First Published: 2010-11-02

 

Saad Hariri’s Crisis Talks in London

 

International Tribunal on father’s murder may mean disaster for son, says Alexander Henley. The Tribunal has become a ball and chain that he drags with him to every negotiating table.

 

Middle East Online

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is in London for talks with British counterpart David Cameron on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, expected to indict Hezbollah members for the 2005 assassination of former PM Rafiq Hariri by the end of the year.

The tribunal is a ticking bomb that Saad Hariri’s government has been juggling for five years. The crisis came to a head last week with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s call for a total boycott of the investigation.

Hezbollah's recent reception for Iranian President Ahmadinejad reminded the world that it has allies strong enough to stand up to America. Hariri's photo-shoot with British PM David Cameron on Monday represents the Lebanese leader picking up Hezbollah's gauntlet.

Since Nasrallah’s challenge, the cornered prime minister has been a blur of desperate action. His trip to London follows meetings with the Kuwaiti Emir and prime minister on Saturday. On the same day, US President Obama called the Saudi King to express his support for Hariri and the tribunal. Hariri’s next stop is expected to be Moscow.

The Lebanese National News Agency reports these trips vaguely as being "to discuss current affairs and bilateral relations". The precise content of Hariri’s talks with Western and pro-Western leaders will remain unclear, but we can assume he is doing all he can to shore up support abroad before the coming showdown with his domestic opposition.

Hariri cannot face off Hezbollah and its allies with military force, and possibly no longer with parliamentary weight. In time-honoured Lebanese tradition, Hariri's last resort is to internationalise the issue. On the domestic level he is weak, but if he can escalate it to the international arena, he may still come out on the winning side.

Certainly Obama and Cameron seem keen to champion the international tribunal in their struggle for “justice and democracy”. But it has not been the unswerving sword of independent justice they would have it seem.

Syria has brought charges of false testimony against tribunal collaborators. Perhaps more seriously, the investigators’ enquiries seem to have echoed US strategic priorities with eerie precision. In 2005, a time of UN sanctions against Syria as a “rogue state”, the evidence was hinted to lead to Syrian President Assad’s inner circle. The US and Israel’s more recent courting of Syria to isolate Iran was mirrored by reports that the tribunal would indict members of Hezbollah, Iran’s right hand in Lebanon.

The Special Tribunal for Lebanon has been a blessing and a curse for Saad Hariri: a political weapon that launched his political career but which he never quite controlled.

Saad Hariri has always lived in his father’s sizeable shadow. Rafiq was the very model of a self-made man, who turned “Hariri” into a household name. He moved to the Gulf to find his fortune in the mid-1960s, hit hard times, but came out on top in the late 1970s with several billion-dollar fortunes under his belt and friends in very high places.

Back in Lebanon, Rafiq distributed his wealth liberally through investment and philanthropic projects, winning – or buying, his critics would say – friends and voters in droves. Once the fifteen-year civil war was over – with a little help from Hariri Inc. – Rafiq emerged as a natural candidate for the premiership.

Saad Hariri was never a natural candidate for leadership, except by blood – and copious inheritance. When his father was murdered in a bomb attack on February 14, 2005, it was not clear whether the inexperienced son would step up. Such was the success of the March 14 “Cedar Revolution” against Syria, rousing the masses in the name of the martyred Rafiq Hariri, that Saad was swept into the new government.

The cause of the international tribunal was the government’s way of continually reminding the Lebanese of its achievements and moral high ground, even as it descended into rounds of political bickering. It also helped Saad Hariri to build on his father’s connections with Western leaders.

So dependent is Saad Hariri on his father’s legacy, however, that the tribunal has become a ball and chain that he drags with him to the negotiating table. He struggled with it during the long and difficult process of normalising relations with Syria, essential for political and economic stability in Lebanon. And it has caused him to stumble repeatedly in his dealings with Hezbollah, without whose support he can no longer govern.

The inevitable tick-tick of the tribunal’s final weeks has brought Saad Hariri’s premiership to crisis point amid fears of a renewed civil war with Hezbollah. Can he free himself from his commitment to justice for his father, or intimidate his opponents with shows of solidarity from Barack Obama and David Cameron? Or will the tribunal end Saad Hariri’s political career as it kick-started it five years ago?

***

Alexander D.M. Henley, PhD Candidate, University of Manchester

 

Trump expects Gulf dispute to be resolved quickly

UN awaits Iran’s defence against Trump nuclear deal threats

Erdogan demands Iraqi Kurds call off referendum

Sisi calls for peace, co-existence in Mideast

The skilled youth escaping Turkey's disillusion

Trump’s mind made up on Iran but refuses to divulge

Scores of Iraqis missing during war against ISIS

Netanyahu rejects calls for mixed gender worship at Western Wall

Russia accuses US of missile treaty breach

Iran TV translator mocked for watering down Trump speech

Saudi Arabia hopes Kurdish referendum will not take place

Saudi invites women to sports stadium for first time

Saudi set to create $2.7 billion investment company

Humanitarian disaster grips Yemen three years since Houthi takeover

What will become of Iraq’s Hawija after ISIS?

Multi-ethnic Kirkuk tense ahead of referendum

US-backed SDF seizes 90% of Syria's Raqa

Man hanged in Iran for rape, murder of child

Saudi to lift ban on internet phone calls

US looking to revisit Iran nuclear deal

Bashir calls on Darfur displaced to return

Saudi Aramco could release accounts in early 2018

Saudi-led coalition says rebels hindering Yemen food imports

Jihadist activity prompts regime, Russian air strikes in Syria safe zone

Two prominent rights activists arrested in Saudi Arabia

Israel shoots down Hezbollah drone over Golan Heights

Iraqi forces launch assault on IS in western Anbar province

Families of the missing, the forgotten victims of war in Lebanon

25 killed in South Sudan clashes

Suicide attack on Iraq restaurant kills three

Yazdi, Iranian foreign minister turned dissident, stood up for his ideals

Rebel shelling kills four children in Yemen's Taez

Turkey forces dig in on southern border ahead of Kurdistan vote

Algeria’s army urged to intervene as concerns about president’s health, country’s future grow

Saudi raises $1.87 bn in third Islamic bond issue

Hamas militant dies in Gaza tunnel incident

Algeria says last stock of land mines destroyed

Bahrain accuses Qatar of seizing three boats

Police deploy in Kirkuk after deadly dispute

Sisi meets Netanyahu at UN

The Metamorphosis of Iraq’s Islamist parties

Outgoing Syria war crime investigator slams UN impunity

Syrian army close to besieging IS in Deir Ezzor

France warns on Iran, N. Korea

Palestinian PM poised to visit Gaza