June 13, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 101

Suicide of a Prime Minister; An Egyptian Intellectual Criticizes Arab Regimes

June 13, 2000
Syria, Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 101

Mahmoud Al-Zu'bi, until recently the Prime Minister of Syria, took his own life on May 21 when members of the Syrian security apparatus came to his house to arrest him on charges of corruption. The Syrian media described his attempted arrest as part of "a campaign against corruption in Syria." Many interpreted the charges against Al-Zu'bi as part of a campaign to remove opponents of Dr. Bashar Al-Assad from Syria’s political elite in order ease the transfer of power to the next Syrian president.

In an ironic article about Al-Zu'bi's last moments, Head of Egypt's Al-Ahram Research Institute, Dr. Abd Al-Mun'im Sa'id, criticizes the Syrian regime and the prevailing authoritarian tendencies throughout the Arab world.[1]

"I do not know what went through the Prime Minister’s mind, in those dramatic and daunting moments before he put his pistol in his mouth and fired the bullet that brought his life to an end. Definitely, it was a special moment in the life of this man, as he felt the chill of the metal on his lips – or its warmth, depending on the room temperature – as he let his fingers slide to the trigger, and squeezed it. Before a man severs his ties with the world of the living to enter the other world from which no one has returned… they say his entire life flashes before his eyes like a movie."

"In this film, there was a story of a great ascent. It is not easy, generally speaking, to rise to the status of a Prime Minister. In the third world, the ascent is even tougher. In countries that are governed by a single strong party with an 'eternal message,' like the Ba'ath party, the difficulties are almost insurmountable..."

"However, Mr. – or rather, Comrade – Mahmoud Al-Zu'bi made it to the top; although the top position of a Prime Minister in our countries is usually a bit insubstantial, since the President holds the real power. However, the president’s preoccupation with important issues of the homeland and sometimes the world grants the head of the executive branch a great kingdom in which he can operate. His influence and the respect he is granted grow with the trust he enjoys from the top of the pyramid. Since he manages the daily affairs and controls the public funds, the power in his hands is not small."

"There is no doubt that Comrade [Al-Zu'bi] invested great effort in reaching the high post. He had to compete with people whose power and influence matched his own. Although the difficulties encountered on his way up were many, the struggle to remain at the top for thirteen consecutive years was even greater. Not only did he have to compete with many ambitious people, but he also had to buy many loyalties and sponsors so as to remain the chosen man for the job, and in order to continue to keep his grip on the government, and the resources within his reach…"

"The moment our man reached the top may also have been the moment in which his fall to the abyss began. Beneath the narrow peak lies a broad plain inhabited by the jealous and ambitious, those hungry for power and fortune. All of them tried to grab Comrade Al-Zu'bi by the throat and drag him down to the bottom. It took them thirteen years to succeed. When the moment [finally] came, his star faded. His comrades discovered, or maybe decided to reveal what they had known for a long time, that this high official was corrupt."

"The faces of his [comrades] passed one by one before [the Prime Minister's] eyes when the security agents came to escort him to the interrogation. It was a tough moment, no doubt. Comrade [Al-Zu'bi] knew what dark fate awaited him. [Feeling] his chest squeezed, he saw in his mind's eye a vision of his wife, Nawal Al-Darubi, and his children, Muflih and Hamam, who he made sure would be as happy as sons of a Prime Minister should be. Such children are often gifted only when their father is in government…"

"An American story I read a long time ago said that when a man gets close to his final moments, he undergoes four stages: resistance, anger, bargaining, and acceptance. In resisting his expected fate he questions the legitimacy of those who are about to bring his life to an end. Comrade Al-Zu'bi probably relived his long life in the [national] struggle, his services to the state, the nights without sleep for the sake of the higher - and lower - interests of his nation. No doubt he asked himself if all this does not atone for his mistakes - which he can explain, with documents. However these thoughts were killed by the presence of the security agents on the ground floor of his house, as well as his knowledge that the media had already convicted him before the trial and that the entire state is on the threshold of a new era. As is customary in our countries, [he knew that] new eras require the elimination of the old ones, including the events and people that created them…"

"This led [Comrade Al-Zu'bi to] anger. Why was he, of all of Allah's creatures, chosen to symbolize the end of an era and the beginning of a new one? Why aren’t his partners in both work and corruption, those who took with him and split the gifts sharing his fate? Deep inside Comrade Al-Zu'bi may have been innocent. In this moment of anger he imagined himself to be the victim of a conspiracy that targeted his honor, his past, and his family. The guilty ones are those who ask for his neck. [But] the severing of this neck [he decided] will not easy; it will require long trials during which [he recalled], he would be moved between many prisons that are not necessarily convenient, as he knew well..."

"After some time, [Comrade Al-Zu'bi] regained his poise and entered the third stage of the process, the stage of bargaining: the story is not over yet, he thought. He could go to the higher leadership and remind them of their common past in the struggle, but this will probably be in vain. The leadership probably knows better than he does. Maybe he can threaten them because he knows many things. He has read many files. At this moment it became clear to [Comrade Al-Zu’bi] that bargaining involves the threat of fighting back. He shot twice in the air... The sound of the shooting [he hoped] would draw a crowd. But the crowd did not come, and the bargaining failed…"

"By shooting in the air [Al Zu’bi] passed the point of no return and reached the stage of accepting his fate. He put the barrel of the pistol in his mouth and felt its chill—or warmth, depending on the temperature of the room—he set his finger on the trigger, the bullet was fired, and his soul returned to its creator…"

"This is the story of the suicide of the Syrian Prime Minister, Mahmoud Al-Zu'bi. This version rebuts claims and rumors that he did not commit suicide [but rather, was murdered]. It reminds us of the story of General 'Amer [Egyptian Chief of Staff who committed suicide after the 1967 defeat]. There too, questions arose about whether he committed suicide or was murdered. [But] the story of the suicide is completely logical and it expresses the drama of the regimes in our countries, the arduous ascent, the painful fall, the tragedy and comedy [at the same time], and the process of moving from one era to another. Each era has its figures and only Allah knows the reasons for His actions…"

[1] Al-Ahram Al-Arabi (Egypt), June 3, 2000.

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