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Opinion: The French Personal Driver - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Ghassan Tueni modernised the Lebanese press and transformed it in stages. He also improved the conditions of those belonging to the profession and introduced high salaries that were paid before their due dates, automatic rises, health insurance and bonuses.

The An-Nahar newspaper began to send its editors and reporters to the sites of incidents everywhere from Moscow to Saigon. It sent Amin Maalouf to cover Saigon’s last days and in 1973, I was dispatched to cover the General Assembly session in New York, but the Yom Kippur War that took place in October 1973 made me extend my residence, and then I decided, as usual, to look for a new place of residence and I chose Canada.

The following year, however, Ghassan Tueni came to New York and decided to take me back to Beirut with him in handcuffs. We spent a few beautiful and eventful days in New York. He was full of life, curious and wore out anyone who accompanied him. He tired out his first wife Nadia Mohammad Ali Hamadeh the most.

One day, he said “Let’s go to Washington for a few days”. As he did with all those who worked with him, he booked me a room at the hotel where he was staying. We spent a few days there, and the star of the city during those days was the Arab League’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations Dr Clovis Maksoud. He and his wife Hala Salam threw parties attended by senior American figures including Henry Kissinger.

When we decided to return to New York, Mr Ghassan said “As there are five of us (Clovis, Hala, Ghassan, Nadia and me), why don’t we rent a car and enjoy the scenic route? Who will drive us 500 kilometres?”

The matter was settled. Chivalry ensured that the ladies would not drive, and Mr Ghassan had been colour blind since he was a child and could not drive. As for Clovis, his hearing was much sharper than his sight and he never applied for a driving license; he was content with a doctorate from Oxford. The choice was made.

Hala decided to sit next to me in order to guide me and Nadia Tueni decided that my name should be changed to “Ferman”; the name of most private drivers in France.

The last thing that needed taking care of was ensuring that “Ferman” would not succumb to sleepiness over the course of the 500 kilometres. Ghassan Tueni, whom we called “The Master”, undertook the role of the entertainer, making jokes and telling funny stories. Most of the stories were about his father in law, Ambassador Mohamed Ali Hamadeh who was known for his “double diplomacy”. If he wanted, Hamadeh was able to speak for an hour without saying anything. And thus he used to save himself and Lebanese diplomacy from deadlock and critical situations.

When we got to New York, Ghassan Tueni was still recounting his memories and “Ferman” discovered “The Master’s” satirical abilities for the first time. He made us laugh during the entire journey without losing an atom of dignity.

Samir Atallah

Samir Atallah

Samir Atallah is a prominent Lebanese journalist, author and political analyst.

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