Nassib Lahoud, the Maronite politician who died early on Thursday at the age of 67 after a long battle with cancer, was always held up as ndeef, a “clean” man whose presidential aspirations were perhaps thwarted because of that very quality. But he was a man who was nonetheless genuinely respected by Lebanese of all sects because he was simply a decent fellow.
From the outset of his political career (Lahoud served as an able parliamentarian and cabinet minister for nearly two decades after the civil war), he made it clear that he would have no truck with compromise. He opposed Syria’s post-war “presence” in Lebanon and the way in which the regime, through its tacit acceptance of wholesale corruption, brought the economy to its knees. He voted against extending the mandates of post-war presidents Elias Hrawi and Emile Lahoud—who was his cousin—moves designed to consolidate Syria’s power within her less powerful neighbor with as little fuss as possible and with even less respect for the constitution.
Lahoud also did not approve of the economic policies of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri when the billionaire-turned-premier set about rebuilding Lebanon, in particular the center of Beirut, at great expense to the nation’s coffers. But when Hariri was murdered in 2005, most likely at the behest of Damascus, Lahoud knew the position he had to take, and his role at the forefront of the 2005 Independence Intifada—the revolution that followed Hariri’s assassination—was arguably his finest hour and the distillation of all for which he stood.
It will no doubt have saddened him in later years that the good work, the energy and the optimism of those heady days almost seven years ago have all but disappeared, undone by a combination of bad luck, bad leadership and—in the case of Michel Aoun—that most Lebanese of qualities, the pursuit of self-interest. (Indeed, if ever there were two Maronite politicians with presidential aspirations who were polar opposites, they are Lahoud and Aoun, who is simply not in his class.)
There is a curious paradox in Lebanese politics and it goes something like this: The voters will mutter that most politicians are liars and thieves, and yet when it comes to polling day, they will vote in the very same liars and thieves. The clean guys, they will reason, cannot be relied upon, either to get things done or to bend the law when expediency dictates. They like them and they respect them but won’t vote for them. Nassib Lahoud bucked this trend and stands among a small group of Lebanese politicians who see public office as an opportunity to serve.
At a time when we have to contend with the likes of Wiam Wahhab and other stooges, it is the mark of how low the bar of Lebanese politics has dropped that Lahoud will be instantly remembered for his honesty and uprightness. He stood out among the mediocre and the corrupt, and it is because of this and not just out of sentimental nonsense that we should honor his life.
Lebanon has lost a great ambassador, a man who, as well as being likeable and urbane, was the embodiment of integrity and who was proof that our political class doesn’t always churn out in-bred nincompoops, chancers and gangsters.