Rafik Hariri
Mr Lebanon and his futuristic look

15 February 2005                                                                      Back to main pages

By Adel Darwish

In the past few weeks Mr Lebanon, as he was nicknamed by his supporters among local journalists, some on his payroll, has been busy steering a national election campaign through a movement he called  Al-Mustakbal ` the future', which was also the name of his, popular through the Arab world, television station. The `future', was the label open minded and progressive looking Rafik Hariri liked to preceded his ` Mr Lebanon' title.

The twice former prime minister ( with two successive period 1992-98, and again 200-2004 twice) dominated the Lebanon's post-civil war political and business life and was widely credited with getting the country back on its feet after the devastating 15-year civil war. He also gained massive popularity by rebuilding many of the country's He is survived by his wife, Nazik Hariri, and six children.
infrastructure destroyed by the Israeli heavy bombardments and massive air-raids in their 1982 invasion to drive the Palestinians out. He put his own money, when no other investor would touch Lebanon still within reach of Israeli bombardment.

As a prime minister in 1992, Lebanese people saw him as a breath of fresh air in a scene dominated by warlords.

People tired of civil war and corruption pinned hopes on the dynamic tycoon to restore Beirut's pre-war reputation as a leading financial centre. He succeeded in putting Beirut back on the international financial map through the issuing of Eurobonds, winning the praise of the World Bank for his plan to borrow and beg for reconstruction money.

Using his financial clout, and contacts, the billionaire entrepreneur attracted foreign investment, mainly from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf where he made his massive fortune, and set up private redevelopment firms to rebuild the business heart of Beirut. His critics say, he was behind passing laws and compulsory purchasing orders, appropriating real estate and land from impoverished families, to rebuild big hotels, shopping malls and other projects, in contracts awarded to his relatives and friends. Others, were critical of his economic strategy after he saddled the nation with big debts, which contributed to his 1998 departure from office following a row with Syrian backed President Emile Lahoud, who opposed Harriri's political, economic and social plans.

Ordinary Lebanese began to judge him by the same standards of cynicism applied to other politicians, many of whom had made their fortunes in civil war activities after two successive periods in office.

Hariri bounced back as a prime minister in 2000 for another four year term, only to fall out again over Syria's role in the country. He became critical of Syrian backing of Lahoud last year against the wishes of majority of Lebanese, which prompted the Americans to back UN resolution 1959 calling for Syria to pull out of Lebanon. Only 24 hours before his death in a typical Lebanese civil war assassination by a massive car bomb yesterday, he joined the growing Lebanese opposition to Syria's three decades occupation of Lebanon, leading many of his supporters to chant anti-Syrian slogans shortly after his death, blaming the Syrians.

A self-made businessman, in the American style hard working individual.
Born in the southern port of Sida to a poor Sunni Family, Hariri's march into success in business and politics went against the grain of Levantine politics, where, historically, key figures on the complicated, and often treacherous, political scene, rely, for their success let alone personal survival, on their powerful clans or strong political families.

After finishing local schools he went to Beirut university to read economics and commerce; working as a book-keeper to finance his studies, and was trained as a teacher following his graduation in 1966.
He travelled along the path of majority of his self-made fellow countrymen, heading towards the Gulf when answering an advertisement for teaching job in Saudi Arabia in 1970. He was to spend six years their, teaching, and working, as an accountant in a construction firm in Saudi Arabia, through his small company ` Siconest' and then becoming the agent of the Saudi branch of the French construction firm Oger, which lead to establishing his own firm, Saudi Oger, by amalgamating the two. He began doubling his fortune every few month from 1977, with the massive increase in oil revenues generating huge appetite for constructing big projects in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations.

He became personal contractor as well as an unofficial adviser of the then Crown Prince Fahd - King of Arabia since 1981 -, winning high profile government and private sectors construction contracts; and in the process amassed a fortune catapulting him into the pages of American magazine Forbes list of the world 100 richest men. It is impossible to estimate his wealth, but a 1990 conservative estimation put it at $2bn ( two billion), including constructions, hotels and a vast media empire. Many say twice or three times the fortune is held in un-disclosed Swiss Bank accounts.

He had majority or influential holdings in endless construction and finance firms like Mediterranean Banking Group; Saudi Lebanese Banking group; Arab Bank; Indo-Swiss bank, Sheraton Middle East, Future Television and the French radio Orient in Paris, as well as newspapers like ' Future,' ' The Arab Voice,' and majority holding in An-Nahar, one of Lebanon oldest dailies.
A flamboyant figure, who invited camera crews, and glossy magazine feature writers into his home and posed with attractive wife, Nazik, for many cover pictures. He was well regarded among international leaders, counting French President Jacques Chirac as a close friend. His presence on the international circuit, including receiving high powered gusts of international statesmen, continued after leaving office. Many like to call him a statesman, or the Arabic Raeis ( premier, president, or chief).

Hariri's legacy was further tainted by accusations that his government had sucked the country dry, and a number of government officials were investigated for corruption.

He never overtly came out against Syria in the dispute, but his resignation in September 2004 was taken as a clear protest against the Syrian pressure to keep Mr Lahoud in office, and his open criticism, just one day before his death, placed him as a nationalist figure among the majority of his country men and women.

He is survived by his wife, Nazi Hariri, and six children.

Rafik Hariri, investor, businessman and politician
born Sida, Lebanon, Nov 1, 1944
died Beirut February 14, 2005

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