It has been 20 years since Bahaa Hariri voted in the Lebanese elections.
After the assassination of his father Rafik Hariri in 2005, the heir apparent to Lebanon’s most influential family retired to Paris, where he has spent the past 15 years running a business empire. Devoured with grief, he had no interest in following his father’s legacy.
Yet as the country is in the throes of a political crisis and economic collapse, it is coming back into the game. Hariri’s eldest son is launching a new interfaith political movement.
So what has changed?
âIt was the Beirut explosion. I just couldn’t sit and do nothing, âhe said. The National.
Today, he is the man, and the money, behind Sawa Li Lubnan, a nascent political movement which, this week, announced that he was tabling an interfaith list in the next elections.
“We are trying to do things differently,” he said.
It’s obvious. His face and last name are missing from thousands of Sawa billboards across Beirut.
He recruited some of the most talented political consultants in the world. The message is strict and disciplined. They do a lot of polls – they think they have a better idea of ââwhat the Lebanese want than anyone else. This is a clever move that might seem more appropriate for a general election in the UK or a race for state governor in the US.
Still, the odds are against Sawa. The elections in Lebanon have long been dominated by questions of sect and patronage. Paying people to vote in one way or another is not uncommon. Messaging is rarely seen as a determining factor.
The Lebanese political system, which operates on confessionalism and distributes power proportionally among the communities of the country, is deeply rooted in sectarianism. Mr Hariri said he was working to bridge a divide – a divide that only seems to have worsened with the political crisis.
âWe as Hariris have crossed this bridge,â he said.
He makes a list of Christian and Druze personalities who prospered in his father’s business empire. In the family business, there is no room for bigotry. It is a practice that he tries to implement politically.
“As we started with our own life, in business and in our private life, we believe that the only way for Lebanon to move forward is to go through an interfaith path,” he said. declared.
The protests that rocked the country from October 2019 appeared to be a wholesale rebuke from the political class that dominated post-civil war Lebanon. âAnyway,â was the persistent cry. When suggested that the call includes families like his, he is not disturbed.
âIt’s up to the Lebanese people to judge, no one else. It is a decision only for the Lebanese, it is not for the experts and the experts â, he declared.
Mr. Hariri takes an exceptionally strong stance on Hezbollah. This is not surprising – after all, it was individuals in the group who were held responsible by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for the murder of his father.
“We will not compromise with a terrorist organization,” he said. âHezbollah and its weapons, everything must be dissolved. There is no compromise on that. “
Along with Sawa is SBI, a television channel in which Mr. Hariri invests money to develop the country’s free press.
He is furious at the recent collapse of Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf following comments by Information Minister George Kordahi on the war in Yemen.
âWe saw what happened with the CCG – for me it was a disaster,â he said.
He fears it will get worse.
“The CCG barely got their finger out, maybe not even the fingernail, and look what happened.”
At first glance, it seems contradictory that by doing things so differently, Mr. Hariri hopes to play a role in revitalizing the country his father built.
Sawa was born out of the same frustrations that pushed young people and the unemployed onto the streets two years ago, a recognition the spectacle cannot go on.
The fact that the son of Lebanon’s most important family turned against this very system is an indicator of how much the country’s political culture has changed. Whether this means Sawa can win seats in parliament is another question.
Update: November 25, 2021, 3:00 a.m.