Lebanon's papers, which do not normally publish on Sundays, brought out special editions to mourn Hafez Assad, who had decided the country's destiny for the last 25 years, and announce the likely succession of his son, Bashar.
The leading An-Nahar paper, which has taken issue with the continuing presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon after the departure of the Israelis, bore the headline "Assad died without signing."
"We are with the man who died saying 'no' to Israel. He died without having signed; he did not close his story by concluding a treaty, and that is enough," wrote the paper's former manager, Ghassan Tueni.
He put Assad in the same league as General Charles de Gaulle and Napoleon for his skill in "constantly managing to manipulate politics and politicians, regimes and constitutions around his great ideological dream of creating an Arab empire from the Gulf to the (Atlantic) Ocean."
But Tueni went on to contrast the needs of Syria and Lebanon.
If Assad established "stability in Syria at the expense of democracy, stability was essential to keep Syria in existence," he wrote, but "Lebanon can only continue to exist with democratic freedoms, and it is up to Lebanon and no-one else, no matter how close, to preserve them," he said.
Lebanon's other major paper, As-Safir, splashed a photograph of Assad across most of its front page, under the headline: "Farewell... to the lion of firmness," in a pun on Assad's surname, which means "lion" in Arabic.
Managing director Talal Salman, who is close to the Syrian leadership, compared Assad to former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, and described the different facets of his personality by referring to a host of historical figures, including Machiavelli and Lenin.
The paper said Assad had never forgotten the ideals of the Arab nationalist movement of the 1920s, which saw Lebanon and Palestine as part of Syria.
"He formulated them in a new way so that they did not clash with Lebanon's desires for independence, or the country's 'special characteristics' which for some Lebanese are in themselves the basis of their nationalism," he said.
The English language Daily Star also paid warm tribute to the deceased president.
"Few people go to their graves having left such sweeping legacies that their countries' histories can thereafter be divided into two unmistakably different eras: before them and after them. Hafez Assad was such a man because the Syria he leaves behind bears so little resemblance to the one that he grew up in," it said.
The Arabic language Ad-Diyar bade farewell "to the hero of peace and war."
"Hafez Assad has gone without making any concessions. It is enough that he went having stuck to his principles and ensured the continuity of his Arab national policies," it said.
"It is enough that he made no concessions about one single inch of land. It is enough that he saw south Lebanon liberated thanks to the resistance to whom he had given every support to ensure their victory. It is enough that he did not accept Israeli hegemony and did not allow it to influence Syria's role despite Washington's absolute support for Israel," it added.
L'Orient-Le Jour, a French language paper, wrote of the "climate of uncertainty" following the death of Assad, whom it described as "one of the great Arab figures of the 20th century," and commented that his son Bashar "is in a strong position to succeed him, at a time when the peace process with Israel has run into difficulties." - BEIRUT (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)