Hariri, Rafiq Al- (1944–)

views updated


Lebanese political figure, born in Sidon into a working-class family. In 1966, leaving Beirut Arab University after only a year, Hariri emigrated to Saudi Arabia, where he pursued a business career that made him one of the wealthiest people in the Middle East. He obtained Saudi nationality in 1978. He worked for five years as a teacher and accountant in a construction company before founding his own construction business, Siconest, in partnership with the French firm Oger in 1970. Siconest thrived in the 1970s oil boom and Hariri bought out his partner in 1978. In 1980 he opened a Lebanese branch of Oger International, which became the largest construction firm in the Middle East. He also became director of the Lebanese Bank of Commerce, the Mediterranean Bank, and the Saudi Bank, as well as the principal shareholder in the Saudi-Lebanese Bank and the Mediterranean Investors Group. In 1987 he was authorized by the French minister of economy to buy parts of the French banks Suez and Paribas. In August 1992 he merged two smaller French banks to create the French Bank of the Orient. He also controls insurance, engineering, computer, advertising, and broadcasting businesses, the last being especially important to his political career, and his political party publishes a newspaper.

In Lebanon, Hariri used money as an entrée to public life. He created the Islamic Institute for Higher Education, now known as the Hariri Foundation, in 1979; it gives grants to Lebanese students both in Lebanon and abroad. During the 1980s and 1990s he spent freely on many Lebanese and Syrian politicians and political groups (he is reported to have built a palace and given it to President Hafiz al-Asad). In September 1983 he served as an intermediary between Saudi leaders and the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt; six days later, during the Taʾif negotiations, he was a Saudi mediator, which was the beginning of his career in Lebanese politics proper. When the civil war of 1975 through 1990 ended, he promoted a project to reconstruct central Beirut, which had been destroyed by the Israeli siege in 1982 and by the ongoing civil war. On 22 October 1992, after the fall of the Rashid Solh regime, he was appointed prime minister, largely on the basis of his international financial connections, leading to a speedy revaluation of the Lebanese pound in international markets. He backed the creation, in May 1994, of the Solidere Civil Land Society, of which he is the main shareholder. This entity, financed mainly through international borrowing by the Lebanese government, controls a massive program of reconstruction and development of central Beirut (sometimes known as Haririgrad), with the work executed mostly through Hariri's companies and plentiful fees for intermediaries and subcontractors. Several parliamentarians have accused him of mixing politics and business.

In May 1995 he resigned and was reelected to the office of prime minister. In the legislative elections of September 1996, his party won the majority of the seats in Beirut, to the detriment of a portion of the Sunni bourgeoisie traditionally elected there. On 7 November 1996 he was again chosen to form a government. On 27 November 1998, after the election of Émile Lahoud as president of the republic, he resigned from his position as prime minister and was replaced by Selim al-Hoss. Determined to make a political comeback, he created his own party, al-Mustaqbal. In the Lebanese legislative elections of 3 September 2000, his list, which included Christian and Druze leaders, won eighteen of the nineteen seats for the city of Beirut, making him the principal leader of the Lebanese opposition. On 23 October he was named prime minister with the support of 106 of the 128 deputies in the Lebanese parliament. On 6 November, after five days of debate marked by the question of the Syrian presence in Lebanon, parliament gave its approval to his government's declaration of general policy. With thirty ministries, the cabinet of Rafiq Hariri represented all Lebanese parliamentary tendencies except for Hizbullah and General Michel Aoun. Hariri resigned from his post on 15 April 2003 but was asked to form another government the next day. His largest ongoing problem has been the economic consequences of the Lebanese government's debt.

SEE ALSO Aoun, Michel;Asad, Hafiz al-;Hizbullah;Hoss, Selim al-;Jumblatt, Walid Kamal.