By Marc Abized
Former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammed Shattah, killed in a massive blast in downtown Beirut Friday morning, was a leading member of the Western-favored March 14 movement and a close adviser to ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
No one has claimed responsibility for the car bomb that killed Shattah, a strong opponent of the government in Syria, but who was also seen as a moderate with ties to figures across Lebanon’s political landscape.
“I honestly don’t know why he was targeted. I asked a lot of people, and everyone gave a different explanation,” Bassem al-Shaab, an MP with the March 14 Future Movement, told Al-Akhbar.
“He was a very moderate, very enlightened man,” Shaab added, describing Shattah’s death as “a tragic loss.”
Shattah, 62, wore many hats: A diplomat, he served as Lebanon’s ambassador to the United States in the late-1990s under the government of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, himself killed in an explosion in downtown Beirut almost nine years ago.
He was an influential economist, holding positions at the International Monetary Fund, and serving as vice governor of Lebanon’s Central Bank in the early and mid-1990s during a period of reconstruction when the country was reeling from a 15-year civil war.
In 2006 Shattah played a role in the negotiations that brought an end to Israel’s 34-day war on Lebanon with the enactment of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701.
Shattah’s political allies and foes alike praised him for his diplomacy and openness, with commentators saying that his killing revealed that the perpetrators showed no mercy for moderate forces.
“He represented a voice of moderation,” Sami Nader, a political analyst and professor at Beirut’s Saint Joseph University, told Al-Akhbar.
“He spent most of his political career building bridges and trying to find compromises,” Nader added. “When you get rid of such a symbol, that means you are targeting the things they stood for: dialogue, moderation, compromise … ”
His slaying comes over a year after the assassination of Brigadier General Wissam al-Hassan, another prominent March 14 figure who died in a car bomb explosion.
Since that killing Lebanon has been wracked by a series of car bombs targeting mostly civilians in Beirut’s southern suburbs and a twin explosion outside mosques in the northern city of Tripoli.
March 14 figures were quick to pin the blame for Shattah’s killing on Hezbollah, which vehemently denied involvement, describing the assassination as a “terrorist” act and “heinous crime.”
“It’s not for me to suspect [who was behind the explosion], but Shattah had political enemies. One of them was the Syrian regime, and one of them was Hezbollah,” Shaab said, noting that Shattah had also been involved in the international tribunal set up to investigate Rafik Hariri’s 2005 assassination.
The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is set to begin hearings next month in the Hague, where several Hezbollah members will be tried in absentia over accusations of involvement in Hariri’s killing.
Hezbollah has criticized the tribunal as being partial toward the March 14 bloc, accusing it of basing its evidence on false witnesses.
MP Ibrahim Kanaan told Al-Akhbar that the former minister’s assassination came as a surprise, as he frequently reached out to his opponents and worked with figures from all sides.
“He was well known for his strong political positions, but he was also a positive person and very open-minded,” Kanaan, who is affiliated with the rival March 8 bloc, said.
“He worked with people from different parties and who held positions that differed from his own, not just March 14,” he added. “Maybe that’s why he was targeted.”