Lebanon’s Former Speaker Of Parliament Has Died. What Was His Legacy?
On January 11th, former Lebanese parliament speaker Hussein Al Husseini died of severe influenza at age 86 in Beirut. Without exaggeration, his political life and career were impressive in their effect on the country’s future. When informing the public of Mr. Husseini’s death, Caretaker Prime Minister, Najib Mikati, declared “today Lebanon has lost an authentic national and constitutional figure,” announcing three days of national mourning. His successor, Speaker Nabih Berri has suspended a convening of parliament on the presidential election Jan 19.
During his premiership, he contributed heavily in brokering an end to the bloodshed between Lebanese through the much debated Taif Agreement, giving him the nickname in some circles, the “godfather” of Taif. It was secured in 1990 by all the major warlords of the conflict in Taif in Saudi Arabia.
Husseini himself entered national politics at 35 when he was elected to parliament in 1972. Before that, he was elected mayor of his hometown of Shmistar in the Bekaa Valley at 18. What really made him a household name for many Lebanese was his involvement with the predominantly Shia political party Amal (hope). In 1973, he co-founded the Amal Movement alongside the scholar and charismatic figure Imam Musa Sadr, who was its first leader. Eventually, Husseini took up the helm of Amal after the disappearance of Imam Sadr and his comrades, Sheikh Muhammad Yaacoub and journalist Abbas Badreddine, when they traveled to Libya in 1978 to meet with then Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. No conclusion was ever formalized as to their ends. However, it is generally accepted the late Libyan dictator ordered their deaths.
By this time, Lebanon’s civil war was still ravaging the country and Husseini was Secretary General of Amal. His refusal to immerse the party in the bloodshed between fellow Lebanese forced him to resign from the position in 1980. Without him as head, Amal joined the war alongside other militias, including the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). He was replaced by Nabih Berri as the party’s top leader. Husseini would later be elected as speaker of the parliament in October 1984, a position reserved for the Lebanese Shia sect in the power sharing model agreed upon by its founders in 1943 through the unwritten “national pact.” He remained in the role of speaker until October 1992. Once again, he was replaced by Nabih Berri, a favorite of Syria, who by this time, possessed tens of thousands of soldiers in Lebanon with the legal cover of the Taif Agreement. Husseini was under significant pressure to permit then Saudi sponsored Prime Minister-elect Rafik Hariri to expropriate private property in downtown Beirut from Lebanese citizens for his (Solidere) reconstruction efforts. Husseini refused, thus reducing his role in public life, it wasn’t his final stance. In 2008, he resigned from his seat in parliament in objection to the Doha agreement that forced all parties to form a National Unity government which he lacked confidence it would satisfy the required needs to rescue Lebanon from corruption and sectarianism.
His political life was over. Still, he remained a voice calling for democracy and transparency in Lebanon. He was a man who stood on principle and sacrificed personal gain for his country. Something most Lebanese are unfamiliar with in the current political atmosphere. Husseini detested compromises at the expense of Lebanese independence and sovereignty. He possessed qualities of a natural almost idealist. Lebanese presidential candidate, Tracy Chamoun, described him as a man who belonged to an era of statesmen who had a vision and passion for Lebanon and who acted with integrity. The former speaker’s courage and honest nature gave him many admirers across Lebanon. His legacy is that of a true patriot on par with other historical Lebanese figures like Fouad Chehab, Gebran Tueni, and Charles Malik.
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