Impressions, views, and steam-blowing by a lonesome cowboy.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Lonely Are the Brave: General Aziz el-Ahdab

For those who remember and for those who don't know, I am getting ready for March 11.

Thirty years ago when Lebanon was falling apart, and when no one stood up to do the right thing, Brigadier General Aziz el-Ahdab did.

It was March 11, 1976; the country had started its journey down the abyss. The civil war, then called "events", was raging. Citizens were abducted and killed in the streets on the basis of their name/sect/religion. Warring militias were shelling civilian areas, merrily destroying downtown and the port, and stealing merchandise in the millions of dollars. For good measure, they also burned what they could not steal. Snipers were killing pedestrians and drivers, just for crossing from one sector to the other.

Shocked, scared, and confused citizens kept turning to the state and its institutions for protection and guidance. All they got was hot air and paralysis from Frangieh and Karami (RIH, Rot In Hell, both), president and PM respectively. Both were unable to solve anything and, in typical Lebanese fashion, none would resign.

Whatever respect these two clowns had, when sworn into office, dwindled fast. Of course PM Karami (RIH) claimed that the army could not be used to protect life and property, because it would split. So he did not use it, and it still split. In Karami's (RIH) book, and to this day for many, applying the law in Lebanon apparently means "taking sides" and being "biased".

The disappointing thing to many at the time, including myself, was the total absence of any position by the army on the fate of the nation and its security. Some officers made noises. Rumors abounded. Air Force commander Georges Gharib had issued a strong communiqué hinting at action if the politicos did not solve things. Then pooof! Nothing further from army senior officers.

Then in January 1976, a junior officer in the army, Lt. Ahmad Khatib took his soldiers and heavy equipment and joined the leftist-PLO camp of the war. Again in typical Lebanese fashion, the top brass had dithered too long and lost control of its troops.

After the very top brass shirked it duties, and after some junior officers rebelled, Brigadier General Aziz el-Ahdab, Commander of the Beirut sector tried a desperate last-ditch effort. He took over a TV station, tried to pretend he controlled his sector, and demanded the resignation of President Frangieh and PM Karami, and called for the election of a new president within a week.

That Ahdab failed in getting the resignations and in reuniting the army, in my humble opinion, takes nothing from the man's courage, honor, and decency. Desperate times call for desperate measures. The man used what was available to him and the gamble was worth it: trying to save the nation and its army.

That the commander of the Beirut sector, the capital city, after 2 years of mayhem only had a few hundred men and no heavy weapons says a lot about the incompetence of the government and the army leadership.

Whether Ahdab acted with, or without, some Palestinian help, as rumored then, does not bother me in the least. (In fact the PLO was really on the side of Khatib). At any rate, times were desperate, the man's demands made sense and people intuitively sensed and supported these demands. Celebratory gunfire broke out on both sides of town, i.e., both factions rejoiced, as did the average citizen. What happened in the next few hours: international phone calls, Syrian pressure, personal calculations etc, we'll never know.

Things might have turned out differently for Ahdab and Lebanon. However, less than 24 hours after Ahdab burst on TV screens, and after countless telegrams of support from every possible professional association and organization in the country, Brigadier General Ahdab stood alone. No officers, no troops other than his own few, no politicians, no air force joined in. The misguided, the opportunists and the cowards had gone back to business as usual, and the country sank further in the abyss.

Ahdab kept control of the TV station for a while. The station ran some of the best programs/debates on the war, possible solutions, secularization, constitutional law etc. Then General Ahdab disappeared from the scene.

The man was derided, and to this day, as "General TV", or "Aziz el-Ajdab". This cynicism is beyond sick. Our culture glorifies, excuses, and perpetuates the thugs and the corrupt that come out on top.

The real hero does not always succeed, but he can be counted upon to do his duty and be honorable, even against overwhelming odds.

Brigadier General Aziz el Ahdab, this citizen will never forget you. You were the only man in position of responsibility to bang on the table and say ENOUGH when the country went mad. You took a gamble. That you failed is a sad commentary on the rest of us.

General Ahdab, Sir, I salute you wherever you are.


  • At 3/8/06, 9:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Sir Josey, very well written post. I was 4 when the events you described took place, so I can't say I remember that particular "event". :) Did he take over Channel 7?

    Sigh...The real history of Lebanon and the civil war has yet to be written. I am afraid it never will, as long as we're ruled by a culture that, as you said, glorifies the thug. To this day, whenever I visit Lebanon, I get made fun of if I show respect for whatever is left of Lebanese laws, or if I show courtesy to other citizens. Obeying the law in our country of birth is synonymous with weakness. But you know that already.

    Anyway, great post.

  • At 3/8/06, 11:04 PM, Blogger Raja said…


    I salute you, Sir. Thank you for this wonderful post!

  • At 3/8/06, 11:58 PM, Blogger Ms Levantine said…

    Unlike Kais, I remember the Ahdab coup very well. The next day at school we were all wondering who he was. In fact to this day I still don't have an answer. A friend said that his uncle was in the army and that he told him Ahdab was a good guy. He had a couple of people on his side and his action was pure bluff. I think he took over the TV station at Tallet Khayat. At the time the militias were gaining in importance and Ahdab could not turn the tide. At least, contrary to his successors he did not bomb the hell out of Beirut in order to "liberate" it. Come to think of it, the story would make a good play.

  • At 3/9/06, 12:07 AM, Blogger Ms Levantine said…

    Btw, is it a case of Josey W. the lonesome cowboy missing Ahdab the lonely general?

  • At 3/9/06, 12:43 AM, Blogger Lazarus said…

    great post JW. thanks for writing this.


  • At 3/9/06, 6:49 AM, Blogger JoseyWales said…

    Thanks all, for the kind words.

    Yes Ms. Lev, I miss the guy. He was a "good" guy and that is a bit of an emotional post for me.

    Ms. Lev is also right on Tallet Khayat (makes it canal 7, back then).

    To this day, I'll never understand why the army could not, at least, seize downtown and the port in 75/76, the heart of Beirut. It would have protected life and property, separated to some extent the militias, and given the government some badly needed authority.

    I guess Karami and others took care of that. BTW Rashid (RIH) was PM around the 58 "events", around the time of the 69 Cairo Accord, and in 75/76. Rashid, NAHSS is your middle name, and your bro ain't any better.

  • At 3/9/06, 8:44 AM, Blogger Ms Levantine said…


    Ahdab was one of the few good guys in our Civil War. I am trying hard to think of another one. Maybe Charif Akawi, or Raymond Edde who went in exile? At the time the militias were starting to loot downtown Beirut and they were making money. A new class of thugs was emerging (today they are called MPs) and they had no incentive to turn back the clock.

    But this is also a cautionary tale: however brave and good intentioned, a single person cannot change things. The savior does not exist, and help will not come from abroad. It is up to us as citizens to change things or to at least try.

    Thanks for the an interesting post, with not a single sectarian mention.

  • At 3/9/06, 10:01 AM, Blogger JoseyWales said…

    Bingo Ms Lev,

    I asked myself the same question, and got the same answers: Akhawi and Edde. (Both were, of course, made fun of at the time)

  • At 3/9/06, 11:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What a great blast from the past. I remember it well but I don't remember the celebration just that it was "funny". I think at the time no one expected the war to go as long and as bad as it did and the idea of a military coup a la Syria and Iraq in Lebanon was just beyond anyone's acceptance. In a way, maybe too bad because a military coup at the time would have saved Lebanon from years of agony, but, on the other hand, once one military coup succeeds, you have lost all sense of democracy. Just remember that at the time nobody expected the war to last and I don't think people yet knew of Syria's ultimate goal for Lebanon which was to occupy it or even Israel's ultimate goal for Lebanon which was to clean it of Palestinians.

  • At 3/9/06, 4:11 PM, Blogger JoseyWales said…

    Anon 11:03,

    No one likes a coup, though remember two things:

    1) Ahdab called for parliament to elect a new prez in one week. Had it been a successful coup, the military would have been in charge for one week only. Furthermore, a healthy warning would have been sent to future ditherers and paralyzers of the political process.

    2) After 2 years of failure on the part of the gvmnt, people being killed, the economy destroyed, and the nation in grave peril, THAT was the time for "something" and, if you recall, people ready for anyone to take charge. (That's how we ended up with Syria in charge ultimately).

  • At 3/9/06, 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    We didn't just end up with Syria being in charge ultimately, we started with Syria planning purposefully and deceitfully to be in charge ultimately and with Israel taking advantage of the Lebanese' resentment of Palestinian fighters roaming willy nilly in Lebanon. Every single power in the middle-east had its own agenda for Lebanon and I think a successful coup or a failed coup would not have stopped these powers in their pursuit of their own agenda. Even tent living Lybia for God's sake had its own agenda in Lebanon. I think we were doomed no matter who bravely tried to thwart our descent into hell. Look at Bin Laden, he forcefully lords it over Afghanistan, hits America but he is actually more angry at Saudi Arabia eventhough he is a Yemeni with his own insecure issues with his ethnic identity yet who ends up dead? A bunch of regular people traveling coach from one state to another who don't even know where Afghanistan is located on the map and why should they. Basically people who got caught in other demented people's agendas. That was Lebanon. Not even the mighty Zeus could have saved Lebanon.

  • At 3/9/06, 7:04 PM, Blogger Charles Malik said…


    Great post! I haven't been blogging or reading about politics much recently (too much work and travel), but your post makes me want to get back into the game.

    I learned a lot of new history today from you and Ms. Levantine.

  • At 3/11/06, 6:17 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    few comments:
    @ ms leventine
    "At least, contrary to his successors he did not bomb the hell out of Beirut in order to "liberate" it. "
    at that time the milicias except the palestinian ones where not having any heavy armement
    (the palestinian saika was having around 50 T54 if i remember given by syria)

    "To this day, I'll never understand why the army could not, at least, seize downtown and the port in 75/76, the heart of Beirut. It would have protected life and property, separated to some extent the militias, and given the government some badly needed authority."
    because we re in a country where the constitution doesnt allow the executive to take measure of public interest if divided.
    we need to strengh the executive to be able in case of emergency to take such measures @ the right time.
    the army should have been intervening in 75 from the beginning even if lebanon would have been threatened by an economical blocus from syria like what happened in 1973.
    i m considering that the real beginning of the war and of the manipulation began by the signature of the cairo deal in 1969 under the pressure of egypt and syria

    ahdad made a move but too late unfortunatly.

    and today we re making again the same mistakes that lead as to have weaknesses such as desunion, weak executive subject to paralysis when there are sign of divisions etc.. and we didnt learn from that period... unfortunatly

  • At 3/11/06, 11:22 AM, Blogger JoseyWales said…


    Of course "too little too late", that's the modern story of Lebanon, the Palestinians, and the Arabs.

    Re not intervening in 75/76: it was not a matter of constitution, but of lack of leadership and divisive politics as you point out.

    It's a very long story that I won't revisit here, but as usual, the issue was framed in the wrong way, so bad things followed.

    One is entitled to ask, however, who in his right mind (big "if" in Lebanon) would object to protecting life, infrastructure and the economy?

    That lesson has still not been digested. Just look at the professional/economic associations making noises now, about the dire situation. They've been in a coma for the last 35 years.

  • At 3/12/06, 5:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    " it was not a matter of constitution, but of lack of leadership and divisive politics as you point out."
    well the lebanese constitution based on the french constitution of the 3 republic (without the sectarism part) is a weakenss and lead to a division of leadership etc..
    i dont know any country that was having such a constitution that didnt amend it to reach an executive power instead of a pure parlementarty power.
    this constitution also lack of way to deal with emergency measures such as the well know article 16 of the actual french constitution.
    include to that the communitarism and the sectarism and of course u re reaching lack of leadership and division.

    i m quite sure we can have instruments to requilibrate the power to the executive without falling into the dictaturship.
    at least we have to reach that result especially since lebanon is surrounded by a theocraty and a dictature that might divide us to overtake us like it happened before

  • At 3/14/06, 5:27 PM, Blogger Ecce Libanus said…

    Great post JW, and a tearjerker for this old timer! I was 13 at the time, but I remember this fleeting moment of hope quite distinctly.

    "Pity the nation that acclaims the bylly as hero [...]
    Pity the nation that will rebel not save when its neck is laid between the sword and the block [...]
    Pity the nation whose statesman is fox, whose philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of patching and mimicking."

    Different era, different circumstances, but Gibran's words are still as pertinent and distressing today as they were in 75-76, 58, and 34.

    Thanks again JW for ripping open the old wounds.

  • At 3/15/06, 11:45 AM, Blogger JoseyWales said…

    You're welcome Lou.

    this fleeting moment of hope

    yes and, in retrospect, the last such moment. The loss before that was bad and horrible enough. The loss which followed 75/76, incommensurable.

  • At 4/30/06, 7:30 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    well Jose, thank you for this lovely article...
    General Aziz el Ahdab, is currently is living in his home city Tripoli, north of Lebanon at the end of Azmi Street, next to the islamic hospital.
    i respect this man, he always beleive in lebanon, lebanon of fakhr-udden....
    my father was kidnapped during this period of 1967, he was a pro- ahdab..."
    long live for lebanon

  • At 5/1/06, 5:16 PM, Blogger JoseyWales said…

    Thx Gab,

    Good to know Ahdab's whereabouts. I hope he's doing fine.

  • At 10/8/06, 11:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Dear Sir,

    I was 10 years old in 1996 when we saw Aziz El-Ahdab on TV Channel 7, we were living in Ain El Tineh-Verdun neighbourhood, 500 meters away from the TV station. He stated his speach by ''Blagh rakem wahad''. My father screamed: this is Aziz, ou cousin! Later, General Ahdab told my father that the Syrians threatened to destroy the Rayak air base if carried on with his plan to remove Franjieh. Talking about rotten politician, we had a convicted criminal as a persident, who was getting comissions in the early 70'for allowing the Palestinian to get weapons from Syria, and a medicore prime minister...So no wonder, the desaster of 1975-76 happened.

    Best regards.

  • At 11/26/06, 8:52 PM, Blogger JoseyWales said…


    I read your answer late, as this is an old post of mine, but thank you very much for posting and visiting.

  • At 7/28/15, 3:24 AM, Blogger ahmad atallah said…

    Very much true but the back calculations always prevail. Sad.


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