Lebanon News

Finding closure 51 years after Kamel Mrowa assassination

BEIRUT: To commemorate the 51st anniversary of prominent Lebanese publisher and journalist Kamel Mrowa’s assassination, the Kamel Mrowa Foundation launched a website Tuesday presenting the history of his life in an online archive, and publicizing little-known details of his death. “This assassination has been a mystery for the Lebanese and the larger Arab world for many years,” Karim Mroueh, son of the late Kamel, told The Daily Star. “So for us, it’s closure. I think we were doing [this website] to say that assassinations are never done by ghosts.”

Kamel Mrowa was shot dead on May 16, 1966, in the Beirut office of Al-Hayat, one of the newspapers he founded, by Adnan Chaker Sultani. While the assassin was caught, the exact reasons and many of the details of the murder remained a mystery.

The website comes on the heels of a 2016 exhibition in Downtown Beirut that honored the 50-year anniversary of Mrowa’s death.

After years of interviews and research, Karim expressed relief that details surrounding his father’s assassination would be publicly accessible.

“We’ve had this information since 2002, and we used to leak it out in snippets through interviews,” Karim said.

“We had hoped to have a biography ready by today, but this website gave us the opportunity to lay out the details of the assassination.”

Mrowa, an influential figure in Lebanon’s golden age, founded Arabic daily Al-Hayat in 1946, English daily The Daily Star in 1952 and French daily Beyrouth Matin in 1959. All three publications intermittently shut down and reopened throughout the Lebanese Civil War.

“Al-Hayat had a very impressive network of journalists across the Arab world,” Makram Rabah, a historian who teaches at the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University, told The Daily Star. “Mrowa used to get breaking news faster than any of the [news] wire services. He revolutionized publishing by introducing new printing equipment.”

Nevertheless, Mrowa’s success ultimately cost him his life. Though known to be a pan-Arabist, Mrowa earned a reputation for open and incautious criticism of Egypt’s then-President Gamal Abdel-Nasser.

Sultani, a Lebanese national who later confessed to working with Egyptian intelligence, was arrested for the crime, tried and sentenced to life in prison, but he escaped along with other inmates shortly after the start of the Civil War in 1975. He died in 2001 at the age of 58.

“[Mrowa] was extremely bold, and it earned him a bullet,” Rabah said. “It wasn’t easy to take on Abdel-Nasser. ... It was not the popular thing to do, but he still did it. He swam against the current, which lead to his demise.”

According to Rabah, the assassination was in many ways a reaction by an embarrassed and weakened Nasser, in the midst of his struggle to take over Yemen. At the end of that war, in 1970, Yemen had held its ground while Egypt had suffered a resounding defeat, having lost over 10,000 soldiers and accruing colossal debt.

“We have no doubt who was behind the assassination of Mrowa,” Rabah said. “The assassin was pro-Egyptian and pro-Nasser ... but there were people inside the Lebanese government at the time who made sure to hide the evidence.”

Karim says that the political tensions that obstructed the course of justice in the case of his father’s death took an emotional toll on his family for years.

“It was the worst ever, period,” Karim said, reflecting on the aftermath of the assassination and the reporting that followed.

“People knew roughly who did it but it was never clear. At the time of the court case, the politics of the region took over. In our case, we felt it [everything in the aftermath] was done to silence us.”

The 51-year-old Mrowa was survived by his wife, Salma, his three sons, Jamil, Karim and Malek, and two daughters, Hayat and Lina.

For more information and the full story on Kamel Mrowa, visit kamelmrowa.com.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2017, on page 3.

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