Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri has led his allies to electoral victory twice in a short political career defined by the deep crisis unleashed by the assassination of his father, Rafik.
Success in his next political test, as prime minister of the divided country, will hinge on lasting reconciliation with rivals allied to neighbouring Syria — the state he has accused of orchestrating his father’s assassination in 2005.
That is vital for securing the stability needed for Lebanon to make the economic progress on his agenda.
At 39 he is set to be formally designated on Saturday as Lebanon’s next prime minister, having led his ”March 14” alliance to victory in a June 7 parliamentary election.
He will be stepping into a post long dominated by his father — a billionaire tycoon who personified Lebanon’s reconstruction from the rubble of the 1975-90 civil war.
Saad was assigned the role as his father’s successor after the assassination which pitched Lebanon into the worst crisis since the conflict.
His inheritance included recognition as the main Sunni Muslim figure in Lebanon’s sectarian politics and the support of Arab and Western states, which he harnessed to pursue justice for his father’s killers. An international tribunal to try suspects in the killing was established at The Hague earlier this year.
The court was one of the issues that poisoned ties between Hariri and Syria’s allies in Lebanon, chief among them the military and political group Hezbollah and the Amal movement of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, both Shi’ite factions. Hariri accused his rivals of seeking to derail plans for the tribunal during a power struggle that inflamed sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
In the darkest days of the crisis, Hariri was accused of stoking sectarian tensions and arming followers to strengthen his hand in a conflict that pushed Lebanon to the brink of a new civil war last year. He has always denied the accusations.
Switching focus to the economy
Raised in Saudi Arabia, Hariri is seen as the kingdom’s pointman in Lebanon, an arena of rivalry between Riyadh and Damascus. His success as prime minister will likely depend on ties between the states, which have improved in the last six months. Hariri has sent reconciliatory messages since his election win, replacing campaign posters that evoked memories of recent turmoil with others emphasising the need for national unity.
”What we need to do is actually calm things down,” he said in a June 12 interview with Reuters.
The vote defied the expectations of many and marked a turnaround in the fortunes of Hariri’s coalition, which had suffered a series of setbacks that culminated in a military rout at the hands of Hezbollah and its allies in May 2008.
Just months after his father’s death in 2005, Hariri guided his allies to his first parliamentary election win. But he opted against assuming the post of prime minister, reserved for a Sunni according to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.
Instead, the job went to Fouad Siniora, a former finance minister and long-time aide of Rafik al-Hariri. That partly shielded the political novice from the crises that swept the country, including a dispute over Hezbollah’s weapons.
Hariri has shelved discussion of contentious issues for now, instead focusing on the need to improve the economy.
Hariri has stated his support for long-stalled economic reform measures including privatisation, which economists say are vital to reducing Lebanon’s massive public debt burden. — Reuters