Lebanon / Politics /
Arabic: rafīq bahā'ad-dīn al-harīriyy
(1944-2005) Lebanese politician and businessman, prime minister (1992-98, 2000-2004).
Hariri represented a difference in Lebanese politics, being a self-made billionaire, something that elicited respect in Lebanon. But many criticized his politics, which they felt had been too pro-Syrian, specifically charging that he had done little to help the Lebanese economy, focusing instead on building fortunes for himself and his allies.
The matter of economy was one in which Hariri had little reason to blame anyone but himself, as Syria gave him wide autonomy in this field when he first became prime minister in 1992. He focused on rebuilding Beirut instead of the other cities in Lebanon, and he focused on the financial sector instead of on industry and agriculture. According to his own ideology, when the financial sector ran well the rest of the economy would follow. This didn't happen, and through the 1990's, Lebanon went into a financial crisis.
Hariri was both the architect behind the reconstruction work of Beirut, as well as the one profiting most from it. The reconstruction efforts were performed by The Company for the Development and Reconstruction of Beirut's Central District, in which Hariri was the main shareholder. The company expropriated lands in exchange for shares, and the Lebanese state paid for the construction work with foreign loans.
According to reliable reports, Hariri enriched many important people among the elite in the Lebanese society by giving them lucrative contracts.
In his second term in office, Hariri showed more independence towards Syria, which angered the rulers in Damascus. He also established better contacts with the USA. It is long speculated that Syria wanted to remove him from office, but hesitated because they saw him as important for Lebanon's economy, and Lebanon's economy as important for Syria. When he was assassinated in 2005, all clues led to Damascus.
But even Hariri's rise to power in Lebanon had a dubious history. He bought support from Syria in the 1980's, and following the end of the Civil War, he also bought support from leading politicians in Lebanon. Soon he had control over most of the reconstruction work, as well as control over Lebanese media: radio and TV stations, newspapers and magazines. These regularly presented him as the economic saviour of Lebanon.
1944: Born into a Sunni Muslim family in Sayda.
1965: Enrolls as a student of business administration at Beirut Arab University.
1966: Leaves the university, reportedly because he had no more money for tuition. He emigrates to Saudi Arabia, and starts working for a construction company.
1969: Establishes his own construction company, CICONEST, which benefits greatly from the oil boom of Saudi Arabia in the 1970's.
1975: The Civil War starts. Hariri stays in Saudi Arabia, but is involved in both relief efforts in Lebanon, as well as in funding opposing militia groups.
1978: Hariri is granted Saudi citizenship as a reward from the royal family for the high quality of his entrepreneurial services.
Hariri buys the French construction company Oger, and becomes the largest player in the construction sector in the Middle East.
1980's: Hariri is ranked one of the 100 richest men in the world. By this time, many of his activities are also based in Lebanon.
Aiming at good political relations with Syria, Hariri builds a new presidential palace in Damascus. This was however not to the liking of Hafez al-Assad, who soon turned it into a conference centre.
1987 August: Hariri tries to buy president Amin Gemayel out of office before the end of his term, and tries also to buy Syrian support for making Johnny Abdo president Abdo had promised to make Hariri prime minister in such a case. But Gemayel rejects the offer.
1989: According to some (most likely reliable) sources, Hariri buys support from Lebanese delegates for allowing Syrian control over Lebanon during the reconciliation conference held in At Ta'if, Saudi Arabia.
1990: Hariri returns to Lebanon, where he starts a campaign for getting involved in the reconstruction process starting after the end of the civil war. He donates a mansion to president, Elias Hrawi, and gives great sums of money to other leading politicians.
1992: President Hrawi appoints Hariri prime minister, hoping that the latter's influential position in business would help move the reconstruction process forward. This appointment happened first after Hariri had expressed his pro-Syrian attitude. The reactions in Lebanese society to his appointment were very positive.
Hariri's first changes in politics include cutting income and corporate taxes to 10%, and borrowing billions of dollars to rebuild the infrastructure of Lebanon, in particular the infrastructure of Beirut.
Hariri appoints many of his closest staff members from his own companies as ministers of the government, letting them fill important positions like finance minister (Fouad Siniora) and justice minister (Bahij Tabbara).
1994: Hariri is accused of corruption and offers his resignation to the president. Hrawi refuses this, and Hariri continues.
Public demonstrations are banned.
1995: With the possible start of a general strike, Hariri sends the army into the street to quell the opposition.
1996: The security forces crack down on two initiatives for general strikes.
1998: The failure of Hariri's corrupt economic politics becomes increasingly evident. The growth rate drops from an annual 8% to 2%, and the foreign debt had risen above what Lebanon could handle.
The heir apparent of the Syrian presidency, Bashar al-Assad starts a campaign to remove potential opposition to his future presidency. As a result, many of Hariri's Syrian allies are stripped of their positions in the society. Bashar soon removes Hariri from his position, and makes Salim al-Hoss prime minister instead.
2000: Since the politics of Hoss don't result in any economic growth in Lebanon, Damascus starts transferring its support back to Hariri. At the parliamentary elections, Hariri gets the necessary support to become prime minister for the second time.
Hariri initiates a policy that involves reforms in Lebanon's bureaucracy and some more independence from the directions of Damascus.
2004 October 20: Resigns from the office as prime minister.
2005 February 14: Assassinated in Beirut, by a massive bomb placed on his motorcade.