His professional and intellectual life
Samir Kassir was born on May 4, 1960, to a Lebanese-Palestinian father and a Lebanese-Syrian mother. He grew up in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut and studied at the Lycée Français. In 1981, six years after the beginning of the Lebanese war, he moved to Paris to pursue his higher studies. In 1984, he received his Master’s degree in political philosophy from the Sorbonne (Université Paris I) and 1990, his PhD in contemporary history from Université Paris IV.
During the years he spent in Paris, he published a number of articles in the Al-Hayat and L’Orient-Le Jour newspapers. He also wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique and had regular contributions to The Seventh Day and the French edition of the Journal of Palestinian Studies.
In 1992, in collaboration with his friend, the Syrian historian and publisher Farouk Mardam Bey, he published “Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem”, a French book in two volumes, describing the French policy in the Arab Levant, especially in regards to the Palestinian Nakba and the Arab-Israeli conflict. A year after, he returned to Beirut to teach at Université Saint-Joseph’s political science institute and join the An-Nahar newspaper as an op-ed writer and the director of the paper’s publishing house.
In 1994, Samir published his second book in French “The Lebanon War”, based on his doctoral thesis, and analyzing the dynamics of the conflict as well as the intricate relations of internal and foreign factors during the 1975-1982 period. This book was translated to Arabic in 2008.
In 1995, Samir starts a monthly magazine “L’Orient-Express”, which rapidly became the most prestigious cultural periodical in Lebanon. The publication was interrupted in 1998 for financial reasons. In parallel, he founded “Al-Layali”, a publication house that released several books of articles initially published in “L’Orient-Express”, as well as catalogues of old colonial advertisements for Mediterranean cities and Egyptian movies from the 1960s and 1970s.
Samir Kassir’s articles and op-eds in An-Nahar in the late 1990s and early 2000s are still viewed as the boldest writings against the Syrian hegemony in Lebanon, the rule of former President Emile Lahoud, and the political role of security apparatuses. These articles pushed General Jamil Sayed, the former director general of the General Security, to threaten Kassir, get him chased, and confiscate his passport at the Beirut International Airport in April 2001, before returning it to him after the subsequent political and cultural outcry.
In 2003, Samir published his third book in French “History of Beirut” (translated to Arabic in 2007 and to English – titled “Beirut” – in 2011). The book describes the capital’s history, families, culture, economy, as well as its urban and social development, and its relations with other Lebanese regions, Arab and Mediterranean cities. After his book, a cornerstone of his intellectual life, Samir published in 2004 two books in Arabic: “Democracy in Syria and Lebanon’s Independence” and “Askar Ala Meen”, comprised of a series of Articles he had published in An-Nahar. The first book focused on the link between the democratic transition in Syria and Lebanon’s independence, while the second highlighted the contradiction between the principles of liberty and republican values on the one hand, and the political role of security apparatuses on the other.
Samir published another book in French “Considérations sur le malheur arabe” (English title: “Being Arab”), which was later translated to a dozen languages. The book analyses the reasons for the aborted Arab renaissance in the late 19th century, refutes the simplistic assessments condemning Arabs to an eternal decline, and points out to the geographical, rather than historical, reasons for Arab populations’ current misfortune.
His political journey
In the beginning of 2003, Samir Kassir played a role in the foundation of the Democratic Left Movement (DLM). In October 2004, he was elected as member of the Movement’s executive bureau, during DLM’s inaugural congress. His writings greatly inspired DLM’s discourse regarding Lebanon’s independence vis-à-vis the Syrian Baath Party’s hegemonic role, pacific transitions, secularism, social justice, state building, and rule of law.
After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, Samir Kassir actively participated in the launch of the wide popular uprising against the Syrian security apparatuses’ stranglehold on Lebanon. He gave the uprising its title “The Independence Intifada”, to highlight its patriotic, pro-independence nature, and echo the 1987 Palestinian Intifada against the Israeli occupation. His articles in An-Nahar became the Independence Intifada’s clearest and loudest voice. He was constantly present on Martyrs’ Square, discussing ideas and proposals to succeed in the recovery of the country’s sovereignty and freedom, with politicians, journalists, and students.
Samir Kassir was undoubtedly the first to warn that the Independence Intifada will not be able to sustain its momentum, in the absence of a political platform calling for political and economic reform, laying the foundation of a non-sectarian system, and allowing for a genuine political reconciliation, after the Syrian army’s withdrawal from Lebanon. He also was the first to call for an “Intifada within the Intifada” to keep the popular momentum alive, restore the nobility of politics and clarity of stances. In parallel, Samir Kassir opposed all forms of Lebanese racism toward the Syrian people in general, and constantly called upon the Lebanese people in his articles and in his speeches on Martyrs’ Square, no to mix up the Syrian regime and its intelligence service controlling Lebanon and Syria, on the one hand, with the Syrian people, workers, and intellectuals, on the other.