A Biography of Rafik Hariri
Lebanese ex-Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, assassinated on 14 February at the age of 61 years in the center of Beirut, submitted his resignation in October in what was viewed as a defeat in an arm wrestle with Syria. Hariri governed as Prime Minister from 1992 to 2004, except for a brief interval between 1998 and 2000.
His obsession with security, which motivated him to travel only in an armored automobile equipped with sweepers for phone signals and with carbomb detectors, did not save him from the bomb that was set off by the transit of his convoy composed of several limousines and SUVs. A multimillionaire with excellent relations with Arab monarchs and European leaders, Hariri, starting from humble origins, made himself an immense fortune. His connections influenced him to enter Lebanese politics and in 1992 he was elected Prime Minister, an office which he held until 2004, except for a brief interval in which Salim Hoss was Prime Minister between 1998 and 2000.
Rafik Hariri was born into a modest household in Sidon in 1944. His father was a farmer and his mother ran a fruit stand. Hariri began his university education in 1964 only to abandon his studies to emigrate to Saudi Arabia because of insufficient economic resources to continue. In Saudi Arabia he worked as a Math teacher and as an auditor for an engineering company. In 1969 he started his own firm, Ciconquest, which grew unstoppably during Saudi's oil boom. He began to win contracts from private and government customers for the construction of office buildings, hospitals, hotels and palaces. A workaholic, Hariri built Riyahd's Hotel Massara in a mere six months. By the beginning of the 1980s, Hariri was among the 100 richest men in the world.
Following the civil war in Lebanon, he made himself conspicuous in war-torn Beirut as he engaged in the reconstruction effort. With his building supply and construction companies, he began to remodel Beirut with the desire to turn it into a New Singapore. Between business and politics he was able to start up his own television network, Future TV, a general entertainment network which became hugely popular in a country enjoying the one of the most vibrant media markets in the Arab world.
Hariri had his ups and downs with the Syrian régime, the real political arbiter in Lebanon, but his relations with Damascus did not deteriorate until 2004 when he opposed a constitutional amendment which would grant an additional term to President Emil Lahud, slated to retire. However, after a mysterious trip to Damascus, Hariri changed his mind and announced that he would support the reelection of Lahud for which he was roundly criticized.
In October 2004, just after consenting to the reelection of Lahud, Hariri resigned as Prime Minister saying that Lebanon needs a orderly and unified government in order to carry out its responsibilities in facing challenges from within and without; I was unable to manage those challenges because of obstacles with which you are all familiar.
Amidst his clamorous resignation (a politician closely identified with Syria replaced him), Hariri became a member of parliament and moved increasingly closer to a heterogeneous group of MPs who demand the end of Syrian tutelage of Lebanon, although Hariri himself never criticized Damascus openly.
The reaction of the Lebanese swings between blaming Syria and blaming Israel. Here are some comments from a Lebanese forum.
- This crime is ignoble, reprehensible and on many levels a crime intended to destabilize the already unsettled domestic political situation in the approach of legislative elections and above all relating to the controversial and thorny issue of UN Resolution 1559. Rafik Hariri was not free of reproach but he was a first-class politician and was very solicitous of his duties despite his wealth. He was incontrovertible player on the political stage but above all, a Lebanese. His assassination will have nefarious consequences on Lebanon, the Near and Middle East, and the world. This assassination also weakens Syria and places it in a very fragile sitution. The crime is grist for the Israeli mill. What a disaster, I'm afraid for my Lebanon, it's no use telling myself that Lebanese are used to war; I know they want an enduring peace and to live in a country which is not under threat.
- May Rafik Hariri rest in peace. He drank from the poison Syrian chalice of Lahud's term extension. I'm very sorry Hariri did not run for President in 2004. But who profits from this crime? Syria?
- I'm French. This evening, I wanted to write a letter to the Syrian ambassador to France. I needed the address. But then I found out that the Syrian Embassy doesn't have a web site. I looked in the phone directory and it wasn't listed. I took the next step and looked for a website for the government of Syria. Damascus does not have one. Now that's pretty odd that a nation that's on every world atlas, a nation we all know exists, is so unfindable. I've known for a long time what kind of country Syria is--I mean politically--but this is beyond all limits. I'm a friend of Lebanon--it's obvious. But don't worry, Lebanon is eternal. It will triumph over tyranny.