By Robert Fisk
Originally printed in The Independent.
Antoine Ghanem was an easy target. Few bodyguards, no one would think that a member of parliament who represented the Armenians of Lebanon was a target. The little street in which he lived—tall tower blocks, boutiques, flower shops, was not a place where you would try to kill an enemy of Syria—if he was an enemy of Syria—but Antoine was blasted to pieces in his car as he left his home yesterday evening.
And that means there is one left in the government to make up the numbers. In other words, it only takes one more murder for the democratically elected government of Lebanon to fall.
Only a few weeks ago, Walid Jumblatt called me after Ghanem’s predecessor was murdered. “Two more to go, Robert,” Walid said. And so, tonight, it is one.
To describe the tangled wreckage of the car bomb, the vile, obscene, traces of Mr Ghanem and his bodyguards, has become a kind of routine horror in Lebanon.
Those of his cortege who did not die took me last night to the revolting remains of his death.
Lebanon is not a democracy in our Western sense of the word. Nor, for that matter, is Israel. “Democracy”, as we like to call it in the West, does not sit easily in this part of the world.
But Lebanese politicians—for the most part but not always, men, are brave folk—who know the cost of standing up for their country against its more powerful neighbours, be those neighbours Israel or Syria.
There will be few in this country last night—and today—and tomorrow—who will not see Ghanem’s murder as another attempt by the Syrians to destroy any form of freedom in this little country. There will be equally little proof that shows Syria to blame.
The French President, Nicolas Sarkozy—not to mention Gordon Brown—will not “tut-tut” this outrageous killing, but it is only a few days before the Lebanese must vote for their next president, and now they will have one less member of parliament to vote for that president.
And that is what yesterday’s massive car bomb was about. Mr Ghanem, who was a 60-year-old member of the right-wing Christian Phalange Party—founded in Lebanon when its leader, Pierre Gemayel, was inspired by the Nazi Olympics of 1936—was the eighth anti-Syrian politician murdered since 2005. His assassination occurred only six days before parliament in Beirut was to elect a new president.
At least 22 people were wounded in the explosion of the bomb which killed him in the capital’s Sinal-Fil district. It appeared that the car bomb was detonated by remote control.
Ghanem’s car was blown at least 150ft away by the explosion. One of the pro-government ministers, Ahmed Fatfat, later said that it was “clear that lawmakers from the majority party are being liquidated”.
It was, he said, “The only regime that does not want presidential elections in Lebanon to be held. The only response to the crime should be for parliament to convene on 25 September and to elect the president.
“Every member who does not take part would be a direct or indirect participant in the crime.”
Lebanese parliamentarians, who now take part in a bidding for next month’s parliamentary elections, were outdone yesterday by the former president, Amin Gemayel, whose son was assassinated last year. “It’s no more a question of presidential elections,” he said. “It’s a question of the survival of this country and democracy in the country that’s at stake for the time being. This criminal act aims at undermining efforts paid by Syria and others to achieve Lebanese national accord.”