A Family Business
Many political dynasties have been playing leading roles in Lebanese politics since the independence of the country, including – but not limited to – the Gemayel, Jumblatt, Arslan, Chamoun, Karami, Frangieh, and Salam families. Other dynasties have emerged later, during or right after the civil war, and have also been passing on seats from a generation to another, most notably the Aoun and Hariri families.
According to a study published in 2012, “in Lebanon, family businesses constitute 85% of the private sector, accounting for 1.05 million of 1.24 million jobs.” In an overall unstable environment, historically marred by violence, family business plays an “important stabilizing role in social and economic value creation and trans-generational wealth perpetuation processes.” In fact, when Lebanese entrepreneurs were asked about the main reasons for entrepreneurship, the top answer was to “provide security and to generate the income necessary to create and protect a strong family life.”
The media sector is no exception to this situation. 43% of the media outlets covered by the MOM count at least a member of the following 12 families in their ownership or board – or both (Tuéni, Hariri, Aoun, Mikati, Fares, Murr, Salam, Khayat, Daher-Saad, Khazen, Eddé and Pharaon – see below). More than a third is also directly owned by one of them.
In the print sector, it is the case of Annahar (Tuéni family), L’Orient-Le Jour (Eddé and Pharaon families), Al-Liwaa (Salam family), The Daily Star (originally owned and managed by the Mrowa family before selling it to the Hariris), Al-Mustaqbal (Hariri family), and Al-Joumhouria (Murr family). In the TV sector, it is the case of MTV (Murr family), Al-Jadeed (Khayat family), Future TV (Hariri family), and to a certain extent LBCI (Daher-Saad family). The same applies to the radio sector with VDL 93.3 FM (Khazen family) and Radio Orient (Hariri family).
Lebanon’s Media Dynasties
We can divide Lebanese families in the media in three categories:
- Some families have been active in the media sector for decades and entered politics after building a strong name for themselves in the media first. It is the case of the Tuéni family, which was represented in the Parliament by the founder of Annahar Gebran Sr., Ghassan, Gebran, and Nayla, and was also represented in the executive branch by Ghassan Tuéni, and more recently, by the incumbent Minister of State for Fighting Corruption Nicolas Tuéni. It is also to a certain extent the case of Salah Salam, who ran for parliament for the first time in 2018 after decades of practicing journalism.
- Other families have begun their public life in politics and later on invested in the media sector as a means to exert more influence and seek more popular support. It is the case of the Hariri, Aoun, Mikati, Fares, and Murr families.
- A third group has been running the two lives in parallel, as their political role has always been backed by a presence in the media sector, as is the case for the Eddé and Pharaon families.
Family Connections, a Reflection of Political Alliances
Researcher Suad Joseph describes the Lebanese political system as one based on “political familism.” She defines this phrase as “the deployment of family institutions, ideologies, (…) practices, and relationships by citizens to activate their demands in relation to the state and by state actors to mobilize practical and moral grounds for governance based on a civic myth of kinship and public discourse that privileges family.”
The Lebanese elite is a relatively small and closed pond. Inter-marriages within this circle were clearly described in an Al-Akhbar article by journalist Ghassan Saoud entitled “Politicians and the Wealthy: A Closed Marriage Club.”
The Tuéni family is an interesting case study: Ghassan Tuéni was married to Nadia Hamadé, sister of incumbent Minister of Education and MP Marwan Hamadé, a close ally of former MP Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP). Minister Hamadé is a shareholder in Annahar and his brother, Ali Hamadé is one of the newspaper’s columnists. Ali Hamadé is also a political bureau member of the Future Movement, led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose family is today the first shareholder in Annahar.
Ghassan and Nadia’s son, Gebran Tuéni, first married Myrna, daughter of MP and former Deputy Prime Minister Michel Elias Murr. She is the sister of former Deputy Prime Minister Elias Murr. The Michel Elias Murr family owns Al-Joumhouria. Gebran Tuéni and Myrna Murr had two daughters, Nayla, who was a Member of Parliament from 2009 to 2018 and currently serves as CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Annahar, and Michèle, who unsuccessfully ran for Parliament in 2018 and is today a journalist at Annahar after having published her first articles and columns in Al-Joumhouria.
This leads us to the Murr family. In addition to Myrna Murr’s connection to the Tuéni family, former Deputy Prime Minister Elias Murr was first married to Carine Lahoud, daughter of former President of the Republic Emile Lahoud (1998-2007). This marriage reflected a very close alliance between the Murr family and President Lahoud. During the latter's term, Michel Elias Murr first served as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister (1998-2000), then the son Elias Murr became Interior Minister (2000-2004), then Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister (2005-2008). However, the assassination attempt against Elias Murr in July 2005 marked the beginning of tensions with then-President Emile Lahoud, which led to the end of the political alliance and a subsequent divorce between Elias Murr and Carine Lahoud.
Another division grew within the Murr family between brothers, Michel Elias Murr and Gabriel Murr, after years of association. This division was largely political as the former was a key figure in the pro-Syrian-regime Lebanese governments in the 1990s, while the latter had progressively opened the airwaves of his TV station – MTV – and radio station – Radio Mont Liban – to anti-Syrian opposition figures. The division culminated in August 2002 when Gabriel Murr narrowly won a by-election in the Metn district against his niece, Myrna Murr (ex-wife of Gebran Tuéni and mother of Nayla Tuéni). At the time, Gebran Tuéni considered himself running as a consensus candidate between his ex-wife on the one hand and Gabriel Murr on the other hand, with whom he was allied politically. The by-election was managed by the Interior Ministry that, at the time, was led by Elias Murr, Myrna’s brother and Gabriel’s nephew. Gabriel’s narrow victory was revoked weeks later by a Constitutional Council decision, claiming that he had violated article 68 of the electoral law that was in vigor then, by using his TV station as a campaign tool. In parallel, the Publications Court ordered the full shut down of MTV and Radio Mont Liban, silencing the only media outlets that represented the opposition's viewpoints.
Yet, the Constitutional Council did not confirm Myrna’s victory, given that she had not resigned from her position as mayor of the Murr family’s hometown. Instead, a third candidate, Ghassan Moukheiber, who at the time got less than 2% of the votes, was declared the winner. Mr. Moukheiber was later on re-elected in 2005 and 2009, and he is the Member of Parliament who tabled the new media draft law, that would – if adopted – add much needed transparency requirements to the ownership of the media sector.
Less complex relations exist also among the family of former Minister Michel Eddé, one of the main shareholders in L’Orient-Le Jour, with the family of late MP Pierre Hélou. Mr. Eddé’s daughter Isabelle is married to Philippe Pierre Hélou, brother of MP Henri Hélou, who is a member of the Progressive Socialist Party’s parliamentary bloc, led by MP Taymour Jumblatt, son of PSP leader Walid Jumblatt. The other main shareholder in L’Orient-Le Jour is the Pharaon family: Minister of State for Planning Michel Pharaon and his sister Nayla, who is married to Jean de Freige, brother of former MP Nabil de Freige, a member of Saad Hariri’s Future Movement.
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