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A poster showing Lebanese President Michel Aoun (left) next to Prime Minister Saad Hariri last Friday in Beirut at the edge of a Beirut highway. – Photo credits: JOSEPH EID/AFP

STORY – Saad Hariri arrived in Beirut on Tuesday evening, the eve of Lebanon's Independence Day. His resignation, announced on November 4 in Riyadh,...

STORY – Saad Hariri arrived in Beirut on Tuesday evening, the eve of Lebanon's Independence Day. His resignation, announced on November 4 in Riyadh, and his return negotiated by France may not mean the end of his career. But this episode is a turning point in the history of a clan that has dominated the Lebanese political scene for twenty-five years.

Special Envoy to Beirut

The rise and fall of the Hariri occupy an entire section of the history of Lebanon, placed by geography and history at the heart of all tensions in the Middle East. She is embodied by two men: the father, Rafic, founder of the dynasty, of extraordinary stature, and the son, Saad, too soon propelled to the front of the stage, and who will not have succeeded in maintaining his heritage. . Critics will not fail to point out the qualities of the father and the errors or shortcomings of his heir. But the circumstances that Saad Hariri had to face, caught in a vice between regional rivalries, would undoubtedly have got the better of a superman.
Between Lebanon and Arabia, five points to understand the Hariri affair

"King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Jacques Chirac weighed in favor of Saad"

Rouba Kabbara, former journalist at AFP and Mustaqbal

The destiny of the Hariri and that of Saad changed on February 14, 2005, when a vehicle bomb pulverizes Rafic's convoy on the corniche of Beirut. The choice of the younger son as his successor is already a surprise. At the scene of the attack, the crowd cheers Bahaa, the eldest son. It is however Saad who will be chosen a few days later to take over the head of the dynasty. "King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Jacques Chirac weighed in his favour," said Rouba Kabbara, a former journalist with AFP and the Mustaqbal, a newspaper owned by the Hariri, and familiar with the destinies of the clan. “Hariri's widow, Nazik, Rafic's second wife, also leans towards him. Bahaa is too brittle in character, and Rafic himself had harbored a deep grudge against his eldest son, whom he held partly responsible for the death of his youngest brother Houssam (killed in 1990 when the two young people race Porsches through the streets of Boston).

Saad is only 35 years old and has only his name for him. His reputation is that of a friendly playboy, who managed the Saudi branch of family business. But his experience of the complexities of Lebanese politics is slim. It's a very light baggage to take the lead of a system that rested entirely on the shoulders of a single man.

The reconstruction of Beirut

The shadow of his father is everywhere. Born in 1944 into a modest Sunni family in Saida, Rafic Hariri was self-made. When the civil war ended at the end of the 1990s, most of the new figures on the Lebanese scene were warlords converted into politics: Samir Geagea, Michel Aoun, Walid Joumblatt, Nabih Berri. Rafic Hariri, he entered by another route: that of money. And there are many.

Like many enterprising Lebanese, the young man from Saida went to seek his fortune in Saudi Arabia. Oil prices soared after the first oil shock in 1973, and the kingdom became an Eldorado for those who knew how to win the confidence of Saudi princes and participate in the galloping modernization of the country. You have to build roads, public buildings, palaces. At the head of a public works company, Rafic Hariri knows how to win the royal trust. He became the man of great works, entrusted to him by King Khaled, then his successor King Fahd. First at the head of a subsidiary of the French company Oger, Rafic Hariri wins, one after the other, the largest public works contracts. In 1979, the subsidiary bought the parent company, which became Oger International. With this flagship of the construction industry, Rafic Hariri inherits a well-stocked address book in French politics. He established a deep friendship with Jacques Chirac, then mayor of Paris.

“Rafic was a Balzac character. There was in him a great thirst for social revenge. He always felt a mixture of fascination and contempt for the old Lebanese bourgeoisie.

Charbel Nahas, former Lebanese minister

A man of the Saudis, Rafic Hariri became one of the craftsmen of the Taif agreements, signed in Arabia in 1989, which put an end to the war under the aegis of two godfathers, Syria of Hafez el-Assad and Arabia. The new institutions are redesigned in favor of the prime minister, chosen from the Sunni community, who takes precedence over the Maronite Christian president. The agreement also confirms the Syrian presence in Lebanon and makes Hezbollah Shiite the only militia authorized to keep its weapons, while Israel still occupies the south of the country. So allied, before opposing each other, these forces will continue to influence the destinies of Lebanon and those of the Hariri.

Became head of government in 1992, with his interpersonal skills and his immense financial resources, Rafic Hariri undertakes a project even larger than those which earned him his fortune. After sixteen years of war, Lebanon is in ruins. Beirut, the former "Paris of the East", is a devastated city, cut in two by a long scar after a war that opposed all clans and confessions. In the smoke of cigars, the billionaire-turned-prime-minister pursues his policy with a beating drumbeat. From Saida, in the south, where he is from, to Tripoli, the big Sunni city in the north, Rafic Hariri directs everything. His billions are used for everything: buying loyalties, disarming adversaries. "He was a Balzacian character," says Charbel Nahas, polytechnician, former minister and fine analyst of his country. “There was a great thirst for social revenge in him. He still felt a mixture of fascination and contempt for the old Lebanese bourgeoisie, some of whose members he had made his employees.

“Effective Corruption”

Rafic Hariri cheerfully mixes the public and private spheres. The confusion between its own funds and public money is total. Sociologists cite his style of government as an example of "effective corruption". The results are in. The Lebanese economy is picking up again. The symbol of his method is the reconstruction of the center of Beirut. Solidere, the company of which he is the main shareholder, buys back the land in the devastated city center at a low price before rebuilding it identically, making colossal profits in the process. And behind the Ottoman-style facades, the old souks become a shopping mall full of luxury boutiques, more reminiscent of a Mediterranean version of Dubai than an old Levantine city.

But in a Lebanon at the heart of rivalries between regional powers, politics is not just a part of Monopoly: it is also a dangerous game, of which the billionaire, friend of the princes, will pay the price. An ally of the Riyadh regime as well as that of Damascus, Rafic Hariri finds himself at odds when these interests come into conflict. In 2004, he refused a change in the Constitution which should allow the Damascus candidate, Emile Lahoud, to run for a new term as president. President Bashar al-Assad, Hafez's son and successor, is threatening to "break Lebanon" over his head. His career ends in the debris of his pulverized armored convoy.

“Saad may not be a very good politician, but the situation he has to face is almost insurmountable”

Nicholas Blanford, author of a biography of Rafic Hariri

Rafic's tragic death makes him a martyr and triggers a wave of giant demonstrations demanding and obtaining the departure of the Syrian occupation forces. But Syria and Iran keep a trump card in the Lebanese game: Hezbollah, a Shiite religious party, which has kept an armed militia in the name of the fight against Israel, and is becoming the dominant power in Lebanese politics.

It is against these adversaries that Saad will have to play his part. Rafic's second son inherits part of the paternal fortune, divided among Rafic's five surviving children, including three born from his marriage to his second wife, Nazik. In addition to Saudi Oger, the construction giant, the empire includes real estate companies like Solidere, but also media, like Future TV, telecommunications companies. Saad also takes the lead of the Lebanese Sunni community, whose Future party is at the center of the anti-Syrian coalition, called March 14, in memory of the biggest demonstration of the Cedar Spring, in 2005.

In this Shakespearean drama, where all the protagonists often know each other personally, Saad Hariri plays the role of Hamlet. Reluctant heir to his father, he must compose between his desire for revenge against those he considers to be his assassins, the Syrian regime of Bashar el-Assad and Hezbollah, and the accommodations to which he is forced by the imperatives of regional politics. . Became head of government in 2009, the heir of Rafic Hariri learns at his expense that the privileged ties with the Saudi monarchy have a counterpart, when he must go to Damascus on the orders of Riyadh, and kiss Bashar el-Assad, that he has long been accused of ordering the assassination of his father.

Business is down

Saad, who receives his visitors for a long time with the portrait of his father placed on an armchair in the place of honor, is also singularly lacking in charisma. "He speaks slowly, plays the clan chief, but it's only a pose," says a political analyst in Beirut. His opponents make fun of this "remote control" prime minister, taunted to take his orders in Riyadh before passing them on to Lebanon, where he is rarely found. Between June 2009 and January 2011, Hariri spent more than 200 days abroad. He skis in Switzerland and is divided between his residences in France, of which he holds the nationality, in Sardinia, and especially in Saudi Arabia, of which he is also a national.

As Saudi Oger has significant operating expenses and many employees, the company found itself very exposed when the cash flow ran out.

Charbel Nahas, former Lebanese minister

“It must be recognized that Saad Hariri inherited a very difficult situation,” says Nicholas Blanford, author of a masterful biography of Rafic Hariri (Killing Mr Lebanon). “He is politically opposed to Hezbollah, while nothing can be done against Hezbollah in Lebanon. It must also make compromises to regain access to public markets and bail out its companies. He may not be a very good politician, but the situation he has to face is almost insurmountable. Saad Hariri is caught between his alliance with Arabia, on which he is closely dependent economically, and the growing dominance of Hezbollah on the Lebanese political scene. After having demonstrated its strength by taking control of Beirut in a few hours in May 2008, Hezbollah is all-powerful in Lebanon. He does not exercise power directly, but vetoes when he deems it necessary.

Financially, difficulties are mounting for Saad Hariri. The Saudi kingdom no longer has such deep coffers, and the new rulers do not have such close relations with it as in his father's time. The contracts are no longer paid, or with more and more delay. “As Saudi Oger has significant operating expenses and many employees, the company found itself very exposed when the cash ran out,” says Charbel Nahas.

Returning to power in 2016, Saad Hariri is trying one last time to rebuild himself. But the victories of Iran and Hezbollah in the region, in Syria and Iraq, worry the new Saudi power more than the difficulties of the Hariri group. His resignation and the end of his privileged relations with Arabia will undoubtedly mean the end of Saudi Oger, and that of the patronage system set up by Rafic Hariri. And the end of the splendor of a clan which for thirty years weighed more than another on the destinies of Lebanon.


Adrien Jaulmes



Source: Lebanon: greatness and misfortunes of the Hariri clan

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