The Great Hariri

Posted on February 18, 2005

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I will preface this blog entry with the fact that I do not derive any joy over such acts as the one which took the life of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. That being said, it is truly disgusting to see American officials, most notably George W., Condi and various members of Congress, as well as media outlets like the Wall Street Journal, falling over themselves to paint the man out to be some kind of billionaire saint.

Hariri, who made his fortune in construction during Saudi Arabia’s US backed infrastructure boom of the 70’s, used his wealth to enter into Lebanese politics (perhaps as the next step in his profit making ventures) through the back door. Hariri’s first step was offering former leader Amin Gemayel 30 million dollars to step down as the coutnry’s civil war wound down. When that ploy failed, Hariri’s Syrian patrons orchestrated the election of a pliant parliament that voted him into office for the first of two seperate terms.

Hariri’s first tenure in office literally reads like a primer on government corruption and cronyism–Hariri named the chief financial officer of his company as his Finance Minister, a company lawyer was appointed Justice Minister, his former banker at Merryl Lynch was named the head of the Central Bank. It is no exaggeration to say that the list goes on and on. Hariri, as Prime Minister, founded the Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut’s Central District. Hariri was the primary shareholder and as Prime Minister, expropriated the property of the district, compensating the owners with shares in his development company, often at a fraction of the property’s true value. It is no secret that Hariri and his backers (many Saudi) made a killing off this business venture. Moreover, Hariri has also been accused of having funded both sides in the civil war in order to be able to reap the profits of rebuilding Beirut.

This is not to say that Hariri spent all of his time enriching himself, cronies, allies and underlings. He also invoked his position to suppress labor struggles, often by brute force, and take control of the state’s media for the benefit of his Syrian benefactors. After the death of Hafez Assad, and the succession of his son, Bashir, Hariri fell out of favor with the Syrian government for a time, and then struck an uneasy alliance when he succesfully ran for president again. Hariri continued, however, to run afoul of Syria, whose former elites and friends of Hariri were now out of favor and drew ever closer to an alliance with Lebanese pro-US factions, which has, apparently led to his death. But let’s get it straight, Hariri was Syria’s man in Lebanon when Syria was at its most strident and authoritarian. It was only recently, as Syria’s government moved to the center and began seeking dialogue with both Israel and the US, that Hariri began to have trouble with his former backers. The US is obviously creating the kind of mythology around Hariri that will soon be used to justify some sort of power play in the region, but that doesn’t mean that the truth is not easily available and public. Hariri was perhaps one of the most corrupt leaders in Lebanon’s history.

It is right to mourn those who die in these violent times, but let’s not go crazy.