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Michel Edde: the embodiment of Lebanese political humanism

Élie FAYAD | OLJ
06/11/2019
From the 1960s to the ‘90s, Michel Edde held various ministerial positions in Lebanon and demonstrated a certain authority and know-how that has left behind a positive legacy. Frequently mentioned among his accomplishments are: the opening of Lebanese telecommunications to the world through the installation of the Beirut-Marseille subsea cable; the fierce attempt to protect Beirut’s architectural heritage from the hands of ravenous real estate developers; and the implementation of a strict vetting process for licenses to open new universities to maintain the high caliber of Lebanese diplomas.

Yet, Edde’s true legacy as a statesman lies elsewhere. He was first and foremost a man of faith, openness, belief and moderation. He believed in dialogue and had a keen sense of the innate value of respect for others while being deeply attached to his Lebanese, Christian, Maronite and Beiruti roots and identity.

Heir to one of the most influential elite families of contemporary Lebanon, it is difficult to reduce his personality to one particular sphere. The family he was born into and his political career could have easily turned him into a pure product of “political Maronitism”. But his exposure to various political circles, especially the Lebanese left, gained him the nickname of the “red Maronite”.

Throughout his career, Edde, a true Beiruti, was one of the most ardent and intelligent defenders of the concept of coexistence. At the same time, he managed to do this without ever having an issue with proudly displaying his faith.

After the construction of the huge al-Amine mosque in Martyrs Square in 2004, he half jokingly warned his Muslim friends that he will work on increasing the height of the bell tower of Saint-Georges cathedral so that its cross will be higher than the minarets of the neighboring mosque. The cathedral was built in the 19th century with money donated by his two grandfathers, Michel Effendi Edde and Antoun Bey Malhame. Years later, work was carried out to build a 70 meter tall bell tower topped with a beautiful cross. Today, the bell tower is the same height as the minarets.


In the line of Chiha

Edde was well versed in the delicate equilibrium that shapes Lebanese politics. While waiting for the possibility to one day build a civil state, which is perhaps happening now, Edde knew that it was important for Lebanon’s various sects to respect each other in order to live peacefully side by side and be partners in a joint, communal project.

Although he defended the system of confessional quotas, he never wandered like many of his colleagues, Edde never wandered into the murky waters of identity and populist discourse that is often used to gain popularity by appealing to the base instincts of fellow believers and placing their identities in opposition to others.

In this regard, Edde fits into the lineage of Lebanese thinkers such as Michel Chiha. Both men were important supporters of the Lebanese formula, which calls for different communities to be represented in institutions through political confessionalism. Edde and Chiha both raised this concept above the selfish interests of others by distinguishing its civilized, open and even democratic character. In this respect, Edde is one of the last figures who embodied a Lebanese humanism, far from both extreme ideologies of the past and the narrow-mindedness of today.

For Edde, like Chiha who who founded the Le Jour newspaper, political sectarianism is not the problem in Lebanon. Instead, he considered it as the cure for the religious issue because it is precisely designed to neutralize inter-communal conflicts and allow parliamentary democracy to flourish. Edde believed that it was the way politics have been practiced since the creation of the Lebanese state that distorted political confessionalism from what was originally intended by the fathers of the Lebanese Constitution.

Edde was always friendly and well-liked, thanks to his debonair physique and immense generosity. He held many friendships that transcended all borders, had an innate sense of humor and a genuine appreciation for good food. For a long time, Edde was considered to be a serious potential candidate for the Presidency. He was certainly prepared and ready for it on several occasions, but not to the point of compromising the principles he held dearly.


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour ont he 5th of November)


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