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A Great Scholar: May Ziyadeh

“No great scholar was born among the women of Syria during the last centuries such as Marie Ziyadeh.”  Precious few male scholars could match her for her eloquence, wit and integrity.

Marie Elias Ziyadeh (1886-1941), who became known as “Miss May”, was of Lebanese-Palestinian origin. She was born in Nazareth on 11 February 1886 to Elias Ziyadeh, who had moved to Palestine from his native Lebanese village of Shatoul, and Nozha Mu’ammer, a well-educated Palestinian woman.

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By Dr. Edmond Melhem

Antoun Sa3adeh labelled May a “great scholar” and a “blessing from Providence for a defeated nation and, resultantly, a misplaced blessing.”

He wrote: “No great scholar was born among the women of Syria during the last centuries such as Marie Ziyadeh.” According to him, precious few male scholars could match her for her eloquence, wit and integrity.

And Sa3adeh elaborates:

I say with conviction that among the male scholars of Egypt and Syria with whom I have made contact and whose works I have read, I have found but precious few who can stake a claim to be like her [May Ziyadeh] in terms of education, sentiment and talent.

Few articles were written by Sa´adeh which detailed his involvement in the affair of May Ziadeh. These articles, which are published in Al-‘Athar al-Kamilah (Complete Works), provide sufficient information to describe his intervention and the actions he took to help release May.

Who was May Ziyadeh?

Marie Elias Ziyadeh (1886-1941), who became known as “Miss May”, was of Lebanese-Palestinian origin. She was born in Nazareth on 11 February 1886 to Elias Ziyadeh, who had moved to Palestine from his native Lebanese village of Shatoul, and Nozha Mu’ammer, a well-educated Palestinian woman.

At the turn of the century, the Ziyadeh family migrated to Egypt and settled in Cairo, where Elias became the owner of a successful newspaper, Al-Mahrusa, in which May started publishing her poetry in both French and Arabic under the pen name Isis Copia.

In 1911, she translated several poems from her first French collection “Fleurs de Réve” into Arabic and published them in Jurji Zaydan’s renowned Al-Hilal newspaper.

The same year, May published – under the pseudonym Aidah, her second poetry collection, “Aidah’s Diary,” – also in French. When she began writing in Arabic, she settled on the pen name “May,” which was proposed by her mother and composed of the first and last letters of her original Christian name. It was under this name, more acceptable to Arabic readers, preceded by the appellation “Miss,” that she was to achieve fame.

In 1917, May graduated from the newly opened Egyptian University, where she had studied history, philosophy and modern sciences. The fact that she learnt French before Arabic during her early education in Lebanon did not prevent her from becoming one of the most distinguished Arabic writers of the early 20th century.

In Egypt, May studied the Qur’an under a number of Azharite shaykhs and was guided through the labyrinthine structures of Arabic language and calligraphy by famed Egyptian liberal theorist Lutfi al-Sayyid (1872-1936).

Poetry was the first literary genre she explored.

Her book Dhulumat wa Ashi’a (Darkness and Rays), published by Al-Hilal in 1933, revealed her skill in poetic composition. Still studying, she continued to publish her prose poetry (shi’r manthur) as well as other literary pieces in Arabic newspapers and magazines like Al-Hilal, Al-Ahram, Al-Siyasa and the Lebanese magazine Al-Zuhour.

Her famous poetic prose work Ayna Watani? (Where is My Homeland?) reflected her feeling of being an outsider in a society traditionally dominated by men.

Professor Yunan Labib Rizk, elaborating on May’s relationship with Al-Ahram- which quickly invited her to join its editorial staff, publishing her writings extensively and allocating considerable space on its front page to her frequent lectures, states:

Clearly Al-Ahram felt she was a great asset.

It featured her articles prominently, published the poems of the ‘the brilliant poetess’ amid great fanfare, honoured her by choosing her to preside over an event called ‘the Journalistic Feast’ and hailed her using such tributes as: ‘If the Lebanese had difficulties in coming to Egypt to participate in the homage to the Prince of Poets [Ahmed Shawqi], at least we, since we are in Egypt, should pay homage to the “Princess of Writers,” whose country we have long envied for its claim to her’.

May turned out to be a prolific writer, contributing to the modernization of Arabic language and thought in nearly every field. Having mastered at least five languages, she skilfully translated novels from English, German and French into Arabic.

She also experimented with the genre of short stories and consistently championed women’s rights in her books and lectures.

Being herself an activist for the emancipation of women, she wrote sensitive biographical studies of three pioneering female writers and poets: A’isha al-Taymouriyya, Malak Hifni Nasif and Warda al-Yaziji.

In Cairo, May ran the most famous literary salon in the Arab world during the 1920s and ’30s. Open to men and women of varied backgrounds and modelled on the French example, the salon attracted the greatest writers, poets and intellectuals of the region.

Among those who attended the frequent gatherings were Khalil Mutran, Abbas Mahmud Al-‛Aqqad, the Azharite Shaykh Mustafa ‘Abd al-Raziq, Shibli Shumayyil, Ya’qub Sarruf, Antoine Al-Jumayyil, owner of Al-Zuhour, Taha Hussein, Nile poet Hafez Ibrahim and the “Prince of Arab Poets,” Ahmad Shawqi.

With her passing, May left behind more than 15 books of poetry, literature and translations.

Various collections of her previously unknown works have appeared during the last few years. These include prose poems, speeches, short stories, theatrical plays as well as collections of essays and articles on travel, literature, art, criticism, linguistics and social reform.

The last days of May, Sa´adeh proclaimed, were the worst ever experienced by a Syrian writer.

But there probably was not another scholar in the entire world who could have endured the pain and oppression suffered for so long by May.

In the end, she succumbed to the terrifying and destructive Ghoul – the Ghoul that had stalked her for so long – the Ghoul that the Syrian Social Nationalist Movement has prepared a sharpened sword to slay.

Inaam Raad of (Syria Nation Socialist Party): Biography

Note: The internet users in Lebanon have adopted numerals as symbols for a few Arabic vocals that are not possible or never attempted in some other languages. For example, 3 is used for a strong “aa”, 2 for a different “a”, 7 for a strong “h” and so forth.

April 7, 2007

Biography of In3am Ra3d

Late In3am Ra3d assumed leading executive responsibilities in the Syrian National Social Party since he joined it in 1944.  His most frequent appointments were in propaganda and cultural positions then, he was elected a member of the legislative body in the party and its Highest Council.  He was elected four times chairman of the party until his death from cancer in February 27, 1998.

In3am was born in 3yn Zhalta in 1929 and wed Laila Dagher whom he met at the American University of Beirut (AUB); they had three children, Elham, 3issam and Amaal.

In3am Ra3d was the youngest of two brothers and four sisters; he earned a BS in Political and Economic sciences from the American University of Beirut in 1949.  He had to submit to the final exam while he was incarcerated after the Party failed coup d’etat in 1949 and the summary execution of its founder Antoun Sa3adeh.

He was imprisoned twice in 1949 and then in 1961 after the second failed coup d’etat until his release in 1969.

In3am moved in 1936 to Egypt with his father.  He stopped in “Haifa” on his return trip in 1938 via the rail that linked Egypt to Palestine to Lebanon as the borders were opened and the Zionist State was not yet established. He talks about Haifa with owe as a city perched on a hill by the sea, the jewel of all cities.

After In3am short stay in Egypt, the family settled in Ras Beirut, an area close to the American University and where the nationalist movements and ideas interacted. His father graduated from AUB as a pharmacist and immigrated to Australia fleeing the Ottoman conscription in WWI; his father supported the SNSP but asked his sons never to join any political parties.

In3am was one of the founders of the Lebanese National Movement when the civil war broke out in 1975 and became the Vice President to Kamal Jumblatt.  His leadership in the Party and the Movement between 1975 and 1977 and his overwhelming successes in expanding the potentials of the Party inside and abroad earned him the medal of Sa3adeh in 1977.

He resigned in 1977 in favor for Abdallah Sa3adeh as the best qualified for the new circumstances.  He published several books such as: “The National Liberation War” (1970), “The Strategic Revolutionary Ideology” (1976), “War of Existence and not war for borders” (1979), “Antoun Sa3adeh and the Isolationists” (1980), “The National Confrontation on the Lebanese Front” (1982), “The Conspiracy (Mou2amara) in its Last Phase” (1989), and finally “The Middle-East and Zionism” (1997).

I feel the need to expand on the life of devotion and dedication of In3am Ra3d to the ideology of the Party and his total participation in its failures and successes because I witnessed the upheavals of the Party between 1970 and 1975.

In3am did his secondary studies at the National University in Aley as a boarder and where the famous writer and critic Maroun 3aboud taught, as well as his brother Theodor. This school witnessed the gathering of students from most of the Arab World and the demonstrations for the independence of Lebanon from the colonial protectorate of France.

In3am delivered his first speech there in 1943 and joined the Party in 1944 at the age of 16 when Ghassan Tueiny was the “Mounafez 3am” (General executive) of the students.  He was appointed “Moudir” (Director) of the freshman and sophomore at the AUB in 1947 and joined the thousands of members at the airport to welcome their leader Antoun Sa3adeh.

In the summer of 1948 he joined the camp in Dhour Chweir where the Party concentrated its forces to face the edict of the Minister of the Interior to arrest Sa3adeh; In3am had brought the leader a letter from the “moudir” of 3ain Zhalta without passing through the hierarchy and Sa3adeh told him: “Your letter is a matter of details that should be resolved through the hierarchical channels; I deal with the essentials in national cases”. 

Two days later the leader dissolved a few “moudirya” in the Chouf region and appointed In3am to restructure the cells.

In3am was appointed administrative official of the party “moufawad” on the Arkoub region in 1948 in order to reorganize its cells after the leader or “zaim” fired the former chairman Ne3met Tabet from the Party.

Mr. Tabet had focused on the Lebanese Nation after its independence as the Leader was in exile in Argentina; Tabet exclusively attributed the Syrian National characters on every aspect of the new State.

On the first of March 1948, Sa3adeh said to In3am: “We are in dire need of analytical minds because we are presently going through a tough struggle and serious ideological communication.”  In3am was appointed in 1948 as vice president “namous” (secretary) to the student “mounafazieh” at the time the Arab Nationalist Movement, headed by Costantine Zrik and George Habash, was in its infancy.

Sa3adeh paid a special visit to the AUB when In3am and his list of candidates won the student election; during one of his strolling through he campus the Leader told In3am: “The main difference between our capitalist class and the ones in more advanced nations is that our kind of capitalism is not founded on industrialization which seeks unified and larger markets; but we have simply an outmoded mercantile system”

By the time Sa3adeh was executed in 1949 In3am had already experienced responsibilities of “namous” in both the cultural and propaganda ministries or “omdat” (Minister).

After the execution of Sa3adeh, George Abdel Massi7 was elected chairman and the Party moved its headquarter to Damascus and became the dominant organized force in popularity and in the Syrian army.  In3am had to move to Egypt for a while because he could not teach in any schools in Lebanon.

In 1951 In3am was directed to organize the election campaign of the member Ghassan Tueni for deputy in the Chamber representing the Chouf district and became the administrator of his office after victory.

In 1953 the Party member and Chief of Staff Adib Chaychakly became the Syrian President after a coup d’etat; but Abdel Massi7 refused to allow the Party to share the power on the ground that the Party was not prepared for assuming the power.  It is valid to conjecture that Abdel Massi7 feared that Adib might replace him at the helm of the Party; a position he had no intention of relinquishing.

Most of the Party candidates to the Syrian Parliament lost in 1954 when the party failed to be perceived neither as in the opposition nor as the ally of the government.   The Highest Council legitimately deposed Abdel Massi7 but failed to inform the base of the reasons for dismissing the chairman which led to the first split in the Party.

Thus, the High Council dispatched In3am overseas with Assad Ashkar to the USA, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentine, Mexico, Columbia, Western Africa, Paris and London in order to recuperate the members’ allegiance to the legitimate leadership.

In3am failed in the Parliamentary election of 1958 because the “Second Bureau” (military intelligence agency) of President Fouad Chehab has incarcerated all of In3am’s key players or main contacts in the election process for 24 hours at Election Day. A big convoy of In3am election campaign made a big detour to avoid the army barrages toward 3ain Zhalta and stopped at 3ain Traz where the Orthodox Catholic Patriarch Sayegh was staying.

In3am had changed his religious denomination from Anglican to Catholic in order to be a candidate and the Patriarch asked him: “You want to discuss the election and you have changed your religion?” and In3am told him: “One of our Party principles is the separation of State and religion and I would ask you not to interfere religiously in that campaign and let the people of that district decide”.

In3am Ra3d was again a candidate to the general Parliamentary election in 1960 and the power to be made him fail.  In3am has published the same year an article in the Party daily “Al Bina2” encouraging a closer tie with the Soviet Union since the USA was completely supporting the Zionist State:  The Soviet Ambassador Nicola Crabvin paid him a visit to the daily for further inquiries on the official Party directions and their relationship developed.

Mr. Ra3d was also the key player when the Party developed its tie with Iraqi President Abdel Karim Kassem when he met him within an official visit of the Lebanese newspaper correspondent association.  The contact man was the Iraqi Foreign Minister Hashen Jawad who had delivered a speech at the UN asking for the total liberation of Palestine and then the process for an attempt to coordinate the defense and economic cooperation among the Syrian Nation Independent States was in the making.

The Party had another attempt for a failed coup d’ etat in the New Year of 1962 and In3am suffered nine years of imprisonment.  During the incarceration period In3am wrote many articles that were published in the daily Al-Nahar.

The first congress of the Party was held in Melkart Hotel in Beirut in 1970 and it was a turning point for the leftist direction of the party without adopting the Marxist ideology which was anathema to viewing nationalism as a viable force for securing self-determination of the oppressed people and excluding many potential strata as enviable leverage to the success of political and social changes.

I attended that congress as a university student member who submitted a paper; all I know is that the paper was related to constitutional structure; my paper was a naïve alternative to boot because I don’t even recall what the orientations of the various factions were.  I was a member for barely a year and never had any responsibilities that would allow me to be an informed member in the congress.

I am under the impression that I favored that the election of the Highest Council and the chairman of the Party should be democratically voted in by the base of the eligible members and not by the trustees as was the tradition in order to break the vicious circle and allow the new blood to redirect the priorities and ideology of the Party to suit the drastic changes in the political framework.

I guess the congress held in Melkart sustained the trustee system but adopted the new left directions and cooperation with the Soviet Union.  I believe that the democratic election by the base might not generate the best leadership but at least it would have reflected the slow changing behavior of the members and thus, would have avoided the subsequent splits and violent factions.

The democratic process has the advantage to open up freedom of opinions, debates and a wider communication among the members.  The trustee system looks good logically and might be the best alternative at the beginning, but it usually becomes obsolete to the base and inevitably leads to dictatorship of a certain political class of elders with vested interests.

After the Melkart congress, the party underwent many internal disturbances such as the objection of many members of the support of the Party to Camille Chamoun’s list of candidates to the Parliamentary election in 1972 then, the revolt of many “mounafezeen 3ameen” against the elected Highest Council and the capture under duress of many party centers, and then the “Abu Wajeb” Movement that occupied the office of the students’ “mounafez” and the main headquarter in Jal El-Dib followed suit.

In my opinion, one faction believed that the Syrian Baath regime is better positioned to represent the interests of the Syrian Nation against the Zionist schemes and the other faction, headed by In3am Ra3d, viewed the maneuvering of the Syrian regime to controlling the Lebanese political parties as means to strengthen its position toward peace negotiation with Israel under the heat of a war threat.

In3am was elected chairman of the Party in March 11, 1975, a month before the civil war in Lebanon started.  Within two years, chairman Ra3d managed to unify the Party and lead it to be the main force in the Lebanese Nationalist Movement and allied to the Palestinian Liberation Movement.

Evidently, Yasser Arafat wanted to control as many Lebanese political parties in order to strengthen his position toward the Arab States who were involved in the Lebanese crisis.

This biography clarified many issues which were very obscure to me; for example the many instances of splitting within the Party under various lame excuses, such as the illegalities in the constitution and transfer of powers or the left ideological directions of one faction away from the fundamental teachings, were basically a political rationalization for the pro Syrian Strategy in the area versus the adhesion to the Lebanese Movement which was supporting the right of the Palestine Liberation Movement to making independent decisions.

I witnessed most of these upheavals but was not clear on their final objectives: I was not wholeheartedly active in the internal politics of the Party; I was following orders that never came my way.  I was definitely pro the In3am Ra3d orientations and attended most of his gatherings and was included in the small click and many times assembled in his home close to the AUB.

I sensed that the pro Syrian regime faction in the Party was not credible because the current Syrian Baath regime was viewed as a sectarian Allawi faction imposing their dictatorship on the entire Syrian people. And frankly, the Syrian Baath did not communicate clearly the National Strategy and we were reduced to accept the tactics of the Syrian regime on face values that were contrary to the objectives of the forces of change in Lebanon.

I recall that, while a graduate student in the USA in 1976, I wrote a lengthy article spread in two issues of the Oklahoma University daily; I explained the genesis of our civil war and Chairman Ra3d happened to receive a copy and read my article and ordered the “Monaffez” in the USA to contact me and actively work with me.

The Emergency Committee of the SNSP that elected In3am Ra3d as chairman in March 11, 1975 was composed of Bashir Obeid (who was later assassinated by the “Mourabitoun” in 1982 in Beirut), Abdallah Sa3adeh, Mostafa 3ezzedine, Mounir Khoury, Fouad Sa3b, Kamel Hassaan, Mas3ad 7ajal, Hafez Sayegh, Daoud Baz, Rida Khattar, Jamal Fakhoury, and 3adel Hashem.

In3am decided neither to recapture the centers nor to negotiate with the insurrectionists and went ahead with the rebuilding of the Party and the reorganization of the cadres and calling for the Dauville congress where the members were given the right to contest  “ta3n” the candidates for the rank of trustee.

In3am was instrumental in forcing the Lebanese National Movement to adopt the civil personal registry which abolishes the mention of sectarian affiliation for the citizens and this change was to be included as an item in Judicial Reforms section.

During the civil war, the Party had only 60 pieces of Seminov (machine gun) and the only source for arms supply was Abu 3amar who lavishly offered very outmoded arms like the Browning and Schneider.  Yasser Arafat stopped supplying the Party even with these ancient arms because In3am refused to sign on a petition condemning the abduction of Colonel Morgan by a Palestinian organization on the basis that these activities bear no responsibilities to the Lebanese National Movement.

The only time the Party was able to receive decent arms was when Libya agreed to supply and train officers for the Party.

There was a strategic disagreement with the LNM that insisted on considering the Aley/Souk Al-Gharb offensive line as priority while the Party viewed that the Metn region was the most important region to defend and concentrate the forces.  Consequently, the Kataeb managed to enter 3aintoura and executed two dozen members of the Party by aligning them against the church wall.

The Party managed to conquer and retain the Sanine heights and thus prevented the Lebanese forces to link with the city of Zahle in the Bekaa Valley.

The struggle of In3am in bringing the democratic process in the election to the Party brought fruit; the current process offer every member who had been in the party for two years and paid his dues to elect a candidate to the National Convention.  Every 25 members are entitled to one candidate and the election takes place in every “mounafazieh”.

The National Convention elects the members of the Highest Council who elects the Chairman who designates his ministers. Thus, the National convention is constituted of the elected candidates and the trustees.  The trend is to eliminate the trustee title or at least not to confer to the trustees’ automatic rights to the National Convention.


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