Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Saad Hariri's Moment of Truth

Academic journal article Middle East Quarterly

Saad Hariri's Moment of Truth

Article excerpt

Recent developments in Lebanon have shown that the preconditions for restoring its sovereignty have not yet materialized. The demise of the "Cedar Revolution" and the fragmentation of the "March 1 4 Coalition" have set the country back to the era of Syrian domination. The crisis associated with the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq Hariri and the formation of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) afford yet another stark demonstration that the country remains a victim of regional encroachment and that the loyalties of its leaders remain as sectarian as ever.


The assassination of Hariri in a powerful explosion on February 14, 2005, shocked and saddened many Lebanese, especially Sunnis, who experienced a sense of deep personal loss. Outside Lebanon, Arab and world leaders expressed exasperation at the untimely death of a self-made towering political figure. Beirut's Martyrs5 Square, where Hariri was buried outside the adjacent al- Amin mosque, became a rallying spot for the former prime minister's mourners and others who wanted to voice their dismay at Syria's 29-year-old military presence in Lebanon. The daily rallies, mostly by supporters of the Future Trend, the Lebanese Forces, and the Phalangist Party, soon gave rise to what became known as the Cedar Revolution. Domestic pressure ensued for the implementation of U.N. Security Council resolution 1559 of September 2004, which, among other things, called for the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Lebanon.1 Coupled with widespread accusations of Damascus's role in the assassination - mainly emanating from Syrian president Bashar alAssad's distrust of Hariri's Saudi and Western connections and Hariri's displeasure with the Syrian push to give then-president Emile Lahoud another term in office - the politically inexperienced Assad panicked.


The pro-Syrian Lebanese government of Omar Karami promptly submitted its resignation2 and was replaced on April 19, 2005 , by an interim national unity government tasked with overseeing national elections within a month. Three weeks after Hariri's assassination, Assad succumbed to the pressures coming from Lebanon and the West and announced his intention to withdraw the 16,000 Syrian troops from Lebanon by the end of April.

On March 8, Hezbollah orchestrated a proSyrian rally in downtown Beirut that attracted about 700,000 supporters, and the broad antiSyrian coalition responded six days later with a million-plus-strong rally in the same area. These major shows of force yielded two polar political formations, the anti-Syrian majority "March 14 Coalition" and the pro-Syrian "March 8 Coalition." As the former group took the initiative and pursued a pugnacious anti-Syrian stance, its rival contented itself with maintaining a low profile while at the same time recounting "Syrian sacrifices in Lebanon."3 Anti-Assad Sunnis and Maronites lashed out in anger at hapless Syrian laborers in the country. Many of them became "victims of crimes, including beatings, robberies, the setting on fire of tents where they live[d], and even killings."4

Leaders of the March 14 Coalition, especially the Lebanese Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt, and Saad Hariri, Rafiq Hariri's son, mounted a scathing defamation campaign against the Syrian regime in general and President Assad in particular. Naming Assad "the Damascus tyrant," Jumblatt said: "This boy is controlling people's lives in Damascus and killing free people in Lebanon. . . . If the tribunal is hampered, we will all be a Nawaf [a Druze who assassinated former Syrian president Adib Shishakli in 1964] ."5 In one of his numerous attacks on the Syrian regime, Hariri accused Assad of smuggling Islamic extremists into Lebanon "in order to spread chaos and commit terrorist acts that target army officers and civilians."6 Addressing the Syrian people, Hariri said, "Your truthfulness and brotherly love for us contrast the regime's cunning tactics and deception. …

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