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Dr. Edmond Melhem – Leadership in Sacrifice: The Legacy of Antun Sa’adeh

Trust and respect in a leader grow when he or she is willing to accept personal sacrifice for the sake of others. As Kazuo Inamori argues: “Leaders can earn the trust of their subordinates only by showing the necessary courage to sacrifice themselves.”[1] Sa’adeh was always willing to make difficult and courageous decisions, regardless of the prevailing winds and personal costs. His true strength and courage lay in his readiness to pay the price that every leader should be willing to pay: self-sacrifice. On many occasions, he placed himself at personal risk and made sacrifices to build trust and confidence. Despite receiving numerous threats, he remained undaunted. Enduring harassment, imprisonment, and persecution, he fearlessly confronted his persecutors.

The Egyptian-Lebanese journalist, Ahmad Shuman had observed him while talking in his classical Arabic at his trial by the French Military Tribunal. He noted:

Sa´adeh was courageous, honest, rational, and lucid. He spoke with a confident voice and without pomposity or disdain toward his adjudicators, which compelled the judges to respect him, even though he had been charged on various counts and had been prosecuted several times.[2]

He was exiled with the intention that he would not return, but he never gave up hope and returned home, after nine years, stronger, wiser and more perceptive than before. He was welcomed gloriously by huge masses that came from different parts and corners of the country to catch a glimpse of the great leader. He delivered a powerful speech, demonstrating his sound leadership, resilience, control over circumstances, and true confidence and persistence in his faith. In a decisive tone, he announced: “I am instructing you to return to the field of battle.”[3] Furthermore, he suffered political oppression, intimidation, frustration and continual hardship at home and in exile, but he always showed conviction, effort and relentless determination. With courage and willingness to face countless risks, he dared to break the mold and offered dreams the possibility of fulfillment. With an enduring passion and intensity, he called upon the people to unite their energies and elevate their vision of the future. He established new precedents in heroism that others followed. He led by example and acted as a brave man by putting aside the question of personal safety and facing his responsibilities as a national leader.  His stances during the few hours immediately before his swift execution by the Lebanese authorities demonstrated exemplary commitment and self-sacrifice. It serves as a reminder of the story of the execution of the Athenian philosopher Socrates. This man, who used his death as a final lesson for his pupils, had fought for Athens as a soldier and had dedicated his life to righteousness, the search for truth and the improvement of his fellow men. He was accused of worshiping strange gods and corrupting the youth of Athens. At no time at his trial did he plea for mercy, ask for forgiveness, or beg the judges for leniency. His friends urged him to flee, but he chose to stay in prison and await his punishment. Socrates was sentenced to death for his beliefs. He welcomed a memorable end and, as required, he carried out his own execution by calmly drinking a cup of poisonous plant hemlock.

Like Socrates, Antun Sa’adeh refused to change his plan and avoided meeting with Husni al-Za’im, despite the advice of his secretary, Elias Qunayzah. Instead, he set aside concerns for personal safety and took a chance, showing more concern for the cause than for his own life and proving his famous saying: “The whole life is but an honourable stance.”.[4] He chose to pay the ultimate price and die for his beliefs. While waiting to be taken away for his hasty execution, Sa´adeh was talking to the priest who was brought to hear his confession and carry out the religious rites. With calmness and moral courage, Sa´adeh uttered his last eternal words:

I am not concerned about how I die, but rather about what I die for. “I do not count the years I have lived, but rather the works I have accomplished. Tonight, they will execute me, but those dedicated to my ideology will triumph and eventually avenge my death. All of us will die, but few among us have the honour of dying for a belief. The shame of this night belongs to our descendants, our communities abroad, and foreigners alike. It appears that the independence we nurtured with our own blood when we first planted it must now draw new blood from our veins.”[5]

[1] Kazuo Inamori, op. cit., p. 117.

[2] Adel Beshara (ed.), The Intellectual Legacy of Antun Sa’adeh: Philosophy, Culture and Society, Vol 1, Beirut: Kutub Publishing, 2017, p. 88.

[3] Antun Sa΄adeh. Mukhtarat fi al-Mas’alah al-Lubnaniyyah – 2 (1947 – 1949), Beirut: SSNP, 1976, P. 28.

[4] See Sa΄adeh’s supplementary speech (part II) in Bshamoun delivered on 03/10/1948. In volume 8-1948-49. See: .

[5] See “The Priest to Whom Sa´adeh Confessed” by Said Taky Deen, Translated by Adel Beshara and Dennis Walker, in Edmond Melhem, The Road to Revolution, op. cit., appendix III. (pp. 126 -130).

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