Clovis Maksoud, pillar of the Arab-American community, dies at age 90
Washington - Clovis Maksoud, one of the most thoughtful and influential Arab-American personalities, has died in Washington.
Maksoud lived many lives in his 90 years: journalist, scholar, diplomat and activist. He was born in Oklahoma to Lebanese immigrant parents but was raised in Lebanon and educated at the American University in Beirut (AUB). He was a US citizen who served as a diplomat for the Arab League, including as the League’s chief representative to the United States and the United Nations from 1979-90.
He was senior editor of Cairo’s al-Ahram newspaper and later chief editor of Beirut’s An-Nahar Weekly, as well as a scholar who wrote several books and served as director of the Center for the Global South at American University in Washington DC.
In addition to his degree from AUB, Maksoud had a law degree from George Washington University in the US capital and also studied at Oxford University in Britain.
Maksoud was an outspoken and principled activist on behalf of Arab nationalism, Palestinian rights and non-alignment. He fought tirelessly for Arab unity and resigned as the Arab League’s US and UN representative following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In his resignation letter, he wrote: “The Arab house has fallen on itself and the conflicts have submerged our shared priorities.”
He criticised Iraq for invading Kuwait but also criticised Saudi Arabia for summoning foreign intervention to oust Iraq instead of pursuing “an Arab solution”. He viewed disunity, extremism and sectarianism as the greatest threats to the Arab world.
Maksoud’s activism was not limited to issues related to the Arab world. A true global citizen, he wrote about and convened scholarly conferences on the environment, human rights, economic development, population growth and disarmament.
However, his commitment to Palestinian rights and justice remained a driving force in his life and work. “Palestine is the anvil of our souls,” he once said. After he resigned from the Arab League, he regularly lamented that Arab disunity came at the expense of Palestinian rights.
Maksoud continued to write and give speeches until his death from a brain aneurysm. In October 2014, he addressed an audience in Dearborn, Michigan, upon the release of his memoir, From the Corners of Memory. Maksoud said religion cannot replace nationalism as the leading ideology of the Arab world. “When political Islam considers itself the alternative to Arab nationalism, it loses its sense of direction; it loses its compass,” he said.
He said the Arab world needs diversity and that different religious groups should be able to live together, not simply coexist. Sectarianism, he warned, would have “devastating” effects.
He recounted a conversation he once had with Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda Party. Islamic values, he told Ghannouchi, cannot be a replacement for nationalism.
Maksoud struggled near the end of his life to remain optimistic in the face of what he saw happening in the Arab world but he never gave up hope: “We as Arabs are experiencing a resignation from hope and we are almost submitting ourselves to despair,” said Maksoud in his Dearborn address. “We will not resign despite all the negatives we are facing.”