A pink taxi

A pink taxi

July 6, 2010

Saeb Bek's Mansion

The Salaam House in Mussaitbeh

The title of this blog is a reference to Salibi's House of Many Mansions.

Saeb Salaam was the patriarch of our family. He propelled our family into the political arena as he was prime minister of Lebanon for many terms (60-63,64-67,70-73). I hardly ever meet a Lebanese without them asking me "shou biya'rblik Saeb Beyk?" (How are you related to Mr. Saeb?)

My encounters with him were always familial though. He was a very approachable man and gave me time, treating me like his own grand daughter and not like a grand niece which I was to him.

When I think of him, I remember his charisma. In state pictures, with the heads of state of the world, he often wore a carnation in his lapel. It had become his trademark. I recall his elegant clothing, the cigars he smoked, the dictionary close at hand, next to the television remote.

I used to visit him in Geneva. I would run from the dorms to have lunch with him. He referred to the dictionary many times. As a teenager, I didn't bother quizzing him on his past experiences. I would sit with him and converse, about any topic he brought up.

He would then take me for a long walk in a Geneva park. He showed me the cedars. He explained that there were more cedars in his city of exile than  in his home land, of which the cedar is the emblem. In fact the first Lebanese flag was inaugurated in the Mussaytbeh house of Salaam family. In Geneva, the cedars always remind me of my Amou Saeb.

He, the true "Zaim of Beyrouth" (or leader)  was always openly proud of my academic accomplishments, and enjoyed flattering me with the nickname: "Zaimat Harvard". He always told me that opportunities were meant to be caught as they flew by us.

When I sent him a graduation invitation he replied with a special card. The card had a drawing of the Salaam family house in ‎​Mosaitbeh that he lived in before leaving for Geneva. He courteously wrote: "your grandfather's home", referring to his older brother Mohammed, who had passed away when my father was only a teenager.


  1. 'Bayt Al-Moussaitbeh",or "Dar",meant the house built on a vista overlooking the Mediterranean,outside the walls of old Beyrouth!The grandfather of Seab Bek built the house,and his father Salim Ali Salaam made it the open house for the Beirutis of all colors.Abu Ali,fathered Saeb and 11 siblings,and made the Bayt a centre of Arab nationalism where the first short lived Arab governemnt was declared under King Faycal I,but was crushed visciously by the French mandate.Abu Ali was a businessman,politician and philanthropist,trained his sons to serve the community,and allowed his daughters to be liberal.
    Thus grew Saeb,the seventh of his siblings as an arab nationalist,groomed later to take his father's mantle after the late 30's.He became a deputy of Beirut,after the Independence of Lebanon in 1943,and stayed representing Beirut until 1990.He became minister in 1947,then briefly a prime minister in 1952.In'58,he lead an uprising about local inequalities,and the drift of the regime towards the western camp.After the 6-months clashes,he coined:"One Lebanon,not Two";and "No Winner No Vanquished",basically taking a centrist position all his political life.He became a Prime minister three times for longer periods until the eruption of civil war in Lebanon in 1975.He went into self exile in Geneva in 1982,where the blogger had the chance to get close to him as a grand daughter and not a grand niece.He loved the young generation as he saw the future in them.As Graham Greene once said: There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in!As a matter fact he formed his cabinet in 1970 of young technocrats of average age of 35,a first for Lebanon.
    I had the privilege of knowing him since I opened my eyes to the world of politics.I was considered as a sibling to his children,so I used to spend a long time playing around the gardens of "Bayt Al Moussaitbeh",and then to observe the political life taking place there.My father passed away when I was 13,so I adopted Ammo Saeb as mine,and became one of them.I saw local politicians and Arab leaders passing through the "Bayt" and benefited a lot from that vintage.In his youth Saeb was a sportsman:an amateur boxer and a hunter;both influenced his attitude towards life.He was stubborn when it came to principles,and he was sharp when opportunities passed by him.
    During his exile,he was an avid reader with piles of political books,newspapers and documentaries close to him.
    Saeb Bek passed away in 2000,at the ripe age of 95,leaving us with vivid memories of his fruitful life.We all await the publication of his memoires,delayed by the civil war and the uncertainties of life in Lebanon.

  2. "Bayt" or "Dar" Al Moussaitbeh is one of the few beautiful old Venetian type homes that is left today that used to characterize Beirut town of the 19th century.The Mastaba meant a vista where you could see the Mediterranean from the hills above the walled-in old Beirut.The house was built by the grandfather of Saeb Bek,and became well known during the days of his father Abu Ali(Salim Ali Salaam).The father was a businessman,politician and a philanthropist.He was an Arab nationalist though he did represent the Wilayat of Beirut at the Ottoman parliamnet.The first short lived Arab Government was declared in Moussaitbeh,as well as the Lebanese flag was signed and proclaimed there too.
    Saeb Bek officially entered the political arena after the death of his father in the late 30's.He studied with some of his siblings at the American University of Beirut,and was an amateur boxer during his college days.This was later reflected in his political career which was characterised with stubborness and choice of moments.He became deputy from Beirut after Independence in '43 and stayed until 1990.He became prime minister for a short time in '52,but assumed the role of Zaim of Beirut after '58 and was long term premier between 1960-73 in three parliaments.He went into self exile in Geneva in '82 after the Israeli invasion.This is where the young blogger got to know him closely.He loved the young generation,he was an optimist by nature.As Graham Greene once said:"There is always a moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in".Saeb Bek could not have said it better.
    I was a teenager,when I opened my eyes to the importance of Moussaitbeh as a political centre of gravity in Beirut.The whole Middle east was in turmoil,and a lot of it was happening in Beirut,at the time,the bustling banking,commercial and political centre.Being close to his son,I had the previlige of spending summers and long periods at the "Bayt",and seeing local politicians and Arab leaders visit the House.Saeb Bek,immpecablly dressed with his carnation at his lapel,and the cuban cigar in his hand,was a political dynamo.Yet,he never lost sight of his human character,and gave time to those who were near or far.He exhuded charm,and gave attention to everyone that came his way.
    Ammo Saeb left us at the ripe age of 95,leaving us with memories that can be brought down the generations.His departure in 2000,was an echo to Greene's window that the time is now for the new generations to come!

  3. The reason that 2 comments were posted on this subject with varying structures,was that the blog had a glitch,when attempting to post the comments .So I wrote two variations that appeared today.