Hariri's death: A black pall still hanging over Lebanon

Hariri's death: A black pall still hanging over Lebanon
Analysis: Rafik Hariri's assassination in Beirut 10 years ago created a new political force in the March 14 movement. But it has done nothing for the country, says Nader Fawz.
6 min read
13 February, 2015
The car bomb explosion which killed Hariri still echoes today [AFP]

The leader of the Future Movement, Saad Hariri, is expected to return to Beirut to lead commemorations for the tenth anniversary of the assassination of his father, Former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, on February 14, 2005.

The return of the "exile leader", who left the country after his government was toppled in January 2011, would need a robust security operation - given the wave of murders and threats against leaders of the March 14 coalition, of which Hariri's Future Movement is a major component.

In effect, the most recent visit Hariri made to Lebanon in August 2014 took place amid a total information blackout even as his closest associates - including his officer director Nader Hariri and closest adviser Hani Hamoud - were not aware of his visit to Beirut.

Hamoud had boarded a plane with Hariri in Riyadh that was bound for Paris. It landed in Beirut, and Nader Hariri did not know of the visit until he was already on the plane. Even the security convoys of the Hariri family were surprised to see him at the airport.

So it is no surprise that on the tenth anniversary of the assassination, the conversation has shifted from talking about the biggest political assassination in the country's modern history to talking about the return of Hariri the son to Lebanon. Future Movement officials have redirected the focus of the anniversary in this manner perhaps to escape the reality of their situation and the events of the past decade.

The people in charge of security in the Future Movement have mobilised, but the same can not be said about the political advisers sitting at their desks, and who are supposed to carry out a political review of their movement's achievements. There is much confusion in the issues and dossiers they want the Future Movement and its allies to discuss in relation to their political programme and their track record so far.

Rafik Hariri's assassination led to
the withdrawal of Syrian troops [AFP]

The confusion is obvious, first of all in the slogan the Future Movement chose for the anniversary: "10, 100, or 1,000 years, we will march on".

That slogan could be understood to mean that the past ten years were not enough to complete the project, and that it might take 100 or 1,000 years more. Signs of fatigue, defeat, and failure are also obvious in the ranks of the movement.

And as long as it remains the backbone of the March 14 coalition, given its sectarian, political, and financial weight, and its regional relations, its paralysis spells paralysis for the entire coalition. It also means the rosy dream of freedom, sovereignty, and independence has unraveled, along with all other slogans the faction championed when it declared an uprising against Syrian military presence following the assassination of Rafik Hariri.

The project defeated

A decade later, Lebanon has effectively fallen into the hands of the allies of the Syrian regime. Rafik Hariri's murder propelled the Syrian presence in Lebanon to the forefront, prompting hundreds of thousands of Lebanese people to gather in Martyrs' Square in central Beirut on March 14, 2005 - an event that is at the origin of the name of the March 14 coalition.

The crowd and their leaders declared a revolution against the regime at the time, and, by April of that year, the Syrian army was gone. But while this army stumbles in Syria as it tries to defend the regime against a large segment of its own people, Hizballah dominates the Lebanese state - in military and security matters and in politics.

Hizballah is in control, while the Future Movement is paralysed. For ten years now, it has been calling for Hizballah to be disarmed. Today, the most the movement can hope for is to disarm Hizballah's "resistance brigades", a group of auxiliary militias deployed throughout Lebanon to prop up the party's security control.

To that purpose, the movement is engaged in direct dialogue with Hizballah, even as the latter stands accused by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon of being involved in Hariri's assassination.

In other words, Hariri's aides are sitting with the people suspected of killing Hariri's father, the people who are helping the regime in Syria crack down on the revolution there, and the people who had toppled Hariri's government in 2011.

This reality is the result of the accumulation of failures in the movement and March 14's management of various issues. It is possible to recall many major milestones in this regard, in a political track record rife with mistakes and retreats.

Perhaps the most glaring misstep was the so-called quadripartite alliance, which brought together March 14 and Hizballah in the 2005 general election, months after Hariri's assassination.

Future and Hizballah would then form a number of coalition governments leading up to the Doha agreement, which followed clashes between Hizballah and allies and March 14-aligned forces in May 2008. The deal made Hizballah's presence in the government a permanent fixture - with or without electoral backing.

Total paralysis

The Future Movement negotiations with Hizballah are reminiscent of the three visits Saad Hariri made to Damascus, as prime minister, in 2009 and 2010.

The fallout of the assassination
still hangs over Beirut [AFP]

At the time, Bashar al-Assad's regime was main suspect in the assassination of Rafik Hariri, just as Hizballah is today.

Hariri sat at Assad's table, steered by the requirements of Saudi policy.

He forgot all slogans of freedom, independence, and justice, and enlisted in the Saudi-Syrian accord at the time, or what was known in Lebanon as the S-S accord.

This continued until his government was toppled. As a result, Hariri paid the price of the retreat of his regional backer, Saudi Arabia, which has not stopped retreating from the region for more than ten years. We can see the retreat beginning from the invasion of Iraq to the current crises in Iraq, and from the fragile peace in Yemen to the current chaos there.

The same goes for the Saudi role in Syria, where other western and regional players are now more relevant than the Gulf giant. In 2012, the pro-Saudi faction saw the revolution in Syria as a major opportunity to overcome its constant lack of direction. Three years ago, Hariri proclaimed that he would only return to Beirut via the airport of a "liberated Damascus".

The Future Movement had many hopes pinned on the people of Daraa and Ghouta in Syria, to confront but also bargain with Hizballah through them. The uprising in Syria is experience its worst of times, as is Hariri and his faction.

The sectarianism blighting the revolution in Syria has spread to the Future Movement's constituency, from which at least three suicide bombers have emerged to carry out attacks in Iraq.

To be sure, Hariri's rhetoric is no longer attractive to a segment of his Sunni community, chunks of which have instead gravitated towards jihadist groups. The March 14 project has lost its balance in a dangerous regional environment.

The spearhead of the project, namely the Future Movement, was not prepared to lead the coalition to begin with, given it was stuffed with people of power used to being in power.

It did not grasp the importance or methods of being in the opposition. The Future Movement did not emerge from a militia organisation or from the civil war. The experience of Rafik Hariri, the founder, was limited to reconstruction as an economic project supposedly able to rally all political and military rivals in Lebanon.

His assassination killed the project leader, and brought Lebanon into a period of security tension that the Future Movement and its leaders still do not know how to deal with - regardless of the rosy dreams this project once promoted.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.