Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Self-made billionaire Rafik Hariri assumed the office of prime minister of Lebanon, beginning the first of two interrupted terms in that capacity. He was widely credited both for his political moderation and for his commitment of personal wealth to the reconstruction of Lebanon.

Summary of Event

Lebanon, particularly its capital, Beirut, was devastated by the 1975-1990 Lebanese Civil War. Lebanese Civil War (1975-1990) The city was divided among Maronite Christians, Shiite Muslims, Sunni Muslims, and Orthodox Christians. While the 1943 National Pact had established terms under which those factions could coexist, the Christians had lost their majority as Palestinian refugees moved into Lebanon and Christians emigrated to the west. This demographic change caused Muslims to rankle at Christian control of the government. Some Muslims advocated union with Syria. The Palestine Liberation Organization Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) would base operations out of Lebanon, leading to attacks by Israel. All these tensions were at work in the fifteen-year war. Lebanon;government Prime ministers;Lebanon [kw]Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon (May, 1992) [kw]Reconstruction of Lebanon, Hariri Begins (May, 1992) [kw]Lebanon, Hariri Begins Reconstruction of (May, 1992) Lebanon;government Prime ministers;Lebanon [g]Middle East;May, 1992: Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon[08350] [g]Lebanon;May, 1992: Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon[08350] [c]Government and politics;May, 1992: Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon[08350] [c]Urban planning;May, 1992: Hariri Begins Reconstruction of Lebanon[08350] Hariri, Rafik Lahoud, Émile Assad, Bashar al- Fahd

Rafik Hariri was a Sunni Muslim from Lebanon who had gone to Saudi Arabia as a teacher in 1965, built a fortune in construction and other ventures, and became one of the world’s richest men. During the Lebanese Civil War, he acted behind the scenes to help bring an end to the conflict. Even as the conflict raged during the early 1980’s, he sent his company’s trucks to Beirut to begin rebuilding.

Granted Saudi citizenship, Hariri acted as King Fahd’s emissary to Lebanon during the civil war. He coordinated conferences in Geneva and Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1983 and 1984. As Syria was one of the major international influences on the civil war, Hariri worked to build relations with the Syrian government. Generally, Hariri favored Syrian occupation of Lebanon, and he tried to negotiate to that end, even offering to pay off the leaders of the other factions.

In a 1989 “national reconciliation” conference in Taif, Saudi Arabia, Hariri won over the parliament’s support for Syrian occupation. Syria assumed control in 1990, installing its own government. The new government granted the reconstruction contracts to Hariri’s company. Hariri’s “donations” to various government officials led to his colleagues’ receiving prominent appointments. He offered to subsidize the country’s national debt, and he bought control of several television and radio stations, newspapers, and magazines.

In 1991, Syria ordered Hezbollah (a paramilitary organization of Lebanese Shiites) to attack Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. The international backlash caused the Lebanese economy to collapse. Despite their many ties, Syria had been reluctant to give Hariri direct power, but the economic collapse forced action. A staged parliamentary election was held in 1992, and Hariri was appointed prime minister.

Hariri was widely popular. Syria granted him autonomy in most matters of government while maintaining control in matters of security. Hariri’s status as an international businessman won him support from the United States, Europe, and other Arab nations. The economy began to improve as a result of his election.

Hariri sought to return Beirut to its former status as a regional center for international trade, what he frequently called the Singapore of the Middle East. His plan, Horizon 2000, involved extensive reconstruction of the city of Beirut but seemed to ignore national infrastructure outside the capital. Hariri asserted that the focus on Beirut was attributable to population density. He cut corporate taxes to a flat 10 percent and appointed the executives of his company as the ministers in his cabinet. These moves led to a soaring national debt.

Hariri was the major shareholder in Solidere, the company in charge of redeveloping Beirut’s Central District following the civil war. The company bought most of the property in Beirut’s business district, purchasing the land with corporate stocks that were worth a fraction of the land itself. Contracts that were not given to Hariri’s own companies were granted to the companies owned by other members of the government or their relatives. Hariri came to be Lebanon’s largest landowner, purchasing many prominent buildings and historical landmarks, most of which he converted into headquarters for his companies.

While there was some improvement in the nation’s economy, most of the benefits were felt by the elites. Hariri cut social programs and the salaries of lower-level government employees and began to suppress opposition voices. Pro-Syrian elites were given control over all media.

Bashar al-Assad, the heir of Syria’s dictator, began to see Hariri as a threat and had him deposed in 1998. Hariri was replaced as prime minister by Selim al-Hoss. Hoss, Selim al- While al-Hoss and president Émile Lahoud took power as the “anticorruption” government, public support for their policies dwindled and the country fell into recession.

Rafiq Hariri attends a meeting at the Pentagon in April, 2001.

(Helene C. Stikkel/Department of Defense)

Hariri was reelected in 2000. During his second administration, he helped revitalize his nation’s tourist industry. He resigned in 2004 over Syrian policy and was assassinated in 2005.

Significance

Hariri’s reconstruction of Beirut was arguably the fastest such effort to rebuild a war-torn city. However, it occurred without much concern for social infrastructure. During his second term in office, Hariri worked more toward building than social infrastructure and getting Syria out of Lebanon. He did achieve his dream of returning Beirut to its prewar status as an economic center. After he resigned in 2004, it was expected that he would try to force Syria out of Lebanon and increase Western influence.

However, Hariri’s assassination on February 14, 2005, became a source of international controversy. Some charged the Syrian government with ordering the assassination, and a U.N. investigation into the circumstances was ordered. Assassinations and attempts;Rafik Hariri[Hariri] As a result, Syria withdrew from Lebanon in April, 2005, and fully democratic elections were held.

Whatever Hariri may have done to bring Lebanon’s economic infrastructure back to pre-civil-war levels, he did not do much effectively to create greater social cohesion among the factions. The fundamental tensions that had caused the civil war remained present, and without healing the divisions between the sects, no government could last. Lebanon;government Prime ministers;Lebanon

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Iskander, Marwan. Rafiq Hariri and the Fate of Lebanon. San Francisco: Saqi Books, 2006. Characterized as “essential reading” by Lebanese prime minister Fuad Siniora, this study by a distinguished economist examines the Hariri years in Lebanon.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Lebanon: The Return (?) of Rafiq al-Hariri.” Estimate 12, no. 18 (September 8, 2000). Discusses the then-upcoming elections that would ultimately return Hariri to power. Examines his previous administration, its strengths and defects.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Picard, Elizabeth. Lebanon: A Shattered Country. Rev. ed. London: Holmes & Meier, 2002. Deals with the recovery and national reconciliation process in the 1990’s and how it was impeded by continued sectarian hostilities.

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