by Stephen Talbot
Marwan Hamade likes the view of the Mediterranean from his
high-rise, seaside apartment in Beirut. But now when he looks
out his window, he also sees the spot, just below, where a car
bombing nearly took his life.
Hamade, a former official in the Lebanese government who
was severely injured in a car bomb attack.
On October 1, 2004, moments after Hamade and his bodyguard
drove away from his home, a bomb rocked his car. His driver
was killed instantly. "He turned to ashes," is how Hamade puts
The explosion left Hamade, a former government minister and
member of parliament, burned and battered. He had broken ribs,
head injuries, and nearly lost an eye. What saved him, he believes,
is the fact the car hit a wall and didn't turn over. "I did
not lose consciousness," he recalls. "I was in flames, but I
managed to get out of the car."
After six surgeries in six months, Hamade is recovering, though
he still walks with a cane. When Kate and I and our cameraman
Vatche Boulghourjian went to interview him, we interrupted his
physical therapy. Wearing an Arab caftan over his sweat pants,
he ushered us into his living room and began to tell his story.
Hamade is part of the Lebanese opposition, a sophisticated, cosmopolitan
politician closely allied with Druze leader Walid Jumblatt. The
car bombing that almost killed him was a political message, he
said, a warning to Jumblatt and former prime minister Rafiq Hariri
that they would be next if they continued to oppose Syria's man
in Lebanon, President Emile Lahoud, and to demand the withdrawal
of Syrian troops from the country. On Valentine's Day, February
14, Hariri himself was assassinated in broad daylight in an enormous
car bomb explosion that also took the lives of 2O others outside
the St. George Hotel on Beirut's fashionable waterfront. It was
a political murder that galvanized the opposition and sparked
Lebanon's nonviolent revolution.
The bomb that killed former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri also killed 20 others who were in his motorcade or on the street. (photo: Ramzi Haidar/AFP/Getty Images)
Hamade says he suffered no post-traumatic stress from his
own car bombing, but that Hariri's death shattered him emotionally.
"I will not recover from Hariri's assassination," he says.
On a table I notice a black and white photo of a younger Hamade,
smiling, tipping a stylish hat, looking like a French New Wave
actor or Frank Sinatra in the late Fifties. The man in front
of our camera is older, ashen-faced, weary, but his spirit is
clearly undiminished. "I was quieter, more diplomatic before,"
he says, "but after Hariri's death, I am more blunt and I am
more determined than ever."
When Kate asks him who he thinks is responsible for Hariri's murder
and his own near death, he answers firmly and immediately: the
Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services. Or as he told a massive
pro-democracy rally at Martyrs' Square in downtown Beirut, "You
want the truth about the assassination? It's lying in the dark
chambers of the intelligence services that are ruling us and that
you are in the process of sweeping out."
Marwan Hamade speaks with FRONTLINE/World reporter Kate Seelye about his friendship with Rafiq Hariri.
Hamade became a target
after he resigned from the Lebanese government last September
in protest against Syria's heavy-handed pressure to extend Lahoud's
presidential term beyond its constitutional limit. Hamade describes
a kind of Syrian-Lebanese political "mafia" that regarded Lebanon
as a cash cow and saw Hariri as a threat to their political
and financial control. "Lebanon had become a police state,"
As to who ordered and carried out the Hariri assassination,
Hamade says, "I rely on the United Nations commission to find
out [exactly] who and how, but I know why."
Hamade was impressed by the man the UN dispatched to Lebanon
to write an initial report on the Hariri killing, Peter Fitzgerald,
who castigated Syria for causing a political crises in Lebanon
and blamed the Lebanese government for gross negligence in failing
to protect Hariri. "Fitzgerald was a real Irish cop," Hamade
says admiringly. "Like the one in that movie, A Quiet Man."
Hamade knows it will require a tenacious UN investigative team,
backed by international pressure and the ongoing reform movement
in Lebanon, to unearth the truth of the Hariri assassination.
For Lebanon, Hariri's murder is the same as the Kennedy assassination,
Hamade tells us, and whether the truth is uncovered - or covered
up -- will determine the fate of the nation.
There are two prominent photographs in Hamade's living room
that bracket Lebanon's violent modern history. One is of Hamade
with Hariri just an hour before his death. The other shows Hamade
comforting Walid Jumblatt shortly after Walid's father, Kamal,
was assassinated in 1977 -- a murder they also attribute to
"They [the Syrians] came into Lebanon on the body of [Kamal]
Jumblatt, they are leaving on the body of Hariri," Hamade declares.
Hamade recalls that his friends Hariri and Walid Jumblatt "discussed
in my presence who was going to be next." Jumblatt took precautions,
according to Hamade, perhaps because of what had happened to his
father. But Hariri thought his wealth, his popularity, and his
longstanding relationships with the Syrians would protect him.
Hamade recalls a dramatic account of Hariri as prime minister
being summoned to Damascus last fall and commanded by Syrian President
Bashar al-Assad to support a parliamentary move to extend Lahoud's
presidential term, threatening to "break the country over your
head" if Hariri did not comply. A shaken Hariri returned to Lebanon,
voted for the extension, then resigned from office, and began
to prepare for elections to oust the Syrian-dominated regime.
In Beirut's Martyrs' Square, where
Hariri is buried, an estimated 800,000 people gathered to
protest nearly three decades of Syrian military and political
domination of Lebanon. (photo: Haitham Mussawi/AFP/Getty
Before those elections could be held, Hariri was killed. The
departing defense minister, Abdelrahim Mrad, told us last week
that "a matter of a two to three month delay would be fine."
A few days after we spoke with Mrad, President Lahoud appointed
pro-Syrian businessman, Najib Mikati, as the new Lebanese prime
minister. Despite strong ties to President Bashar al-Assad,
Mikati won enough support from Lebanon's opposition movement
during negotiations to secure the post, edging out Mrad for
the position, and making elections in late-May early June more
When we catch up with Marwan Hamade again, he is leading a
peace march commemorating the start, 30 years ago, of Lebanon's
infamous civil war, which resulted in some 3,500 car bombs,
more than 100,000 deaths, and close to a million displaced people.
Under the hot midday sun, Hamade walks alongside another member
of parliament, Bahia Hariri, the late prime minister's sister,
who has become a symbol of the opposition.
Standing in front of a poster of his martyred friend, Hamade
reads a letter of support from former Czech president Vaclav
Havel, calling for a "path of freedom and independence, complete
withdrawal of occupying troops, and renewal of the democratic
system in Lebanon." The Velvet Revolution worked in Prague,
Hamade hopes a Cedar Revolution can happen here.
But the hard part, he tells us, is still ahead. We must have
elections, without delay.
Watch full coverage of Kate Seelye's reports on recent events in Lebanon and Syria in the May 17 broadcast of FRONTLINE/World. (Check local listings.)
For more history on the complex relationship between Lebanon and Syria, and the
role religion has played in political life, read two additional reports from correspondent
• Lebanon's History
of Occupation - In one form or another, Syria has exerted its influence over Lebanon
for nearly a century.
• Lebanon's Religious
Mix - Hariri's assassination has united some sects and divided others.
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