Hariri, Rafiq (1944–2005)

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Hariri, Rafiq

Rafiq Baha'eddin Hariri (also Rafik, Rafic Baha al-Din) was a self-made billionaire before rising to lead Lebanon as prime minister during one of the country's most turbulent contemporary periods.


Hariri was born in Sidon, Lebanon, on 1 November 1944 to a modest Sunni Muslim family. As a young man, he attended elementary and secondary schools in Sidon, and pursued university studies at the Arab University of Beirut, majoring in accounting. While at the university, Hariri married Nida Bustani, an Iraqi classmate who gave him three sons: Baha'a; Hussam (also Husam), who was killed in a car accident while in the United States in 1990; and Sa'd Hariri. He and Bustani later divorced. Similar to many Lebanese in search of fortune, he moved to Saudi Arabia in 1965 to seek stability as well as a better life. Once there he first worked as an educator, then dabbled in accounting, before quickly starting his business as an entrepreneur. With legendary skills to forge, maintain, and nurture connections, his company built and delivered the Massara hotel in Ta'if, Saudi Arabia ten months after signing a contract, which solidified his reputation as a doer. While in Saudi Arabia, he married his second wife, Nazek Audeh (also Nazik Awda), who gave him two sons, Fahd and Ayman, and a daughter, Hind.


Name: Rafiq Hariri (Rafik, Rafic Baha al-Din)

Birth: 1944, Sidon, Lebanon

Death: 14 February 2005, Beirut, Lebanon

Family: First wife, Nida Bustani; sons, Baha'a, Hussam (d. 1990), and Sa'd; second wife, Nazek Audeh; sons, Fahd and Ayman; daughter, Hind

Nationality: Lebanese

Education: Elementary and secondary schools in Sidon. Worked toward a degree in accounting from the Arab University of Beirut but left without one in 1964. Received several honorary doctorates from: Boston University (1986), Université de Nice (1988), Arab University of Beirut (1994), Georgetown University (1996), University of Ottawa (1997), University of Montreal (1997), American University of Beirut (2003), and Moscow State Institute for International Relations (2003)


  • 1965: Moves to Saudi Arabia, works as a schoolteacher and an accountant
  • 1976: Builds and delivers a hotel in Ta'if within a record ten months
  • 1982: Oger Liban becomes actively involved in the removal of destroyed buildings, the opening of streets and roads littered with roadblocks and sandbags; Participates in Geneva and Lausanne conferences, helps broker initiatives to put an end to the civil war
  • 1989: Drafts the Ta'if Accords in consultation with leading jurists and politicians; succeeds in ending the war and drafting a new compact for Lebanon
  • 1992: Elected prime minister for the first time. Leaves Saudi Arabia
  • 1992–1998, 2000–2004: Leads five cabinets
  • 2004: Assassinated on 14 February

In 1969 Hariri established his own construction company, CICONEST, which reaped the benefit of rising oil prices throughout the 1970s. Hariri accumulated vast amounts of wealth over a short period catering to various Al Sa'ud ruling family requirements—some estimates place the total income generated from this construction business at US$10 billion over the span of a single decade—and emerged as a powerful construction tycoon. In 1978 Hariri was made a citizen of Saudi Arabia by the Al Sa'ud ruling family as a reward for the high quality of his entrepreneurial services. He acquired the near-bankrupt French Oger company in 1979, founded Oger International in Paris, and expanded his interests to banking, real estate, oil, industry, and telecommunications sectors. With the support of the heir apparent, later King Fahd bin Abd al-Aziz, his desire to serve Lebanon picked up steam, and was sealed by the 1982 Israeli invasion. After that date, Hariri devoted his life to healing his native country's political scars, rebuilding and renovating the destruction brought about by the civil war and two foreign occupations (Syria and Israel), and empowering a generation of Lebanese to excel in education. Between 1992 and 2004, he was entrusted to lead five Lebanese governments as prime minister, though he resigned in 1998 only to be called back in 2000. He also presided over the physical and economic reconstruction of the country after the lengthy and destructive civil war of 1975–1990. Tragically, Hariri was assassinated on 14 February 2005 when explosives destroyed his motorcade as it drove past the famed St. George Hotel—which he coveted, but which escaped his control—in the Lebanese capital.


According to Forbes, Hariri became one of the world's richest men sometime in the mid-1980s. By 2005 he ranked as the fourth-richest politician in the world, as the usually well-informed magazine estimated his personal fortune to be around US$4.3 billion. After his 2005 assassination, however, family members inherited a total of US$16.7 billion, which raised a basic question: How could $4.3 billion become $16.7 billion in the course of a year? Suffice it to say that Hariri accumulated financial interests in a variety of businesses, including the Oger conglomerate (with its various branches), several banks and, after 1993, Solidere, the major company responsible for the reconstruction of the Central District of Beirut. Hariri invested a mere US$183 million in Solidere, which represented a 10 percent cap per shareholder as required by the company's bylaws. Other family members and associates exercised their own individual rights in similar fashion. Critics highlighted his appetite for news outlets, the al-Mustaqbal (Future) television networks, and leading newspapers throughout the Middle East, along with many other ventures, to emphasize an alleged sense of aggrandizement. Some Lebanese criticized him for abusing his official position to secure all contracts to rebuild Beirut, whereas others alleged that he bankrupted the country to enrich his personal fortune. Nevertheless, it was critical to note that Hariri held over a billion dollars of real estate in France, Britain, the United States, and Lebanon in 1993. Regardless of personal motives, Hariri probably spent more on Lebanon than he ever made there, because his fortune bore an international, especially a Saudi, cachet.

Hariri began his involvement in the political and economic life of Lebanon as a low-key, behind-the-scenes mediator, adviser, and promoter of cease-fires and agreements to end the 1975–1990 civil war. After the 1982 Israeli invasion, he donated US$12 million to Lebanese victims of the occupation, and channeled his local firm Oger Liban to clean the city of destroyed buildings, opening streets and roads littered with roadblocks and sandbags, with his own resources. Encouraged by Saudi leaders who wished to assist Lebanon, Hariri participated in the Geneva and Lausanne conferences in 1984 to bring about a political reconciliation among warring factions. His greatest contribution was the 1989 brokerage that assembled leading Lebanese politicians in the Saudi resort city of Ta'if for over three weeks where a new covenant, written by Hariri and Nasri Maalouf, was adopted. That agreement, which succeeded in ending the war, drafted a new power-sharing formula. It was a political contract that laid down the principles of national reconciliation; it is disputed in 2007 primarily by the Shi'ite Hizbullah faction.

Hariri formed his first government on 22 October 1992 when he shouldered huge political, economic, and social responsibilities. After seventeen years of war, Lebanon was scarred with political divisions. Because the economy lay in tatters, the new prime minister took up the challenge of rebuilding, and ushered Lebanon into the postwar era, starting a massive reconstruction effort that transformed Lebanon into a vibrant country. He first focused on stabilizing the Lebanese pound, channeling resources to rebuild key infrastructure projects such as water, electricity, and telephone grids, as well as reconstructing both the port and airport facilities that were severely damaged but remained the country's lifelines to the outside world.

In April 1993, Hariri established the Ministry for the Displaced to help thousands of people who were forced to flee their homes during the war, but the US$1 billion project was mired in controversy when accusations of graft were lobbed toward the Druze minister walid jumblatt. Although this controversial item was shelved, the project to rebuild the Beirut Central District (BCD) was approved a year later.

In the spring of 1996, tensions rose in the south when Israel launched an attack against a United Nations post in Qana killing 109 civilians (part of its Grapes of Wrath campaign). It was after the Qana tragedy that Hariri embarked on his most successful diplomatic drive to secure international aid and regain sovereignty that had been usurped by Syria since 1976, when it stationed its troops in parts of Lebanon during the civil war. His efforts bore positive results and culminated in a cease-fire agreement, known as the April Understanding, which forced Israel to accept a Monitoring Group to control all movements in occupied south Lebanon. Even if the effort was largely overlooked, the prime minister's diplomatic initiatives vis-à-vis Syria, and a respected ally in the person of President hafiz al-asad, meant that Hariri was slowly turning Lebanon to the West. On 1 September 1996, Hariri was elected a member of Parliament along with thirteen candidates on his electoral list as a new parliamentary bloc emerged. Buoyed by this victory, he formed a third consecutive government on 25 November 1996, set the stage for the first municipal elections in thirty-five years during the summer of 1998, reopened the Beirut International airport, and succeeded in persuading the United States to lift its travel restrictions to and from Lebanon. These undeniable successes occurred at a significant price, however, as Lebanon accumulated a large financial obligation. In fact, public debt increased from US$2 billion in 1992, to US$18 billion in 1998. Even worse, a growing rate of emigration was recorded as a large segment of the educated Lebanese population left for the oil-producing countries on the Arabian Peninsula. Undeterred by significant pressures on both the political and economic conditions in the country, Hariri forged ahead, won new parliamentary elections on 3 September 2000, and formed his fourth cabinet on 23 October 2000. It was important to underscore that the prime minister won the support of 106 of 128 parliamentarians, largely because Hariri's strategy attracted foreign investors back to Lebanon. Remarkably, and according to the Basel, Switzerland, Bank of International Settlements figures, Lebanese workers overseas transferred at least US$4.5 billion in 2003 alone. Arab investors, especially after the 11 September 2001 attacks, added to the liquidity of local banks.

Still, Lebanon was not out of its perennial political crisis, rekindled by an extension of the six-year mandate for President emile lahoud. Because a precedent existed for an extension—Elias Hirawi was elected in 1989 for a six-year term but saw his tenure extended for another three years in 1995—Damascus insisted that Lahoud's presidency receive a similar treatment. Because Hariri and Lahoud were never on good terms, an energized prime minister assumed he could reject a dictate from Syrian president bashar al-asad. Unlike his father, who was on excellent terms with Hariri, the new strongman in Damascus was not eager to acknowledge Lebanon's political sovereignty. Nor was he particularly comfortable with Hariri's imposing personality. Hariri resigned as prime minister on 20 October 2004. Despite clear successes in hosting the League of Arab States and World Francophonie summits and with serious legislation to combat money laundering that protected Lebanon's economic jewels (its banks)—as well as receiving an enormous financial package at Paris II, an international conference convened to raise funds for the Lebanese government—Lebanon, like most of the Arab world, became a victim of the aftermath of the 11 September 2001 attacks, as tensions rose on the domestic front. Lebanese banks held over US$75 billion in cash but the country was still burdened with an estimated US$34 billion debt in 2005. What led to Hariri's resignation, however, was the level of political distrust that spilled over into open disputes.

Israeli forces that had been occupying part of southern Lebanon since 1982 finally withdrew in May 2000. Hariri became a strong believer that the Syrian forces that had been in the country since 1976 must also leave Lebanon and that the country must regain its full sovereignty. This was necessary to push Lebanon out of its destabilization orbit once and for all. Buoyed by a per capita income above US$6,500, he knew that these positive results were due to foreign remittances, by Lebanese expatriate workers eager to see their country become independent once again. He understood that additional foreign investments were directly tied to full freedom that, not surprisingly, was not a particularly welcome idea in Damascus.

Many suspected that President Bashar al-Asad, or men close to him, wanted to silence Hariri after the latter encouraged France and the United States to push for United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1559 (2 September 2004), which demanded Syria withdraw its remaining forty-thousand troops from Lebanon. Hariri was assassinated in an explosion that targeted his motorcade on a Beirut waterfront road on 14 February 2005. It killed him, seven of his bodyguards, and several bystanders, and injured dozens of others. His funeral turned into a huge popular and historic procession that went through the streets of Beirut and headed toward the newly built Muhammad al-Amin Mosque in Martyrs' Square. The eight coffins (Minister Basil Fulayhane, who was sitting next to him in the car and who died of his burns in a Paris hospital, was buried three months later) were laid to rest in the square. In a remarkable and unique display, Muslim and Christian Lebanese prayed together, the first reciting the Islamic Fatiha and the second making the sign of the cross as they both entreated for the departed in unison. Church bells rang throughout the capital, and verses from the Qur'an were broadcast from various mosques. Prominent diplomats attended the services, and French president Jacques Chirac and his wife and leading members of the Al Sa'ud ruling family visited Beirut along with numerous Arab and international political figures to share their condolences with the family.

A month after Hariri was assassinated, Lebanon witnessed what some called the Cedar Revolution that, perhaps inevitably, meant Syrian military withdrawal. Martyrs' Square was transformed into Freedom Square. Amid a defiant and unprecedented display of patriotism, and under tremendous international pressure, Syria withdrew most of its military units from Lebanese territory by 30 April 2005. The UN Security Council, for its part, initiated an international investigation of the assassination, which was first headed by Detlev Mehlis from Germany. Operating under the express directives of Security Council Resolution 1559, which called for the Syrian withdrawal as well as the disarmament of Hizbullah, the German judge reported in late 2005 that Syrian and Lebanese security officials were probably implicated. Lebanese leaders asked to extend the original investigation when several more journalists and public figures were gunned down. A new investigator, the Belgian judge Serge Brammertz, speculated that Damascus and its allies in Lebanon were linked to the various assassinations although his findings were not made public.

Hariri secured significant capital to sustain the reconstruction and development efforts of Lebanon. During his lifetime, two major conferences, Paris I (2001) and Paris II (2002), raised several billion dollars to help Lebanon manage its public debt. Toward that end, Beirut pledged to modernize its economic institutions, revamp its tax system, and preserve the country's monetary and financial stability.


Although Hariri re-created contemporary Lebanon, his most enduring contribution was the foundation he established in 1979 to offer education grants to worthy candidates. The nonprofit organization provided assistance to more than thirty five-thousand Lebanese students who were attending leading universities in Lebanon, the United States, Britain, France, Canada, and elsewhere. According to reliable sources, the total outlay of funds for this unique Lebanese institution exceeded US$1.5 billion before 2005. Led by the late premier's sister, Bahiah, the Hariri Foundation expanded into health, social, and cultural services to the needy in Lebanon as well as the promotion of cultural centers, including the building of schools and colleges. The foundation also sponsored efforts to preserve Islamic architecture and refurbished mosques. It may be worthwhile to recall that Hariri was shocked when the Israelis ransacked his US$100 million Kfar Falus University before their 1982 withdrawal, stripping it of all its scientific equipment, which motivated him even more to invest in Lebanon's best resource: its youth.


If Hariri was committed to restructuring Lebanon's education system to empower underprivileged citizens, his political legacy will remain the Ta'if Accord that gave Lebanon a new identity, and which helped force Syria to end its occupation. Withdrawal meant an end to the billions of dollars in outlays into Syrian coffers (by one estimate Damascus secured US$20 billion from the Lebanese economy between 1976 and 1990). As a Sunni Muslim, Hariri was destined to fall into the country's confessional trap, but rose above petty differences to dream of a larger constitution. Although he disagreed with Hizbullah, he nevertheless supported the its resistance to Israeli occupation from 1982 to 2000, even though he opposed the killing of Israelis, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese. Moreover, although he believed in dialogue and maintained that Syria protected Lebanon throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he certainly changed his mind by 2000 when he concluded that Damascus was no longer needed as a peace broker, and wished Damascus to withdraw military and intelligence units that acted as a state within a state. He probably paid for that wish with his life, but joined Lebanon's founding fathers as a devout patriot.


Blanford, Nicolas. Killing Mr. Lebanon: The Assassination of Rafik Hariri and Its Impact on the Middle East. London: I.B. Tauris, 2006.

Hariri, Rafiq. Statesmanship in Government. Beirut: Infopress, 2000.

Iskandar, Marwan. Rafiq Hariri and the Fate of Lebanon. London: Saqi, 2006.

Naba, René. Rafic Hariri: Un homme d'affaires premier minister. Paris: L'Harmattan, 1999.

United Nations. "International Investigation Commission Report by Detlev Mehlis [Report 1], October 2005." Available from http://www.un.org.

――――――. "International Investigation Commission Report by Detlev Mehlis [Report 2], December 2005." Available from http://www.un.org.

                                           Joseph Kechichian