MIDDLE EAST

Ghassan Imam: The passing away of an exceptional Syrian commentator

With the passing away of prominent Syrian journalist Ghassan Al Imam in his exile in France, the Syrian story has lost a key witness, an exceptional memory and a pen of light and fire.

The 80-year-old doyen, “the stubborn Arab,” died while he’s away from the spotlight and out of his close bond with society. In a brilliant article issued on July 10, 2012, after the Syrians’ revolution erupted against the Assad regime, he described himself saying: “I’m neither an opposition figure nor a loyalist. I look at the world from the screen of journalism, and I like it to be wide so that I can perceive what both the supporters and opponents cannot see.”

His meeting with Assad

Imam met Bashar Al-Assad in Paris shortly before the death of Bashar’s father. While the young man was at that time promising people with a flourishing Syrian political spring, the veteran journalist did not believe him. Assad invited him to return to his “homeland” Syria on the condition that he stops writing in Asharq al-Awsat.

Ghassan Al Imam was a treasure trove of history, and I personally remember him while working in the Opinion section of the newspaper, where I closely followed the submission of his articles

Mashari Althaydi

Recounting his first meeting with Bashar Al-Assad in Paris in 2000, Imam said: “Bashar told me while shaking my hand, ‘you have to return to Syria. We closely follow your writings there’ and then he proceeded into a long lecture on democracy.”

Telling more about himself, Imam wrote: “I have worked in the Syrian press for about 10 years only (1954 – 1963) and left my country following the decimation of the Syrian press as the coup government of Salah Al-Bitar shut down the newspaper where I was working and then shut down the office of the news agency for which I worked as a reporter. Then I worked in Lebanon, but when the Syrian army pursued me (1976) I fled to Europe.”

Hidden melancholia

When all odds seemed to turn against the experienced Syrian journalist, a Saudi gesture was extended to him. Imam himself recounted this gesture and not the man who did him the favor.

In that melancholic article, the late journalist revealed: “The (then) Saudi crown prince (now King) Salman bin Abdulaziz is a lover of journalism and an avid reader of it. He was also aware of the calamities that befell journalists and so he felt sorry for my state. He petitioned his brother, late King Fahd bin Abdulaziz, to grant me a Saudi passport. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz later renewed it, and late Crown Prince and Interior Minister Nayef bin Abdulaziz also renewed it.”

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Ghassan Al Imam was a treasure trove of history, and I personally remember him while working in the Opinion section of the newspaper, where I closely followed the submission of his articles. He was very meticulous about his writing and insisted on correcting every detail no matter how small it was — periods, commas and so forth!

Whenever we spoke with each other, he was extremely polite but his voice held a concealed melancholia. No wonder, in the end, he died in his exile. What a very sad end. Colleague and editor in chief of Asharq al-Awsat, Ghassan Charbel mourned him by stating on Twitter: “The death of a journalist in exile, his final article.”

In his words that describe his story with the new Syrian regime he declared: “Bashar deceived me. He deceived me too far.” Finally, I wish that his home, Asharq al-Awsat daily, would collect his writings of his column ‘Shells and Pearls’ as they are the finest of what the man wrote on politics, journalism and art.

This article was first published in Arabic.

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Saudi journalist Mashari Althaydi presents Al Arabiya News Channel’s “views on the news” daily show “Maraya.” He has previously held the position of a managing senior editor for Saudi Arabia & Gulf region at pan-Arab newspaper Asharq al-Awsat. Althaydi has published several papers on political Islam and social history of Saudi Arabia. He appears as a guest on several radio and television programs to discuss the ideologies of extremist groups and terrorists. He tweets under @MAlthaydy.

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Last Update: Saturday, 21 April 2018 KSA 13:29 - GMT 10:29
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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