On the occasion of the 13th anniversary of Samir Kassir’s assassination, the Delegation of the European Union to Lebanon organised on 31 May the annual ceremony for the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press. The ceremony was held in collaboration with the Samir Kassir Foundation.
The winners of the 2018 edition are:
- Opinion piece category: Miloud Yabrir from Algeria, born in 1984, who is a physician but also a journalist specialised in cultural affairs. His piece entitled “A Seat in the Dark” was published in The New Arab on 22 February 2018 and describes the intricacies of the Algerian political system through the metaphor of a cinema hall where the first Algerian constitution was written and where the developments of the country’s political movie are still unfolding.
- Investigative article category: Asmaa Shalaby from Egypt, born in 1990, a journalist at Youm7 newspaper specialised in security affairs. Her report entitled “Women of Fayoum: Tragedies of Early marriage, Rape and Harassments” was published in Youm7 on 15 May 2017. It describes the ordeal of Egyptian women in one of the country’s poorest districts, where they are subjected to the worst forms of sexual and professional abuse, slavery and female genital mutilation.
- Audiovisual news report category: Asaad Zalzali from Iraq, born in 1984, general manager of Maraya Media news agency. His seven-minute news report entitled “ISIS Children” was aired on Deutsche Welle Arabic on 7 December 2017. It sheds light on the fate of children of ISIS members, who are currently detained in camps without any form of care and deprived of all their rights.
Organised every year since 2006, the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press honours the memory of the Lebanese journalist Samir Kassir who was assassinated on 2 June 2005 in Beirut. The award is funded by the European Union and rewards journalists who have distinguished themselves through the quality of their work and their commitment to human rights and democracy. The competition is open to journalists from the countries of North Africa, the Middle East and the Gulf. This year, the 193 applications that were received bring the total of participants since the creation of the award to nearly 2,100. The prize awarded in each of the three categories is of €10,000.
EU Ambassador Christina Lassen underlined that freedom of the press is not only a fundamental human right. "We believe that for any society to flourish, we need professional, talented and brave journalists like you to educate, raise awareness and blow the whistle, whenever needed", she said. "There is a growing hostility towards journalists, in some places even openly encouraged by political leaders who no longer see the media as a cornerstone of democracy, but rather as an adversary and a threat", she added.
“Hope always comes out of darkness. One only needs to read the articles and watch the audiovisual news reports of the candidates to understand that the wall of fear has collapsed and that it is impossible to rebuild it. Even if they try hard, their efforts will be worthless”, Gisèle Khoury, President of the Samir Kassir Foundation, said in her speech. “Underestimating the intelligence of people and forcing them to choose between stability and freedom will no longer be tolerated and is no longer convincing. For a long time, we believed that the sound of cannons was louder than any voice. But this era is over now. Only freedom ensures the rule of law”, she added.
As in previous years, an independent jury selected the winners. It comprised seven media professionals from Europe and the Middle East: Adnan Hussein (Iraq), Executive Chief Editor of Al-Mada newspaper; Khairallah Khairallah (Lebanon), columnist and political analyst; Rami Khouri (Jordan), columnist and professor at the American University of Beirut; Leila Shahid (Palestine), former General Delegate of Palestine at the European Union; Albana Shala (the Netherlands), Chair of the International Programme for the Development of Communication at UNESCO; Benoît Thieulin (France), Dean of the School of Management and Innovation at Sciences Po Paris; and Aidan White (United Kingdom), President of the Ethical Journalism Network.
The ceremony was hosted by journalist Nicole Hajal, a TV and radio host.
Samir Kassir was born on May 4, 1960, to a Lebanese-Palestinian father and a Lebanese-Syrian mother. He grew up in the Ashrafieh neighborhood of Beirut and studied at the Lycée Français. In 1981, six years after the beginning of the Lebanese war, he moved to Paris to pursue his higher studies. In 1984, he received his Master's degree in political philosophy from the Sorbonne (Université Paris I) and 1990, his PhD in contemporary history from Université Paris IV.
During the years he spent in Paris, he published a number of articles in the Al-Hayat and L'Orient-Le Jour newspapers. He also wrote for Le Monde Diplomatique and had regular contributions to The Seventh Day and the French edition of the Journal of Palestinian Studies.
In 1992, in collaboration with his friend, the Syrian historian and publisher Farouk Mardam Bey, he published "Itineraries from Paris to Jerusalem", a French book in two volumes, describing the French policy in the Arab Levant, especially in regards to the Palestinian Nakba and the Arab-Israeli conflict. A year after, he returned to Beirut to teach at Université Saint-Joseph's political science institute and join the An-Nahar newspaper as an op-ed writer and the director of the paper's publishing house.
In 1994, Samir published his second book in French "The Lebanon War", based on his doctoral thesis, and analyzing the dynamics of the conflict as well as the intricate relations of internal and foreign factors during the 1975-1982 period. This book was translated to Arabic in 2008.
In 1995, Samir starts a monthly magazine "L'Orient-Express", which rapidly became the most prestigious cultural periodical in Lebanon. The publication was interrupted in 1998 for financial reasons. In parallel, he founded "Al-Layali", a publication house that released several books of articles initially published in "L'Orient-Express", as well as catalogues of old colonial advertisements for Mediterranean cities and Egyptian movies from the 1960s and 1970s.
Samir Kassir's articles and op-eds in An-Nahar in the late 1990s and early 2000s are still viewed as the boldest writings against the Syrian hegemony in Lebanon, the rule of former President Emile Lahoud, and the political role of security apparatuses. These articles pushed General Jamil Sayed, the former director general of the General Security, to threaten Kassir, get him chased, and confiscate his passport at the Beirut International Airport in April 2001, before returning it to him after the subsequent political and cultural outcry.
In 2003, Samir published his third book in French "History of Beirut" (translated to Arabic in 2007 and to English – titled "Beirut" – in 2011). The book describes the capital's history, families, culture, economy, as well as its urban and social development, and its relations with other Lebanese regions, Arab and Mediterranean cities. After his book, a cornerstone of his intellectual life, Samir published in 2004 two books in Arabic: "Democracy in Syria and Lebanon's Independence" and "Askar Ala Meen", comprised of a series of Articles he had published in An-Nahar. The first book focused on the link between the democratic transition in Syria and Lebanon's independence, while the second highlighted the contradiction between the principles of liberty and republican values on the one hand, and the political role of security apparatuses on the other.
Samir published another book in French "Considérations sur le malheur arabe" (English title: "Being Arab"), which was later translated to a dozen languages. The book analyses the reasons for the aborted Arab renaissance in the late 19th century, refutes the simplistic assessments condemning Arabs to an eternal decline, and points out to the geographical, rather than historical, reasons for Arab populations' current misfortune.
In the beginning of 2003, Samir Kassir played a role in the foundation of the Democratic Left Movement (DLM). In October 2004, he was elected as member of the Movement's executive bureau, during DLM's inaugural congress. His writings greatly inspired DLM's discourse regarding Lebanon's independence vis-à-vis the Syrian Baath Party's hegemonic role, pacific transitions, secularism, social justice, state building, and rule of law.
After the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri on February 14, 2005, Samir Kassir actively participated in the launch of the wide popular uprising against the Syrian security apparatuses' stranglehold on Lebanon. He gave the uprising its title "The Independence Intifada", to highlight its patriotic, pro-independence nature, and echo the 1987 Palestinian Intifada against the Israeli occupation. His articles in An-Nahar became the Independence Intifada's clearest and loudest voice. He was constantly present on Martyrs' Square, discussing ideas and proposals to succeed in the recovery of the country's sovereignty and freedom, with politicians, journalists, and students.
Samir Kassir was undoubtedly the first to warn that the Independence Intifada will not be able to sustain its momentum, in the absence of a political platform calling for political and economic reform, laying the foundation of a non-sectarian system, and allowing for a genuine political reconciliation, after the Syrian army's withdrawal from Lebanon. He also was the first to call for an "Intifada within the Intifada" to keep the popular momentum alive, restore the nobility of politics and clarity of stances. In parallel, Samir Kassir opposed all forms of Lebanese racism toward the Syrian people in general, and constantly called upon the Lebanese people in his articles and in his speeches on Martyrs' Square, no to mix up the Syrian regime and its intelligence service controlling Lebanon and Syria, on the one hand, with the Syrian people, workers, and intellectuals, on the other.
Samir Kassir was assassinated on June 2, 2005, in Beirut, when a bomb placed under his car was detonated. The tragic death of this journalist and writer was one of many attempts to silence Lebanese free thinkers, put an end to the Independence Intifada, and prevent Beirut's winds of liberty from spreading across the region. Samir Kassir, who wrote Beirut's history, has therefore become a part of this history.
The model of intellectual renaissance embodied by Samir Kassir during his life and at the moment of his death, through his articles and academic research, has placed him at the avant-garde of Lebanese and Arab opinion leaders who have paid their life to fight tyranny and lead their country to freedom and independence.
Committed to Samir Kassir's values and aspirations, and believing in the need to renew the Arab culture through freedom of expression, several intellectuals and friends of Samir Kassir established the Samir Kassir Foundation, officially incorporated in Beirut under registry number 30/A.D., dated February 1, 2006.
The Samir Kassir Foundation is a non-profit civic organization, working within the civil society and cultural circles to spread the democratic culture in Lebanon and the Arab world, encourage the new talents of free press, and build the movement for a cultural, democratic, and secular renewal. These are the conditions to lift the Arab populations out of their state of despair.
The Samir Kassir Foundation's mission is built around three pillars:
The contest is open to all journalists working in or for written (daily, weekly, monthly print or online) press, or audiovisual (TV stations, production houses, and online TV networks). The award is open to nationals of the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Candidates must submit an opinion article, an investigative article, or an audiovisual report centered around one or more of the following topics: rule of law, human rights, good governance, fight against corruption, freedom of expression, democratic development, or citizen participation.
The article must have been published in a print or online media outlet in one of the countries listed above or in one of the European Union Member States (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and United Kingdom). The article must not exceed 25,000 characters and must have been published between March 15, 2017 and March 15, 2018.
The audiovisual report must have been aired on a local or satellite television network or released on an online television network in one of the countries listed above or in one of the European Union Member States. The report must not exceed 7 minutes and must have been released between March 15, 2017 and March 15, 2018.
Each submission can only fall into one of the three above mentioned categories. Candidates for the opinion article and investigative article categories can only apply on an individual basis. Candidates for the audiovisual report category must either be the report's director or the producer and may apply on an individual basis or jointly (director and producer).
The winner in each of the three categories will be awarded €10 000.
The European Union holds the right to reproduce and publish the awarded articles and air the awarded audiovisual report in its own non-commercial publications and websites as well as in any other print or online publications related to the "Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press".
The selection will be done by a jury composed of journalists and media professionals coming from EU Member States and the participating countries listed above.
Members of the jury, staff of the European Union, and staff and members of the Samir Kassir Foundation are excluded from the contest.