Remembering Rafiq Hariri, nine years on
The assassinated Rafiq Hariri was a powerful and controversial figure in Lebanon, widely respected regardless of sectarian lines
Former Lebanese PM Saad Hariri has addressed the nation on the anniversary of his father’s assassination in 2005.
Speaking from an undisclosed location, Hariri said “I have no doubt that justice will be victorious,” in the trial determining whether or not the accused suspects were the perpetrators of the operation that killed Hariri and more than 20 others.
“The Lebanon that Rafiq Hariri and all the martyrs aspired for is one that has the state responsible for all of its decision-making power,” he added.
Meanwhile, supporters of Lebanon’s Future Movement bloc Friday lit a torch at the site of his assassination on Rue Minet el Hosn.
Shortly after Hariri’s assassination in a car bomb in Beirut, a movement dubbed by some as the “Cedar Revolution” kicked off and eventually expelled the Syrian Army after their nearly 30 year occupation of Lebanon. A mass demonstration that attracted a reported one million protestors was seen by many as the pinnacle of the movement’s activities.
Hope sprang up in some segments of the Lebanese population that they would enjoy greater freedoms as a result of the movement’s achievements. However, as the years wore on, hope faded as political infighting and instability became widespread.
Since 2005, Lebanon witnessed the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and the events of May 7, 2008, during which Lebanese citizens fought on the streets of Beirut.
Fighting in Tripoli is ongoing and a battle in Sidon, Hariri’s hometown, culminated in the death of more than 50 people in June of last year.
Hariri was a powerful and controversial figure in Lebanon. After building a fortune in Saudi Arabia, Hariri returned to Lebanon following the end of the civil war and quickly used his wealth to rebuild parts of Beirut. He was widely respected regardless of sectarian lines, however his detractors accuse him of cracking down on protestors and on the media. He was also accused of executing land grabs in much of central Beirut by paying landowners well under what their land was valued at, if he paid them at all.
Political analysts say Hariri was a figure with strong ties to the international community, ensuring Lebanon maintained good relations with foreign powers. He was known to have very positive relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and was a close friend of former French President Jacques Chirac.
Supporters say Hariri represented a new era of Lebanese politicians who played no part in the country’s 15-year nightmare civil war that left thousands dead.
Also, Hariri was known to foster good relations with many national figures within Lebanon. He was said to have met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah on a weekly basis before his death. One overlooked detail however is that Hariri was known to be an ally of the Syrian regime until shortly before his death.
But since Hariri’s assassination, Lebanese political society has become further divided with Hariri’s son and successor Saad championing a contemptuous relationship with Nasrallah and the Iranian backed Hezbollah. Saad Hariri has also accused Syria and President Bashar al-Assad of involvement in his father’s death.
Five members of Hezbollah are currently on trial in absentia at The Hague. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) was set up to investigate and seek justice in the assassination of Hariri and other Lebanese political figures. For their part, Nasrallah and Hezbollah have rejected the STL as a western-backed body that attempts to undermine his party.
When the trial kicked off earlier this year, it caught the nation’s attention. But as it recently went on an indefinite hiatus for the defense to be given time to go over the appropriate files, it has strayed from the front pages of media outlets.
While the trial is the first of its kind in relation to Lebanon, many are doubtful that it will achieve anything.
Haytham Mouzahem, a Lebanese political analyst, told Al Arabiya News that even if the Hezbollah members on trial were to be found guilty, they would never be found.
Analyst Imad Salamey added that the trial has split Lebanon between those who believe Hezbollah are responsible for the death of Hariri and those who believe the trial is intended to “undermine Hezbollah’s resistance role.”
Supporters of the trial, however, believe that it could drive the Lebanese to build a culture of accountability.
Nine years on, Hariri’s influence has been replaced by a vacuum. The Lebanese Sunni community appears to be frustrated as Saad has lived outside Lebanon since his coalition government collapsed. Other major Sunni leaders in the country have not been able to command the same authority Hariri once exerted over Lebanese politics.
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