George Hawi (1938-2005): A Man for All Seasons

By Iskandar Mansour

No one can write the history of the last four decades of Lebanon without devoting an in-depth chapter to the political and intellectual contributions of George Hawi. He was at the forefront of every struggle. The chapter begins in 1938, in the village of Btighrine, where George Anis Hawi was born, and ends in 2005, when he was buried in the village of his birth.

In 1955, at the age of 16, Hawi joined the Lebanese Communist Party (LCP). In a very short period of time Hawi‘s organizational and political skills earned him the respect of his comrades. As a result, by 1958 he was playing a leading role in that year’s uprising against the presidency of Camille Chamoun and the policy of Lebanon joining the “Baghdad pact” against Egyptian president Gamal Abd al-Nasser. From that time to the end of his life, Hawi devoted his energy, enthusiasm, optimism, and hope to the dream of a “free country and a happy people.” However, the dream was to remain only a dream, and Hawi was assassinated on June 22 in the city of Beirut. 

In the 1960s, when the younger generation within the LCP decided to rebel against the “old guard” in the name of rethinking the national question and restoring democratic rule, Hawi led the call both for changes in style and changes in policy. The new policy was understood not only as an attempt to bridge the gap between both the national and class dimensions of the struggle, but also as an attempt to Arabize Marxism, a notion that was neither fully articulated by Hawi nor by his colleagues.

When, in 1969, the historic demonstration Demonstration of April 23 took place in Beirut in solidarity with the newly emerging Palestinian movement, Hawi was there on the front lines. When the Lebanese confessional system collapsed in 1975, Hawi was there, too, to witness firsthand the birth of the Lebanese National Movement and its reformist program based on a secular democratic principle under the leadership of the late Kamal Jumblatt, the founder and the head of the Progressive Socialist Party.

In 1982, when Israel invaded Lebanon and occupied Beirut, Hawi called for all Lebanese, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, to join the Lebanese National Resistance Front against the Israeli occupation. Once the civil war ended, Hawi crossed the artificial lines which had divided the Lebanese during 15 years of war as he sought reconciliation and dialogue with his “old enemy” Samir Geagea, leader of the Lebanese Forces. Hawi knew that a new era in Lebanon was on the horizon: Lebanon was entering the Syrian era. This new era would require new politics, a new approach, and a new political forum.

Upon his resignation as secretary general of the LCP in 1993, Hawi addressed his comrades in a new language, a language not found in the dictionary of communists. He stated that truth is relative, as is Marxism. For Hawi, reality came first, and therefore the text must be amended to reflect changes in society. He wanted to change the old style, structure, even the name of the LCP, and make it relevant and a more inclusive political forum. Hawi desired that those who believed in the sovereignty of Lebanon, secularism, and social justice should be welcome not only to express their opinions, but also to have access to a tool which could rid Lebanon of all forms of hegemony, including Syrian.

For Hawi, the age of ideology had gone; now political activities are based on people’s daily experiences. He departed from the “either-or” logic in favor of a more relational approach to history and politics. For him, it was possible to be both an ardent believer in the sovereignty of Lebanon and a friend to Syria and the Palestinians; a socialist while still encouraging the free enterprise needed to build and strengthen the Lebanese economy. This new position with regard to the relationship between patriotism and nationalism reflects a less than fully-articulated self-criticism and re-evaluation of his thought regarding Arab Nationalism and Arabism. For Hawi, Arabism needs to depart from its Nasserite and Baathist authoritarian tradition for one more tolerant to both individual and minority rights. Unless Arabism is associated with freedom and democracy, it becomes a form of oppression.

Despite the signing of the Taif Agreement, which ended the civil war in Lebanon on a new power sharing formula between Christians and Muslims, Hawi believed that peace among the Lebanese was still fragile and that more serious dialogue was needed among all the Lebanese factions. His initiatives to hold a conference to encourage such dialogue had been ignored by Syria, the main hegemonic power in Lebanon, for years. As the Lebanese presidency of Emil Lahoud neared its end, Hawi was among the first to raise his voice against any attempt to renew Lahoud‘s term. Extending the president’s term was seen as an attempt to hijack and demean the will of the Lebanese people and to extend the life of the “Syrian-Lebanese intelligence system,” which had been in place since the end of the civil war.

The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri unleashed the largest popular reaction in the history of Lebanon, calling for both the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the truth regarding the identity of those responsible for this heinous crime. The withdrawal took place, but the assassins remained free to continue their work. Samir Kassir, a noted writer and journalist in An Nahar newspaper and an uncompromising critic of authoritarianism in the Arab world, particularly in Syria, was assassinated a few short months after Hariri. Just few months later, Hawi was  assassinated. Hawi, whose voice had spoken for freedom, democracy, and dialogue from his earliest days of political involvement, was a source of inspiration for many young Lebanese who took part in the popular rally on March 14, 2005.  Though the achievement of the March 14 coalition was of enormous significance in paving the way for immediate Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, Hawi voiced his concerns regarding the direction of this new popular movement. In fact, he believed that unless the leaders of the March 14 rally called for real reform based on a new electoral system as a first step toward the establishment of a modern state, the achievements of the March 14 movement would be in danger.

The chapter of the civil war cannot be closed with the intention of leaving the past behind us. The past shall always haunt us unless we deal with it openly and courageously. Hawi was the first –  and thus far the only – active leader in the civil war to reflect openly on the war by emphasizing his personal share of responsibility. We still have not heard from many of those who were active players during the civil war. By saying, “we were right,” the parties involved in the war fool no one, nor do they help further the process of dialogue and reconciliation that is sorely needed today.

This essay appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 11, no. 52 (Summer 2005) 
Copyright (c) 2005 by Al Jadid


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