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Location: Birmingham, MI, United States

Councilman John Akouri, former Washington, DC Press Secretary & Capitol Hill Advisor, is President & CEO of the Lebanese American Chamber of Commerce.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Christos Anesti, Alithos Anesti!

Friday, March 25, 2005

Witness to History: A Man Of Peace Visits The White House

(WASHINGTON, DC)...I had traveled to the Detroit McNamara Airport terminal to board a plane to Washington, DC countless times before, but this time my trip felt different. I had been invited by the Ambassador to the Embassy of Lebanon many times before, but this time something about my visit was different. I had met His Eminence Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Sfeir numerous times before, but this time our talks were different. For three days last week, I was one of the lucky ones, granted a rare opportunity to witness an historic occasion in our nations capital. For me, the culmination of this moment in time started long ago.

The year was 1982 and I was just a teenager concerned with all the nuances and joys of shedding adolescence and welcoming the pre-adulthood status that awaited me in the early part of that decade. Though, with the excitement that surrounded the end of another school year and the beginning of summer came a black cloud that loomed overhead, as I could not escape the daily grim radio and television reports of what was to become a besieged Beirut. Since 1975 Lebanon had been embroiled in a bloody civil war – one that had extracted thousands of lives and forced the exodus of those who could to European, American and other foreign lands. By the early summer of 1982, the war had intensified and seemed to headline every major news network, magazine, and newspaper. I was glued to the recurring sights and sounds of
“We Interrupt This Program; Breaking News; Film at 11 and The Following is a Special Report.”

Beirut had been divided by what was known as the ‘Green Line’ and for years the Lebanese capital had withstood the constant bombardment of daily artillery shells, tanks, bombs, sniper fire and more. As if the presence of Lebanon’s warring factions was not enough, more than 30,000 Syrian troops had earlier entered its tiny neighbor and were stationed in and around parts of the city. Beirut, once known as the Paris of the Middle East had become a city of blood. And, for the first time in history, the armies of the state of Israel would invade an Arab capital. As the convoy of Israeli armies and tanks headed northward towards Beirut, people across the world witnessed firsthand the invasion of Israeli troops moving along the highways, streets and villages on their television screens. Beirut lay under siege and experiencing it’s darkest days.

A city thousands of years old with a rich archeological history and home to many historic, religious and cultural entities was being leveled inch by inch, mile by mile, a country laden with foreign aggression. And all we could do here at home in the US was watch the television monitors and pray for our loved ones still living in Lebanon. Three and a half years later, the prayers of many were answered. On April 19, 1986, His Beatitude Mar Nasrallah Boutrous Cardinal Sfeir was elected Maronite Patriarch for Antioch and all the East. A small yet gentle man, he began his reign during the midst of a war that had been ongoing for eleven years.

Fast-forward to last week’s significantly momentous and notable meeting between the Patriarch and US President George W. Bush. The Patriarch had to be flown from his residence in Bkerke to Beirut International Airport by way of helicopter due to a million-person People-Power rally taking place in Beirut’s Freedom Square that blocked many streets and blockaded traffic flow. But the Patriarch was determined to meet with the American commander-in-chief. A meeting borne out of mass rallies all over Lebanon and the international calling for the withdrawal of Syria’s remaining troops and intelligence security forces.

Pleas like that of Druze leader Walid Jumblat who was quoted as saying, “Unchain us, leave us, you made us hate Syria,” sprouted freely following the gruesome and horrific assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the architect of the rebuilding of post-war Lebanon, along with 18 other innocents. A Cedar Revolution had begun and took wing from Lebanon’s youth to bring freedom, democracy and independence to the nation and to find out the truth behind the shocking and ghastly killing of Hariri. As the Patriarch was in the air throughout most of the Beirut rally, he was sure to be briefed on all that transpired once he reached American soil.

Accompanied by an entourage of nearly a hundred priests, monsignors and bishops from around the country, personal security and bodyguards, an advance team, secret service agents, a motorcade, global media coverage, well wishers and paparazzi, the now 85-year old Patriarch made his way around Washington, DC. Morning meetings were scheduled, Masses were said nearly every day, a Druze delegation was met, the new church altar was consecrated, speeches were given at every stop and receptions took place each evening. And somehow, throughout it all, this kind and calm man of peace managed to keep a twinkle in his eye, a smile on his face and the future of millions of Lebanese in his heart and soul.

As he walked into the Embassy, his eyes fixated on me and I could tell he was eager to embrace an old friend. I welcomed him back to the US, and asked God to grant him rest from his tireless work on Lebanon’s behalf and to lengthen his life here on earth. His words that night to the distinguished guests assembled, the Diplomatic Corps, and his old friends were simple, “Lebanon has gone through difficult times in the past and it was able to overcome them. At this time, Lebanon is at crossroads that could lead it in various directions. Only our unity and cooperation could bring Lebanon to the harbor of safety and could insure its prosperity and growth. Therefore, let us put our own personal differences aside and join our efforts for the sake of the free, sovereign and democratic Lebanon.” These words were broadcast all over the world through the magic of satellite.

Today, when I am asked about that encounter along with the situation in Lebanon and the fact that images are being revealed in real time across television stations throughout the world, I must admit that at times it seems as though I am hearing and watching a ‘rerun’ that mirrors a grim not to distant past. But this time, however, there is something different, very different – the stark difference is that I am witnessing these historic images unfold live and in person before my very own eyes and that this time it’s clearly peace all sides seek, not war.

Friday, March 04, 2005

1000 Mourners Attend Hariri Memorial Service in Detroit, Michigan - USA


-Maronite mass draws multi-faith congregation from around the world-
(DETROIT, MI)…More than a thousand mourners packed the Cathedral of St. Maron Maronite Church in Detroit last Sunday to attend a memorial service honoring the assassinated former Lebanese Prime Minister H.E. Rafik Hariri. With an array of elected officials, news media, clergy and family members of the slain leader, the nearly two hour-long mass led by Rev. Father Ghattas Khoury was offered in remembrance of Hariri. Having just arrived from Lebanon, Father Roger Chikri, who was only in the United States for several days, co-officiated the liturgy joined by longtime senior priest Father Antoun Saad.

A sea of red and white silk scarves – a symbol of Lebanese unity and solidarity born in the aftermath of the brutal killing of Hariri – adorned the necks of hundreds of emotional worshipers in sheer reverence. Incense filled the air as the traditional rituals began with congregational participation; a large mural of Hariri’s now familiar face was placed on the side of the holy altar near the flickering of miniature flames coming from a stream of burning candles. Led by several cantors, a choir chanted ancient Maronite hymns in Aramaic from the towering balcony as the sounds of a traditional Lebanese Oud bellowed spiritual tunes that transcended the soaring ceilings of the church throughout the solemn ecumenical mass of the deceased.

Immediately following the prayers of the faithful, hundreds of mourners processed from the ornate cathedral into the neighboring church community center building and banquet hall for a modest Meal of Mercy. Dignitaries and elected officials from around the state that attended the event included from Lansing, recently announced Gubernatorial candidate State Senator Nancy Cassis, State Representative Lamar Lemmons, Jr., longtime Dearborn City Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini, former senior advisor to US Representative Joe Knollenberg & Farmington Hills City Councilman John Akouri, former Novi City Councilman Victor Cassis, and US Representative Thad McCotter’s Press Secretary Bob Jackson.

Also present to pay their respects to Hariri family members in attendance, Walid and Nadera Nassif was Imam Mohamad Mardini of the American Muslim Center, founding member and former chairman of the American Druze Society Mr. Kamal Shouhayib, President of the Lebanese American Association of Greater Toledo Mr. Yehya Shousher, Chairman Emeritus of the Chaldean Federation of America Mr. Sam Yono, past Chairman of the Washington-based American Muslim Council Dr. Yehya Basha, and key board members of the Lebanese American Club of Michigan (LACOM) and the Assembly for Lebanon (AFL).

The program began under the glare of bright lights encircled by cameras and photographers from international media outlets that included NBC affiliate WDIV-TV Channel 4 News, Mr. Wally Jadan, President and General Manager of Radio & TV Orient, Mr. Art Roselle of the Washington Times, Chaldean Times publisher Amir Denha, Mr. Bassam Mourad of the Michigan Arab Times, Mr. Karim Haddad with the Canadian-based Al Akhbar & An Nahar Newspaper. On Saturday, organizers of the Hariri Memorial Service were featured on the Detroit-area radio program Mid-East Media with Salah Kulato and Nick Najjar.

Emcee John Akouri welcomed the guests who continued to pour in even after the program began. Akouri opened his remarks with a moment of silence for the repose of the soul of the martyred Prime Minister and all those who lost their lives with him on that tragic St. Valentines Day Massacre in Beirut’s trendy seafront business district known as Corniche. “While we have paused to remember him, let us also keep our heads bowed in remembrance of those who perished with him,” Akouri said. “His personal staff and aides, those ensured with protecting and guarding him, and the innocent bystanders sitting or walking nearby on that tragic day who lost their lives with Prime Minister Hariri.”

“Since the late 1970’s there have been numerous assassinations of political leaders in Lebanon’s tiny borders of only 10, 452km,” Akouri continued. “They came from all walks of life and every religion, however, one vision they all had in common was the fact that they were working for the best interest of Lebanon. As we remember the late PM Hariri this morning, let us not forget those whose lives were taken from us and cut short in our beloved Lebanon: Kamal Jumblatt, President Bashir Gemayel, President Rene Mouawad, Prime Minister Rashid Karami, Mufti Sheikh Hassan Khaled, and Dany Chamoun.”

Akouri, who first met Hariri in 2001 in Washington, DC at a Congressional luncheon on Capitol Hill, gave the following eulogy: “Lebanon has lost a great leader. Rafik Hariri was Lebanon. A dream has been lost. No words can give him his right. My friends, this week we have listened to journalists beginning their reports with ‘Church bells tolled and Mosque loudspeakers broadcast verses from the Koran across most of Beirut.’ Newspaper headlines have read ‘Church bells rang together with rhymed verses of the Koran streaming from Mosque minarets.’ This is the country of national unity he died for, a country where the multiplicity of religions is an advantage, where you speak about Maroun or Mohammad as Lebanese and not as Christian or Muslim. Hopefully following this tragedy, it will remain united and make Rafik Hariri’s dream true: then only, our dearest friend will rest in peace, seeing his dream come true – for Lebanon cannot survive if not united.

With his death, so many wishes will stay only past wishes, a dream that was never and will never be fulfilled. Rafik Hariri is gone forever, but his ideas, his thoughts and his activities will never die – on the contrary, they will continue. Rafik Hariri was a man who led by example, gave without keeping score, nurtured without force, lived with grace, and loved without end. We have all spent these past weeks dealing with equal parts of shock, disbelief and immense sadness for a man who touched the lives of Lebanese around the world in a variety of ways. Rafik Hariri was never a terrorist, a drug dealer or a killer of men. It is incomprehensible to think why he was murdered like this? He was a builder not a destroyer. He taught his children to hate war and bloodshed because it is wrong and leads to nowhere. He was a man of peace.

This morning we share in the remembrance of a man whose smile and style captured his character - generous, gracious, and elegant. Rafik Hariri is a legend that will never happen again, a human being who had unfinished dreams and taught us never to be ashamed of who we were, even if we became important. We hope now that you sleep in peace. We hope your blood has not been shed in vain, and we ask God to protect your sons and your family from any harm. Rafik Hariri was seeking democracy, freedom, sovereignty and independence, and perhaps these are the reasons why he was so brutally murdered. His life and his legacy will endure for much of this century and God willing, be passed on to future generations. May God bless him and his comrades – they are heroes, patriots and martyrs.

The publisher of The Daily Star, Jamil K. Mroue, penned an elegant eulogy to Hariri "What would make a man whose life was catapulted from rags to riches, well before the 1990's, commit the rest of his life, time and money to spearhead a role in the very treacherous and dangerous political landscape of Lebanon? The answer I believe was that Rafik Hariri the humble farmer's son who rose to become a billionaire, genuinely wanted to give something back, to serve Lebanon. For all his wealth, Hariri wanted to create a better future for this country and its long suffering people." Al Hayat columnist Ghassan Charbel wrote: "He did not have to die a martyr for the gates of history to fling open. He reserved his seat there early, His killers erred. He was extracted from the daily chronicles of his homeland, but he is pinned to its chest like a medal."


Akouri then introduced Imam Mohamad Mardini from the American Muslim Center in Dearborn, who eloquently shared his thoughts with the standing room only audience. Following the clerics remarks Akouri welcomed Kamal Shouhayib of the American Druze Society to the podium to address the overflowing crowd. A statement by US Senator Carl Levin, condemning the assassination, was then read by Akouri, who next introduced the chief organizer of the Memorial Service and keynote speaker.
“His loss is not only mourned by Lebanon, but by the whole Arab world and the international community,” said the speaker. “Muslims, Christians and Druze came together to call for the freedom, independence and sovereignty of their country. Mr. Hariri was a key factor in this unity. By assassinating Mr. Hariri, the enemies of Lebanon thought that they can get us back of the sectarian track and send us back to the religious wars between the different sects. The Lebanese, both in Lebanon and all over the world, have proven that they are much smarter than the conspirators. The tragedy has unified the Lebanese now more than ever. This government must go and a new national unity government be formed. A government that represents the free will and aspirations of the Lebanese people. Simply put, a government made in Lebanon, by the Lebanese alone! Together, united, we can make this happen.”

As the program reached its conclusion in Detroit, the events that evening in Lebanon were only beginning to unfold. On the eve of a scheduled rally in downtown Beirut that would draw throngs of Lebanese carrying flags and singing the national anthem, the crowd grew larger by the hour. The very next day, the pro-Syrian Prime Minister Omar Karami would step down and resign from office in the face of a mass protest by the opposition and increased political pressure sparked by Hariri’s assassination. The resignation came amidst a Karami government that was crucified in parliament over the debacle. "I announce the resignation of the government over which I had the honor of presiding so that it does not pose an obstacle" to the probe into the killing, an emotional Karami told parliament. It was a resounding blow for Syria and President Emile Lahoud's regime. Now Ex-Premier Karami announced his resignation at the parliament’s morning session.


Tens of thousands of opposition activists maintaining a non-stop vigil at Hariri's gravesite at the downtown Martyrs square burst into thunderous chants of "Syria Out Now!" when they heard the resignation announcement from parliament a bloc away. The Syrian government, which was behind the installment of Karami in power last September seems to have dropped him like a hot potato, saying the resignation was a purely domestic affair in Lebanon. Druze leader Walid Jumblat hailed the government's resignation. "The people have been victorious but we should now form an impartial government to supervise the elections.”

Rafik Hariri's contributions were numerous. Among the most notable is the fact that he educated 32,000 Lebanese students inside and outside of Lebanon, Hariri used his considerable wealth to send thousands of middle-eastern students to schools abroad in the early 1980s. His foundation funded the tuition of nearly 300 Boston University students in 1985 alone. Politically, Hariri put his thirst for improving life into rebuilding a torn nation. After 16 years of ravaging war, Hariri focused on Lebanon's rebirth instead on dwelling on its violent past. Hariri rebuilt large sections of Beirut and, when he came at odds with the country's president, Émile Lahoud, over Syrian influence, he did not sacrifice the stability he worked so hard for and instead stepped down.

Hariri spent millions of dollars of his own personal money to redefine the face of social hierarchies in Lebanon. His education plan made possible the creation of equal economic classes in Lebanon. He donated a great deal of money to people, and invested in Lebanon when no one was interested in doing so. He worked towards unity of the different religious and ethnic groups and rebuilding. His death leaves a major vacuum in Lebanon’s fragile post-war politics, though as family and friends shed tears of grief over his loss, the resilient Lebanon will once again rise from its ashes like the Phoenix, as it has many times before.

JOHN AKOURI ONLINE NEWSROOM 'We will confront this mortal danger to all humanity. We will not tire, or rest, until the war on terror is won.' -- PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH Add to end of above"line without paranthesis when wanting to loop sound (( loop="-1">