2005/02/14

Rafik Hariri and Lebanon's power struggle



I well remember the years of civil war in Beruit. The devastating attack today is cause for great concern in the entire region. Like many, the years of peace have caused my interest to turn to other issues. So, I had to do a bit of research to educated myself about Mr. Hariri and just what is happening today in Lebanon. This is quite long and certainly not complete. But, hopefully put together in a way that at least give the readers unfamiliar with the area the basic details.

Rafik Bahaa Edine Hariri (1 November 1944–14 February 2005) was a Lebanese self-made billionaire businessman, and was twice Prime Minister of Lebanon, before his last resignation from office on October 20, 2004.

Born to a modest Sunni Muslim family background in the Lebanese port city of Sidon, Hariri worked in Saudi Arabia in the 1970s, making vast sums of money in a very short period of time, ending up a powerful construction tycoon. He later became a citizen of Saudi Arabia in 1978, and became the country's emissary to Lebanon. He was prime minister of Lebanon from 1992 to 1998, then again from 2000 till 2004.

Hariri's contributions are numerous. Among the most notable is the fact that he educated 30,000 Lebanese students inside and outside of Lebanon, and spent millions of dollars of his own personal money to redefine the face of social hierarchies in Lebanon. His education plan made possible the creation of equal economic classes in Lebanon. He donated a great deal of money to people, and invested in Lebanon when no one was interested in doing so. Like all prime ministers since the end of the French mandate in 1943, he was a Muslim. He worked towards unity of the different religious and ethnic groups and rebuilding.

Amid the political crisis brought on by the extension of President Emile Lahoud's term under Syrian pressure, Hariri resigned as Prime Minister.

On 14 February 2005 he was killed with at least 9 others when a massive car bomb was detonated as his motorcade drove past near the St. George Hotel in Beirut. At least 100 were wounded. Both Syrian and Israeli governments deny involvement in the attack.

State-run Tele Liban said more than 350 kilograms (770 pounds) of explosives were used in the bombing, bringing down concrete walls, leaving a dozen flaming cars and gouging a crater several metres into the road.

Lebanon's official news agency ANI said Hariri, whose every move in Beirut was normally escorted by tight security, was dead on arrival at the American University Hospital, his body disfigured.

Supporters of Hariri gathered outside his west Beirut mansion, weaping and banging their heads in grief. But they also shouted invectives against Syria and the Lebanese government and demanded the withdrawal of some 14,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon.

"Hariri is dead, Lebanon will not survive. It's going to break apart into sectarian enclaves. He alone could guarantee national unity," wailed a distraught elderly man.

Wikipedia

Turkish Press

From a 1993 Time Europe article: Mr. Miracle

In a country where politicians who show decisiveness have a short life expectancy, it was a courageous stance. Hariri regards the risk of assassination philosophically; his Muslim faith clearly helps. "I believe if my life is finished, it will be finished," he says. "It is written."

A previously unknown Islamist group -- An-Nosra wal Jihad fi Bilad al-Sham (Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria) -- claimed responsibility for the bombing and pledged further attacks on "infidels". The group, in a videotape shown on Al-Jazeera television, said it carried out a suicide attack "because of his (Hariri's) close ties with the Saudi authorities", but provided no proof of the claim.

UN Security Council Resolution 1559 adopted last September calls for a halt to foreign interference in Lebanon and a withdrawal of foreign troops -- a direct message to Syrian troops on Lebanese soil.

June/July 2004 Political Background

In recent months, (June/July 2004) the United States and France have put considerable pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad not to interfere in Lebanon's presidential election this fall, while encouraging Lebanese politicians to exert control over the political process.

The Lebanese constitution stipulates that the president, may not serve two consecutive terms in office (a proviso intended to prevent office-holders from using their position to secure their own reelection). However, President Emile Lahoud does not want to leave office when his term expires in November and for nearly a year his supporters have been floating the idea that Article 49 of the constitution should be amended to allow for either an extension or renewal of his term.

If Lebanese parliament members were able to vote freely, a constitutional amendment would not even be under discussion. Lahoud's archenemy, Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, has a bloc of over 40 allies in the 128-member parliament (a result of the billionaire's profligate spending in the 2000 election cycle. Since a constitutional amendment allowing Lahoud to stay in office would require the support of a two-thirds majority in parliament (and a two-thirds majority in the cabinet, which Hariri's allies can also defeat), it would not have a prayer of approval unless Syria, which continues to dominate the country militarily and politically, intervenes and instructs them to vote for it.

Syria also pressured both opponents and advocates of an extended incumbency to abstain from publicly committing themselves to either position. Hariri has not openly rejected the idea since last summer (when declared that he would shoot himself if "outside" pressures forced him to approve an extension, eliciting a sharp reprimand from Damascus).In fact, the vast majority of Lebanese politicians have not taken clear positions on the subject. "They all seem baffled and waiting, it's as if they are waiting for the secret word to arrive from Syria," says Baabda MP Bassem Sabaa.

Because of his efforts to sabotage Hariri's economic recovery program and his close cooperation with Hezbollah, Lahoud has long been viewed with distaste in both Paris and Washington. Hariri, in contrast, is a personal friend of French President Jacques Chirac (in part, it is rumored, because of his illicit contributions to the latter's political campaigns) and enjoys close contacts with American officials (he has visited Washington numerous times, while Lahoud has never even been invited).

It appears that United States and France intend to push even more aggressively for a constitutional presidential succession in the months ahead (Syrian and American officials will reportedly meet in Rome in late July to discuss the issue). This presents Assad with a vexing Catch-22: if he caves into the pressure, he will effectively relinquish some of Syria's authority over Lebanon and allow the West to make further inroads into the country's political process; if he doesn't, Syria will further isolate itself internationally and alienate most of Lebanon's governing elite. Middle East Intelligence Bulletin

August 28, 2004

Lebanon's cabinet has approved a bill to amend the constitution and allow the president, Emile Lahoud, to stay in power for another three years.
The cabinet meeting follows a flurry of visits by Lebanese politicians to Syria, Lebanon's political master.
The US, Britain, France, Germany and numerous Lebanese politicians and clerics had all voiced their opposition to an extension of the president's mandate.
By calling on Lebanon to stand by its constitution, the international community was also sending a message to Syria to stop interfering in Lebanon's affairs. The US comments have been criticised by Syria's allies here as interference in Lebanese affairs. BBC

Three decades of political assasinations

2 Comments:

I saw 2 length reports on the TV news, along with a substantial commentary by a political analyst, and I confess I'm quite lost. I had no idea of the political scene out there.

Thanks for all this info.
2/15/2005 02:32:00 am  
WOAHHH NELLY... are those real eyebrows?? 

Posted by April
2/16/2005 08:45:00 am  

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