the Lebanese Academy of Law and Political Science from 1951 to1954. In 1988 he was among the founders, and from 1990 to 1993, founding president of the University of Balamand. Former vice president of the National Heritage Foundation, he has also served as president of the board of the Ibrahim Sursock Museum since 1998.
In addition to numerous essays and articles written since 1952 in Arabic and English on the Middle East, Palestine, and the Lebanese wars, Ghassan Tueni's publications include
Laissez vivre mon people! 1984;
Une guerre pour les autres, 1985; and in Arabic,
Letters to President Sarkis, 1995
; Professional and Other Secrets, 1995;
The Republic on Vacation, 1992, 2004; and, with Jean Lacouture and Gérard D. Khoury,
Un siècle pour rien, 2003.
Introducing Ghassan Tueni's speech on the reconstruction of Lebanon delivered at Harvard University in 1997, Dean of the Faculty of Design Peter G. Rowe added to Tueni's description of himself as "'only a working journalist,'" the words "statesman, humanitarian, man of letters, and perhaps above all, social, as well as political conscience."
NB: Unless otherwise indicated, the quotations in the above summary are taken from Tueni's 1999 George Antonius Memorial Lecture at Oxford University, "Fifty Years of Liberty and Turbulence."