Remembering Dr. Chatah

December 27, 2013
By Dr. Sundeep Waslekar

Dr Mohamad Chatah, Member of the High Level Group on Blue Peace in the Middle East and a close friend of Strategic Foresight Group, was assassinated by terrorists on 27 December 2013 in Beirut. He was a former Finance Minister of Lebanon and a leading Opposition figure. Dr Chatah strongly advocated peace, cooperation and good governance. He also brought hope and joy in all his interactions with SFG. Sundeep Waslekar remembers him.

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As Ilmas and I poured coffee in our cups at a coffee shop in suburban Mumbai, Ambika called from the office. Dr Mohamad Chatah had just been assassinated by terrorists in downtown Beirut. For some time we found it impossible to believe. There was a mistake, we were sure. But then message after message confirmed the tragic news. And yet I continued to disbelieve. As Dr Mohammad Chatah symbolised life in all my interaction with him, it was impossible to think of him in terms of death.

BBC led the world media in describing him as Lebanon’s former Finance Minister, ambassador and as a significant Opposition leader. Yes, Dr Chatah held all these positions. But I will always remember him for his spirit and his words of hope, his untiring advocacy of good governance in all our meetings and his belief in peace and cooperation. In 2010, when he was Chief Adviser for foreign policy to Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri he became one of the architects of the quadrilateral economic cooperation area agreement between Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Syria. As a person with foresight, he saw value in including Syria into the quadrilateral framework, despite his nausea for authoritarianism. If this experiment had worked, we would have seen one day a region known for robust economic growth and peace.

It was because of his belief in regional peace and cooperation that he accepted our invitation to join the High Level Group for Blue Peace in the Middle East. His protégé, Karma Ekmekji, was a regular participant in the Blue Peace process. When Strategic Foresight Group and the Government of Switzerland jointly decided to form the High Level Group, she called me from Beirut. “I have just the perfect leader in mind to advance our work for using water as an instrument of peace in the Middle East.” I requested her to speak to him on our behalf. When Dr Chatah and Karma flew into Amman at the High Level Group formation meeting convened by HRH Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, he surprised me with his dynamism, his skills to articulate our collective vision and his immense ability to bring hope and joy in our interaction.

Dr Mohamad Chatah was not a water expert. He was an economist with extensive experience in politics. He immediately understood the economic and political importance of water. He particularly emphasised good governance along with cooperation. In fact, he was the only one to argue in a meeting after meeting that better governance within the country and peace and cooperation within the region would help lead the Middle East to realise its true potential. Even though he was a critic of the Assad regime, he never used the Blue Peace platform for his politics. He always hoped that Syria would have good governance sooner rather than later and it would join the movement for peace in the region. It is really sad that such a force of moderation was attacked by forces of extremism in this dastardly act. Those who committed this heinous crime have done a disservice to themselves. They have taken away an influential leader who could build bridges and see reason.

Within hours of the news of his assassination, we began to receive messages from politicians, media leaders and water experts involved in the Blue Peace processes. It was touching to see how many people felt touched by him in the brief interactions that were possible in the extremely hectic Blue Peace meetings. Such a tragic event convinces me all the more that all of us in the Blue Peace community need each other in our journey towards our shared goals.

While remembering Dr Mohamad Chatah, I must also admire the spirit of life, joy and hope that every friend from Lebanon epitomises. I hope that Lebanon will overcome its violent sectarianism and become a society at peace with itself. Once this happens, Lebanon’s economic rise will be unstoppable as the entrepreneurial and creative spirit of the Lebanese people is well known.

Politics of hatred, division and violence does not succeed in the long run. One day Lebanon and the Middle East are bound to see Arabian days, ending the nightmare haunting many parts of the region. But in the short run, many friends and leaders who advocate reason face risks. And Dr Chatah paid the ultimate price. One day when the region turns a new leaf, his portrait will be there in the Hall of Fame among those who made a different future possible. But we will always miss him as a dear, fun loving and eloquent friend.

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