Clovis Maksoud, pillar of the Arab-American community, dies at age 90

Maksoud struggled near end of his life to remain optimistic in face of what he saw happen­ing in Arab world but he never gave up hope.

2016/05/22 Issue: 57 Page: 17

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

Washington - Clovis Maksoud, one of the most thoughtful and influential Arab-Amer­ican personalities, has died in Washington.

Maksoud lived many lives in his 90 years: journalist, scholar, dip­lomat and activist. He was born in Oklahoma to Lebanese immigrant parents but was raised in Lebanon and educated at the American Uni­versity in Beirut (AUB). He was a US citizen who served as a diplo­mat for the Arab League, including as the League’s chief representa­tive to the United States and the United Nations from 1979-90.

He was senior editor of Cairo’s al-Ahram newspaper and later chief editor of Beirut’s An-Nahar Weekly, as well as a scholar who wrote several books and served as director of the Center for the Glob­al South at American University in Washington DC.

In addition to his degree from AUB, Maksoud had a law degree from George Washington Univer­sity in the US capital and also stud­ied at Oxford University in Britain.

Maksoud was an outspoken and principled activist on behalf of Arab nationalism, Palestin­ian rights and non-alignment. He fought tirelessly for Arab unity and resigned as the Arab League’s US and UN representative following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In his resignation letter, he wrote: “The Arab house has fallen on itself and the conflicts have sub­merged our shared priorities.”

He criticised Iraq for invading Kuwait but also criticised Saudi Arabia for summoning foreign in­tervention to oust Iraq instead of pursuing “an Arab solution”. He viewed disunity, extremism and sectarianism as the greatest threats to the Arab world.

Maksoud’s activism was not lim­ited to issues related to the Arab world. A true global citizen, he wrote about and convened schol­arly conferences on the environ­ment, human rights, economic de­velopment, population growth and disarmament.

However, his commitment to Palestinian rights and justice re­mained a driving force in his life and work. “Palestine is the anvil of our souls,” he once said. After he resigned from the Arab League, he regularly lamented that Arab disu­nity came at the expense of Pales­tinian rights.

Maksoud continued to write and give speeches until his death from a brain aneurysm. In October 2014, he addressed an audience in Dear­born, Michigan, upon the release of his memoir, From the Corners of Memory. Maksoud said religion cannot replace nationalism as the leading ideology of the Arab world. “When political Islam considers it­self the alternative to Arab nation­alism, it loses its sense of direction; it loses its compass,” he said.

He said the Arab world needs diversity and that different reli­gious groups should be able to live together, not simply coexist. Sec­tarianism, he warned, would have “devastating” effects.

He recounted a conversation he once had with Rached Ghan­nouchi, leader of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda Party. Islamic values, he told Ghannouchi, cannot be a re­placement for nationalism.

Maksoud struggled near the end of his life to remain optimistic in the face of what he saw happen­ing in the Arab world but he never gave up hope: “We as Arabs are ex­periencing a resignation from hope and we are almost submitting our­selves to despair,” said Maksoud in his Dearborn address. “We will not resign despite all the negatives we are facing.”

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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