Astounding to His Death
Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri
On February 14, 2005, a massive car bomb killed the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Al-Hariri. It is estimated that another 17 people have also been killed by the bomb and at least 100 were injured. The explosion, which occurred outside of the St. George Hotel, left a massive crater at its center, shattered glass and rubble throughout the street, and nearby cars ablaze. Al-Hariri a man who was loved and admired by all Lebanese Muslims, Christians, and Druze, will truly be missed. His death has caused major repercussions and chaos in Lebanon, and has left many asking ‘Why? Who did it?’
Rafiq Al Hariri was born into a poor Sunni Muslim family in the Southern port city of Sidon in 1944. At the age of 18 he found himself in Saudi Arabia working various odd jobs, until he founded his own construction company in the early 1970’s. In 1977, Hariri astounded everyone by building a palace for the late King Khalid of Saudi Arabia, in six months.
From there he won the confidence of the crown-Prince Fahad, now King, and became one of the most influential and respected business men in the region. Al-Hariri’s interests ranged from construction, telecommunication, banking, and the oil industry. In 2003, Forbes magazine estimated his wealth to be around 3.8 billion dollars, making him then one of the wealthiest men.
Al-Hariri was also known for his great generosity. In 1982 he donated 12 million dollars of his own money to help the Lebanese victims of the Israeli invasion. He was also the largest shareholder in the bulldozing company that set out to clean the streets of Lebanon after its fifteen year civil war.
From here Al-Hariri became the Lebanese Prime Minister in 1992, serving ten years of a twelve year term. He was widely known as the man responsible for saving Lebanon from its economic slump, and for trying to unite the people regardless of religion. In October 2004 he stepped down from his position due to irreconcilable differences with Syrian backed President Emile Lahud. Al-Hariri has always fallen in and out of Syrian favor and, at that time, he was advocating Syrian removal of their 14,000 troops from Lebanon. This was something the Syrians did not want, and of course that translated to something the Lebanese government did not want.
Who Did It?
A group calling themselves ‘Al-Nasir and Jihad Group in Al-Sham’ have claimed responsibility for the car bombing which resulted in Al-Hariri’s death. However, commentators looking at the magnitude of the explosion believe that an intelligence agency is behind the bomb rather than a small group. Still, this is yet to be determined.
At this time it is hard to point out exactly who carried out the killing. Many, nonetheless, are pointing their finger at Syria. Al-Hariri has never been a strong foe of the Syrian regime. Yet, you could not say he was a faithful ally. Hariri comprehended the power relations with Lebanon and Syria and he played them to his advantage well. He understood that there were Syrian political interests to keep in mind whether he liked it or not.
Hariri’s relations with Syria reached an all time low when Syrian backed President Emile Lahud began seeking an extension to his six year term as president. Lahud and Hariri were bitter enemies who had many political disagreements over the years. These rivalries had a negative effect on Lebanon, to an extent that they have curbed growth in the country, especially economically.
However, the major disagreement lies with the issue of the fourteen thousand Syrian troops situated in Lebanon. There has been massive international pressure on Syria to remove their troops. The UN Security Council passed Resolution 1559 which called on nations (it did not specifically mention Syria) to “respect” Lebanon’s sovereignty. This issue has also managed to bring France and the USA in agreement, apparently the only policy they can agree on when it comes to the Middle East. Al-Hariri became an outspoken supporter of this resolution and a head figure of the opposition force calling for the removal of Syrian troops, who arrived in 1976, from Lebanon. This did not sit well with the Syrians. Thus, many believe that this was enough cause for the Syrians to take action against him.
Taking a closer look at this analysis one has to wonder why would Syria take such a risk at this time? They are already under heavy pressure from countries like the USA to reform and to leave Lebanon to pursue their own policies, even former supporters like France have turned against them. Beyond that, Syria is slowly alienating it self from its other Arab neighbors, especially after they reported that they may be entering a partnership with Iran.
Syria obviously would have been aware that the assassination of Al-Hariri would only heighten the tension over their military and political influence in Lebanon. His death, as we see today, brought about strong calls from the Lebanese people and the international community for Syria to recognize Lebanon’s sovereignty and right to run its own affairs. This goes against Syrian interests, therefore, why would they pursue, support, or take part, in an action that will hurt their interest?
Another possibility which should also be considered is that Al-Hariri’s death was planned by the government without the explicit consent of Syria. Al-Hariri supports the opposition party which is asking for changes to the way things are run in the country. Being a very influential figure, Al-Hariri and his support could have played a destabilizing role for the government. Car bombs targeting such figures are not an unusual occurrence in Lebanon. Last October, Marwan Hamade was badly wounded in a car bomb shortly after he resigned as Minister of the Economy. Hamade reportedly resigned to demonstrate his opposition towards President Lahud.
The Lebanese people have taken to the streets numerous times. Their one demand is for Syria to pull back from their territory. Such a demand would have seems futile a few weeks ago. Now, it seems like a certainty. After a joint Syrian-Lebanese military committee Syria has announced a plan for the redeployment of some of their troops to the Eastern Bekka Valley. However, there is no final word on when they will move all their troops.
This act is seen as a big change that largely came about from international pressure. Without Hariri’s death, no one would have believed Syria was going to remove their troops from Lebanon. Now, it seems like Syria has no choice. Not only are they being pressured by the USA, but also by their close allies, Russia and France. Even Saudi Arabia and Egypt, arguably the most influential countries in the Arab world, have sided with the international community in the case.
It is hard to ignore what is going on in this region. Many, like the USA, are hoping that this incident can pave the way for more democratization. While others, notably the Arab countries, want the situation to be resolved. However, at the end of the day, the question still remains: Who killed Rafiq Al-Hariri and why? UN investigators have arrived in Lebanon but have yet to come to a conclusion.
Published: Saturday, March 26, 2005