Rafik Hariri’s Legacy: All That Remains
By: Hassan Illeik
Published Thursday, February 14, 2013
On the eighth anniversary of his assassination, Rafik al-Hariri’s Future Movement is in crisis, not least because his political successor Saad al-Hariri exiled himself willingly after the collapse of his government in 2011.
One of the most precise descriptions of Saad’s performance so far was penned by then US ambassador to Lebanon Jeffrey Feltman in a June 2006 cable to the Department of State.
In it, Feltman says, “Saad is not Rafiq. The expectations that he could immediately assume the role of his father inevitably led to disappointments.”
One Future loyalist describes the movement’s quandary as follows: “We are living through two crises for which there appears to be no solution.”
On the general political level, the source explains, “We are in a state of suspension waiting for something to happen. What? We don’t know. The Syrian regime will not fall anytime soon...and the election law being cooked up for the parliamentary elections does not favor us.”
At the level of the Sunni sect in Lebanon, the inside source says there is a widespread “feeling of defeat, strangely mixed in with a sense of excess power due to what is happening in Syria. But this overconfidence cannot eliminate the demoralization among Sunnis as long as Saad al-Hariri is their leader.”
The Future Movement’s greatest challenge is the growing power of Salafis, particularly in Lebanon’s second largest city, Tripoli. Most opinion polls suggest that they represent no more than 4 percent of the population there, but nevertheless have managed to control the streets.
And instead of the Future Movement offering an alternative approach, the Salafis have succeeded in drawing many level-headed Future activists into their sectarian discourse.
This is justified by some in the movement who argue that raising the bar rhetorically allows them to confront the Salafis and “pull the rug out from under their feet.” In fact, Hariri’s “moderate current” is increasingly being drawn into the al-Nusra Front’s orbit instead.
Worse yet, the Future Movement is also suffering from deep-seated and seemingly unresolvable financial and organizational problems – the Hariri family is no longer capable of covering up all the mismanagement. It simply cannot generate the money it once spent in the political arena to win over support.
One of the movement’s ideologues once said that the “Cedar Revolution” that broke out after the assassination of Hariri is buttressed by three important elements: the March 14 coalition, the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), and the Maronite Patriarch.
While March 14 is today a shell of what it was a few years ago, the LAF and the patriarchy can hardly be described as sympathetic to the Future Movement. Even the mufti, whose loyalty was once taken for granted, is at odds with the party.
Today, Saad stands alone in the face of the multiple crises. His royal Saudi patrons no longer back him like they used to, with some suggesting that he is not “the Sunni’s sole representative in Lebanon.”
Some of his siblings have long separated their business interests from Saad’s to protect themselves from any fallout. His father’s mansion in Qoreitem, with all its symbolism, stands closed today. Not to mention that a few months ago he lost the man he trusted most in his inner circle, Wissam al-Hassan.
Despite all this, he remains the number one man in his sect. As one party loyalist put it, “no one is challenging us on our turf. [Prime Minister] Najib Mikati does not want to succeed us. If he had any such ideas in 2011 [when he became prime minister], today that opportunity has long been lost.”
On the Road to Bankruptcy
The Hariri family inherited billions of dollars from the late Rafik Hariri, including construction companies, financial institutions, and a vast real estate empire in both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, the two countries of which the family are citizens.
Today, most members of the family are drowning in debt due to corruption, mismanagement, and failed business deals. To cover their debts, they have put their companies up as collateral and sold off vast tracts of real estate.
In February, for example, the Hariri-owned Saudi Oger construction company announced that it managed to obtain credit facilities amounting to $1.03 billion over four years, most likely to pay off their mounting debts.
The money will be used to block gaping holes in the family’s finances such as the losses incurred after the family purchased a $28 million stake in the Arab Bank, whose shares consequently lost 72 percent of their value.
This is while Hind Hariri, Saad’s younger sister, has put up for sale most of her real estate holdings in Lebanon, according to a power of attorney she submitted to the Lebanese consulate in Jeddah on 19 September 2012.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.