Thousands bid farewell to Karami, a 'colossal loss'

Thousands bid farewell to Karami, a 'colossal loss'
3 min read
02 January, 2015
A funeral has been held for Omar Karami, Lebanon's first post-civil war prime minister, an avowed pan-Arab nationalist who was committed to the Palestinian cause.
Thousands of Lebanese have bid farewell to former prime minister Omar Karami, who passed away on Wednesday at the age of 81.

The former prime minister was laid to rest in an official funeral attended by all political parties and thousands of supporters who travelled from across the county to the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli.

Omar Karami, from a prominent family of political leaders, was a unique politician who strived to remain committed to
     Karami was a unique politician who always remained committed to national unity.
national unity in a country that suffered a civil war and remains divided by sectarian loyalties.

He was an avowed Pan Arab nationalist, who was committed to the Palestinian struggle. His family supported the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) during its days in Lebanon and backed Hizballah as a resistance movement.

Refusing to be dragged into the sectarian quagmire that mars Lebanese politics, he gained wide credibility and trust. But the sharp polarisation caused by the assassination of Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, and the movement against the presence of Syrian forces weakened his position.

His support for Hizballah in May 2008, when armed members of the Shia movement seized large swathes of Beirut in a showdown with the Lebanese government over perceived attempt to control the movement's own telecommunications network - undermined his support among his own power base especially in Tripoli his predominantly Sunni hometown. 

Born into a prominent political family from Tripoli, Karami headed two Lebanese governments (1990-1992 and 2004-2005). He was also the son of former Lebanese Prime Minister and independence hero Abdul Hamid Karami, and brother of Prime Minister Rashid Karami, who was assassinated in 1987 when he was blown up in a military helicopter.

First post-civil war PM

In 1990, Karami was elected the first prime minister of post-civil war Lebanon, presiding over a 30-member government that included Samir Geagea, leader of the former Christian militia the Lebanese Forces. Geagea was later convicted of being responsible for the assassination of Rashid Karami, Omar’s brother.

In 1992, Karami's government was brought down after street riots broke out in protest against the economic crisis in the country, though he remained a member of parliament.

Karami remained in the shadows until he replaced Hariri as prime minister in October 2004. This happened on the backdrop of the constitutional crisis over the extension of President Emile Lahoud’s term in office.

After Hariri was assassinated in February 2005, Karami found himself at the centre of a domestic and international political storm, with Hariri's supporters in the opposition accusing him of murder and intimidation. 

Under domestic and international pressure, Karami resigned on 28 February 2005, two weeks after Hariri’s assassination. He was reinstated again on 10 March, but after failing to form a new government he resigned on 13 April.

He retreated from Lebanese public life, along with Syrian military forces that left Lebanon in April 2005, and 
was sidelined from the political scene until Hizballah and its allies, drove out the unity government headed by Saad Hariri in 2011.

Karami was a strong contender to lead that government. But Hizballah leader decided against, its leader Hassan Nasrallah claiming he had ruledhimself out for health reasons.  

Days later, however, Karami appeared to rebuff Nasrallah's claims saying: "I heard Sayyid Hassan's speech in which he eulogised me. Today I am in front of you and want you as my witnesses as journalists, I am in front of you; do I look ill? In any case, I am at this country's service until my final breath."

In sharp contrast, a statement from Hizballah after his passing Wednesday hailed Karami as a "colossal loss of a wise leader... who provided constant support to the resistance movement against the Israeli occupation."​​