Beshara, Adel. Outright Assassination the Trial and Execution of Antun Sa'adeh, 1949. New York: Garnet Publishing (UK), 2010.


Reviewed by Maya El-Darzi

 

Outright Assassination: The Trial and Execution of Antun Saadeh, 1949 by Adel Beshara is an in-depth piece examining the circumstances surrounding the Syrian Social Nationalist Party (SSNP) leaders death in a detailed interdisciplinary context. Although Saadehs case has been studied before, Beshara argues that current scholarship merely provides a cursory treatment of the saga as part of a general history rather than the thorough analysis it deserves (xv). Instead, Beshara argues for a re-interpretation of the events, taking into account the broader politics that overlap, compete and clash, drown or reinforce each other in legal controversies (xv). Moreover, Besharas analysis transcends the boundaries of chronology, and examines the regime and individual participant behavior their minds, motives, morality, deeds, and standing under international and domestic law (xv).

 

Dividing the book into three general parts, Beshara spends chapters one and two providing historical and political framework for Saadehs trial and execution. Because of Lebanons diverse demographic landscape, political figures have often disagreed over the countrys identity in relation to the rest of the Middle East. In this context, Beshara introduces Saadeh and his ideology, and traces the evolution of the party until the end of World War Two. Beshara then highlights the confrontation that ultimately caused Saadehs downfall. On May 1949, Saadeh met with Syrian Prime Minister Husni al-Zaim, and discussed possibly manifesting his vision for Greater Syrian. After the meeting, Saadeh then wrote an expose, which was eventually published in al-Nahar newspaper. The Lebanese government under President Bechara Khoury read the expose, and charged Saadeh with treason against the state.

 

The second section, comprised of chapters three to six, examines the trial, execution, and the aftermath. The Khoury regime denied Saadeh several requests, such as the ability for a lawyer to review the evidence and compose a defense, etc. But despite the legal violations, the court ironically did follow certain formalities, specifically allowing a Greek Orthodox priest to bestow the final rites upon Saadeh. In the aftermath of the execution, Beshara also conveys the various opinions of political leaders in Lebanon, as well as the international community. While western nations, like France and the U.S., applauded the elimination of a fascist threat, Druze leader Kamal Jumblatt, for instance, recognized the injustice surrounding the Saadeh trial, and accused the government of corruption. As an added plus, Beshara also analyzes several different conspiracy theories surrounding Saadehs trial. In the final section, chapters seven and eight, Beshara continues to show the repercussions of Saadehs execution within Lebanon, focusing on the Khoury regime, the SSNP, the military, and other entities. Finally, Beshara discusses Saadehs legacy, tracing his initial popularity, to his downfall, to its later resurrection in the 1970s.

 

Besharas study contains a number of strengths most notably his use of various sources in the absence of court records. Indeed, the Lebanese Military Court in Beirut claims such court records disappeared during the 1982 Israeli invasion. Leaving no stone unturned, Beshara explores Lebanese press and periodicals, examines personal accounts and memoirs, as well as reviews previous studies in the original Arabic. Although these sources, individually, hold various biases, Beshara examines them on a broad scale, balancing extreme opinions, and reconstructs an objective story. In addition, Beshara includes several excerpts from such sources, which not only enriches the text, but also reinforce his claims, and strengthens his argument.

 

Beshara could have considered including a brief synopsis, in the early chapters, regarding both Christian and Muslim reception of the SSNP theory. Indeed, Beshara discusses the Lebanese Establishment and the response of the upper class typified by the Zaim, but he mentions very little of the common mans reaction to Saadehs ideas. Did the people see this as a compromise between Lebanism and Arabism? Did the ideology mend any sectarian cracks among the different religious groups? Besides Outright Assassination, Beshara has completed several studies surrounding Auntun Saadeh and the SSNP, laying a wonderful foundation for English scholarship on the subject. Filtering any of Besharas biases, Levantine scholars should not only review Outright Assassination, but also conduct their own research, in hopes of stepping closer to the truth surrounding the Saadeh saga.

 

Outright Assassination is great for students already familiar with identity politics in a Levantine context, as well as those who have already heard of Antun Saadeh and his political party. Beshara successfully analyzes the trial and execution, while combining history, law, domestic and foreign politics, and other disciplines. Indeed, throughout the chapters, Beshara takes the time, and traces the history of a certain law, clarifies motives of the Khoury regime or the Zaim, attempts to piece together the final moments of Saadehs life as intimately as possible. As the first book in English to fully analyze the Saadeh saga, Outright Assassination truly is a welcome contribution to the field of Syrian studies due to its comprehensive analysis of such a significant event. Although Antun Sadaah tragically died, his memory continues to live as SSNP flags fly in the wind on the streets of Hamra. People everywhere, old and young, continue to shout with pride and hope, Tahya Souriya!

 

Maya El-Darzi graduated from California State University, Northridge with a B.A. in both, Political Science and History, and continued in the same institution to earn her M.A. in History as well.