The closing of Dar Assayad is the end of an era in Lebanon

There was and there continues to be a need to create in Lebanon an atmosphere that cannot tolerate diversified media.
Sunday 07/10/2018
End of  journey.  A Lebanese vendor displays newspapers in the southern port city of Sidon.                       (AFP)
End of journey. A Lebanese vendor displays newspapers in the southern port city of Sidon. (AFP)

It doesn’t take much analysis to conclude that the closing of the Lebanese publishing house Dar Assayad, which published al Anwar newspaper, says a lot about the conditions in Lebanon.

When a venerable newspaper such as al Anwar or a magazine like Assayad — as old as independent Lebanon itself — plus an excellent art publication Al-Shabaka stop appearing, a new horrible reality has settled in Lebanon.

Not long ago, this small country was overflowing with life and new ideas. In 2018 it is unable to resolve the electricity and the garbage crises plaguing it. During the 1960s, Lebanon had one of the major airports in the world. Today, it looks more like a desolate airport in a remote third world country.

Surely there were many reasons that led to the closing of Dar Assayad, some of which had to do with family considerations of the owners. However, if Dar Assayad’s managers had to resort to that ultimate solution, the case must have been desperate.

With the disappearance of Dar Assayad, another piece of Lebanon falls during a time the country is witnessing the programmed crumbling of its institutions. The latest sign of deterioration is the protracted failure to form a cabinet. Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri was officially entrusted by the newly elected parliament to form a new government five months ago.

Killing Lebanese media is one facet of the vicious campaign targeting Lebanon and aiming at impoverishing it in every domain so it becomes easy prey. This campaign was at work previously when an excellent newspaper, As-Safir, had to stop publication at the end of 2016.

With each closure, the spirit of diversity, which happens to be at the heart of Lebanon’s character on all levels, takes a direct hit. Looking at the past half-century in Lebanon brings the realisation that it was miraculous that Lebanese mass media had survived all the tumultuous events of that period.

This seems like the end of the media’s heroic stance in Lebanon. More than anything else, the media scene in Lebanon has been victimised by the unfair and premeditated shrinking of the country’s role in the region and by turning it into a “hostage” of the so-called “Axis of Resistance.” In practice, reducing Lebanon’s role in the region to a mere propaganda tool for Iran and company was entrusted to the sectarian militias in the country.

There are misconceptions about Lebanese media in general and specifically about several Lebanese magazines and newspapers. Before 1975, daily newspapers an-Nahar, al-Anwar and al Hayat and magazines al-Hawadith (politics) and al Chabaka (arts) balanced their budgets because Lebanon was a huge media market.

The disappearance of Dar Assayad is not just another current event. It must be treated as significant because it shows that the campaign against Lebanese media has, to a large extent, achieved its goals.

At some point, there was a need to silence Beirut. Closing Dar Assayad is another step on that path. There was and there continues to be a need to create in Lebanon an atmosphere that cannot tolerate diversified media and will not accept any view not in line with those of the “Axis of Resistance.”

To understand why, go to the end of 2003 when Syrian President Bashar Assad received Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Three other Syrian officials — Ghazi Kanaan, minister of the interior at the time; Rustom Ghazaleh, head of Syrian intelligence in Lebanon; and Mohammed Khallouf, head of the Syrian observers in Lebanon — also attended. Assad humiliated Hariri and then asked three things of him, including for Hariri to immediately sell his shares in al-Nahar, which he did shortly after his return to Beirut.

Almost two years later, Hariri was assassinated. Shortly after, Samir Qasir, the leading commentator at al-Nahar, was assassinated and so was journalist Gebran Tueni. The purpose was to silence al-Nahar.

Al-Nahar continues to appear despite its deep financial crisis but the objective of the Syrian regime has been achieved. Al-Nahar is a shadow of its former self, with no fighting spirit left. It is the perfect example of what is desired of the media in Lebanon.

The assassination of the Lebanese mass media started with the arrival of the Syrian regime’s Arab Deterrent Force in Lebanon in 1976. The closing of al-Anwar is the final outcome of the trend started by the Syrian regime. To tell the truth, al-Anwar had been declining for the past few years and was headed for oblivion were it not for its articles by Elham Said Freiha and Rafik Khouri.

Is it possible to say a final goodbye to Lebanese newspapers? Perhaps, it would be rash to go down that pessimistic road but, given the total breakdown threatening Lebanon, nothing can be excluded.