Former Lebanese prime minister's death is harsh
blow to quest for freedom and independance in entire Middle East
February 15, 2005
On Valentine's Day Lebanon was the scene of an appalling act
of terrorism at mid day local time. The explosion rocked the beach
front district of Beirut where allot of the cities five star hotels
are located. The target was the motorcade of Mr. Rafiq Hariri,
who was the former prime minister of Lebanon. Prior to his death,
he had attended a session of the Lebanese parliament in the central
part of Beirut. Afterwards he was heading to his residence where
he then tragically met his end.
The latest reports had indicated that around nine people were
killed and around a hundred were injured. The explosion had left
many vehicles destroyed along with damaged shop fronts and a large
crater. Windows from as far as a mile away were shattered because
of the blast.
Hariri was a self made billionaire who had made his
fortune in Saudi Arabia. He was a trained teacher who had gone
to the Persian Gulf region in hopes of finding success. He was
born to a poor Sunni family in the southern port of Sidon in 1944.
In Saudi Arabia he had found employment in a construction company
and later on, he was able to start his own construction firsm
which was named Saudi Oger. He became a personal contractor to
the then Prince Fahd, who would eventually become the king of
Saudi Arabia. His hard work, intelligence and connections enabled
to amass a huge personal fortune for himself in the desert kingdom.
He made it to the Forbes magazine's list of the hundred richest
men in the world.
His exact net worth was not known but conservative estimates
had placed his personal fortune at almost four billion dollars.
He had returned to Lebanon in 1992 to enter the world of Lebanese
politics. At that time Lebanon was recovering from a fifteen year
civil war. He was regarded as a breath of fresh air in Lebanon
whose population was desperate for positive changes.
During his tenure as prime minister (from 1992-1998 & from
2000-2004) he wanted to restore Beirut as the one of the world's
leading financial centers. He had implemented many borrowing and
building schemes to rehabilitate the nation's economy. His
credentials and personal connections had brought in much needed
foreign investment to Lebanon. His policy had put Lebanon's
economy back on its feet but at a heavy cost that had left the
nation with a huge foreign debt.
Unlike the vast majority of the political elite in the Arab world
he was a true economic and political reformer. He had opened up
Lebanon's economy to permit it to function to the best of
its capacity. He worked for the interest of the Lebanese nation
and his dream was for Lebanon to return to its former glory and
unfortunately he was never able to realize that vision.
This news not only sent shock waves in Lebanon but throughout
the Middle East as well and it must have made the Bush Administration
quite upset at this new development. Rafiq Hariri was the face
of Lebanon; he was a dominant figure both financially and politically.
His other priorities for Lebanon not only extended to the economy
but towards its full independence and freedom.
Make note of these
two words, independence and freedom and then anyone can guess as
to who would want a man such as Hariri out of the way. If one
wants to point fingers then one must ask the question: "who
One of the foreign policy hallmarks of the Bush administration
is the democratization of the Middle East. It is not an easy task
by any means and it cannot be done at the pace which was witnessed
in the former nations of the Iron Curtain. But the ground work
can be laid. This desire on the part of the Bush administration
came into being because of the September eleventh attacks.
The premise for this idea is that citizens of democratic nations
are far less likely to be involved in acts of terrorism. We have
seen so far, successful elections in Afghanistan, Iraq and in the
Palestinian territories. Were they perfect? No they were not but
many elections have the proverbial bumps and bruises but the bottom
line is that they had all met international standards.
A nation governed by a fully elected and accountable and I stress
again, ACCOUNTABLE government with a free market economy will give
the citizens of that nation hope and the energy to work hard and
make something of themselves. The vast majority of Islamic nations
do not give their citizens the opportunity or feeling that they
have a stake in their future and the future of their nation. For
example if you ask anyone if they would rather live under a totalitarian
or democratic nation, I would bet you they would prefer to live
in a free and open society.
President Bush in this year's State of the Union address
had reaffirmed his commitment to liberty in the Middle East. Here
are some key quotes:
"Our generational commitment to the advance of freedom,
especially in the Middle East, is now being tested and honored
"The goal of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine,
living side by side in peace is within reach - and America
will help them achieve that goal."
"The United States has no right, no desire, and no intention
to impose our form of government on anyone else. That is one
of the main differences between us and our enemies. They seek
and expand an empire of oppression, in which a tiny group of
brutal, self-appointed rulers control every aspect of every life."
"Our aim is to build and preserve a community of free
and independent nations, with governments that answer to their
and reflect their own cultures. And because democracies respect
their own people and their neighbors, the advance of freedom
will lead to peace."
"To promote peace in the broader Middle East, we must
confront regimes that continue to harbor terrorists and pursue
mass murder. Syria still allows its territory, and parts of
Lebanon, to be used by terrorists who seek to destroy every chance
in the region"
"Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor
of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people
the freedom they seek and deserve..."
"To the Iranian people, I say tonight: As you stand for
your own liberty, America stands with you."
These quotes have significant relevance to Hariri's
death in that he was a progressive thinker who had good relations
with President Bush as well as President Jacques Chirac of France.
These three men were of one mind in Lebanon's need to being
totally independent and democratic. That would mean that the
fifteen thousand or so Syrian troops who are stationed in Lebanon
have to withdraw.
Emile Lahoud, the current President of Lebanon is Damascus's
man in Beirut. His term was set to end in November of 2004 but
amid a great deal of controversy, his term was extended in September
to another three years by the parliament that had passed a constitutional
amendment allowing him to do so. This came as no great surprise
because most members of the Lebanese parliament are loyal to Damascus.
This transpired about the same time the U.N. had called for free
and fair presidential elections in Lebanon.
Hariri was opposed to Syria's role in Lebanon's
internal affairs. Amid the controversy of the extension of President
Lahoud's term, Hariri resigned his post as prime minister.
However he had decided to make a come back into public service
by running in Lebanon's legislative elections which were
scheduled in May. Recently the White House along with the French
government was calling for an end to Syria's occupation of
Lebanon. The heat was on Syria and the other authoritarian regimes
in the area. It was clear that Lebanon was on a momentum for independence
The Lebanese are highly educated and they have had
past experiences in democracy. That desire for freedom along with
a strong dislike for Damascus's domination over their nation
would have led to Syrian troops leaving one way or another and
then the ousting of the pro-Syrian government that would pave the
wave for the Middle East's next free election. For sure Rafiq
Hariri would have been the next Lebanese head of state and he could
have been the "Vaclav Havel"of the Middle East.
That scenario would be too unbearable for Syria to deal with.
When the citizens of Syria watch on Al Jazeera free elections taking
place in their smaller neighbor, they too would put a great deal
of pressure on the Baath regime to have the same rights. The wave
of change is going through this part of the world, rather slowly
but its going. The death of Hariri had slowed this momentum
it seems but it could put even more pressure on Syria to leave
A group by the name of Victory and Jihad in Greater Syria who
are pretty much unknown had claimed responsibility for this act.
To me, "that dog don't bark!" This was a sophisticated
operation that was beyond the scope of a little known and obscure
The Lebanese opposition had issued a statement from the former
Prime Minister's house stating: "We hold the Lebanese
authority and the Syrian authority, being the authority of tutelage
in Lebanon, responsible for this crime and other similar crimes." They
had also called on Syrian troops to leave Lebanon as well as the
resignation of President Lahoud's government.
For now there is a sense of fear and uncertainty in Beirut. On
the night of Valentine's Day the streets were absolutely
deserted which normally would have been filled with late night
revelers. Rafiq Hariri's death was a great blow to the people
of Lebanon and this tragedy had become much bigger than Lebanon
for it has struck terror into those who want to bring freedom
and prosperity to a region that is very much deficient in these
Damascus has rolled the dice and Tehran has placed it's
bet and let us all hope and prey that maybe this could galvanize
the collective will of people desiring for bigger and better things
and that the dictatorial regimes from Cairo to Damascus and hopefully
on to Tehran will all be overthrown and the leaders will be.