“When I think of Hassan, I always see his mustachioed smile and tolerant attitude. He was serious in his work, but also had humor and always hope,” says Ziad Majed, a political researcher and university professor, describing his old-time friend and colleague Hassan Abbas.
Abbas, a veteran Syrian opposition and civil society figure, who died at age 66 on March 7, 2021, one week before the 10th anniversary of the Syrian revolution, was an intellectual and academic critic whose teachings had a deep impact on the lives of many Syrian youth.
Holder of a Ph.D. in literature and literary criticism from the New Sorbonne University in Paris, Abbas was at the time of his death director of Culture as Resistance program at the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship, a research center affiliated with the American University of Beirut.
Early in his career he taught non-Arab generations the Arabic language and Arab culture at the Institute for French Studies in Damascus, which he also used as a platform for educational activities for Syrians.
Abbas was among the most active intellectuals during the so-called “Damascus Spring,” a period of intense political and social debate in Syria following the death of former President Hafez al-Assad in June 2000. The activities and intellectuals associated with it were later suppressed by the government. (See a related article, “Syria’s Lost Generation.”)
“It was at that time that I met Hassan,” Majed said. “I was then writing an academic paper about the role of Syrian intellectuals in the forums. We met a year later when he wanted to create a discussion group of Lebanese and Syrian youth and civil society activists to discuss Lebanese-Syrian relations, challenges and tensions.”
“The group met several times during which misconceptions were exposed and friendships were made between Lebanese and Syrian youth.”