Bahaa Hariri’s Leadership Dream Was Shattered Before It Got Defined

Myriam Sweidan
Lebanese Journalist

“Although his supporters realize that Saad has many shortcomings, the tragedy that surrounds his career has brought him closer to the Sunni street. He enjoys a level of acceptance that Bahaa, despite his relentless attempts, has not managed to achieve.

“Oh people …”

This is still the first phrase that comes to mind when the name Bahaa Hariri is mentioned, despite all his attempts to create a positive image of him being the heir to the Sunni leadership.

It is the phrase with which he asked supporters of the Future Movement at the funeral of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, following his assassination in February 2005, to stay away from the tomb to perform the funeral prayer for the dead.

It showed him on shaky ground and unfit to assume the Sunnite sect’s leadership in a country as complex as Lebanon. The angry masses at the time still pledged allegiance to him, before he pushed his younger brother Saad to take up the Hariri mantle.

Bahaa was not completely absent from the political arena after he was removed. He remained remotely present, at times proposing to replace his brother if circumstances required him to do so.

Torn Image

Today, Bahaa has a golden opportunity to present himself again, after Saad Hariri on January 24 announced to suspend his political work. It would not be the first time Bahaa tried to take advantage of his brother’s weakness to make gains.

Bahaa did not hesitate to promote himself as an alternative to his brother, capable of confronting Hezbollah, its weapons and Iran, when Riyadh detained Saad in the fall of 2017. However, his proposal backfired, as it only weakened his popularity among Lebanese Sunnites.

Meanwhile, seeing Saad near his father’s tomb on the 17th commemoration of the latter’s assassination, only confirmed the empathy for him. Saad may have accumulated a long list of political errors, and defeats, yet he is still the backbone of the Hariri legacy.

The Beirut street sympathizes with him and responds to his emotional rhetoric, while Bahaa is seen as “trying to rise over his brother’s back.” This raises doubts about his leadership qualities.

Although his supporters realize Saad has many political shortcomings, the tragedy that surrounds his career has in fact brought him closer to the Sunni street. He enjoys a level of acceptance that Bahaa thus far has not managed to achieve.

Hours after the recent commemoration ceremony Bahaa banners and pictures were hung in such Beirut neighborhoods as Al-Manara, Verdun, Al-Sana’a, Aisha Bakkar and Hamra, but people tore them apart.

Bahaa, who in a Google search first appears as “the son of Rafik Hariri” and second as “a businessman and philanthropist,” reappeared on the Lebanese scene in late 2019 using the popular uprising as a gateway.

At the time, he chose to go against the Future Movement founded by his father and adopted a rhetoric that contradicted his brother Saad, who at the time was forced to step down as prime minister. Bahaa has made opposing Hezbollah his first priority to, on the one hand, present himself as a viable alternative to Saad, who was forced to bargain and make concessions with the Shiite party, and, on the other hand, to get closer to the opposition and present himself as a project of change. However, this will not work in the current political situation, according to Daraj sources.

Return of the Prodigal Son

Bahaa reappeared on the Lebanese scene, jostling with his brother Saad, after the latter in January suspended his political work. Bahaa pronounced he would fight the battle to “reclaim the homeland from its occupiers” and “continue the path of the martyr Prime Minister Rafic Hariri.” Bahaa generally does not miss an opportunity to remind people he is the son of Rafik Hariri. As if it is his only weapon left to fight. But polls indicate that he has made no progress in Sunni circles in recent years.

Some even indicate that Bahaa is not able to nominate anyone in Beirut. And if he were, he would not be able to secure victory, which makes it likely for him to withdraw at some point, even if only temporarily.

According to businessmen, the Saudi position on Bahaa al-Hariri is negative. There has been no coordination with or support from them for years. In other words, even the Saudi kingdom, of which Bahaa is a citizen, disregards him and does not consider him in a political sense. On the family front, Bahaa seems isolated and does not enjoy support. The latest slap in the face was an attack by his sister Hind, as she addressed him in a social media post saying: “You adopt the lowest standards I have ever seen.”

Hind reacted to an article published by Bahaa’s media platform Sawt Beirut International. She claimed it had fabricated charges against her and her husband.

As for the Sunni sect, the Grand Mufti of the Lebanese Republic, Abdel Latif Derian, announced that he does not support Bahaa’s candidacy, nor his leadership of a Sunni bloc.

As for the negative popular support in Beirut, this in fact extends all the way to Saida, where Bahaa has opened an office. But his movement is “non-existent,” according to sources in Saida. Bahaa’s Voice Targeting his sister Hind was not an isolated case. Bahaa uses his Sawt Beirut International platform not only to publicize his political agenda, but also to open up fronts against political opponents varying from Hezbollah to his brother Saad.

For example, Zaher Eido, attacked Saad in an interview with Al-Minassah, revealing that the latter in the 2005 elections wanted to exclude his father Walid Eido, who was assassinated in 2007. He also accused Saad of causing him to quit his job and out-of-pocket payments in past elections. He called upon people “not to trust Saad.” The platform, to which Baha brought some prominent Lebanese media figures by luring them with “fresh dollars,” is a major part of his attempts to secure a place in the political arena.

In addition, there is the Nuh Foundation to “keep up with humanitarian work” and Sawa Li Lubnan, an organization that, according to Bahaa, “supports every figure dedicated to change without interfering in the nominations for the parliamentary elections.”

Finally, Bahaa has made huge donations to Lebanon’s most prominent media organizations, most notably MTV, LBC and Al-Jadeed. The money with which he bought the services of three large TV channels has no other function than “to break Saad,” wrote the former minister was Bassem Sabah in his “Letter to Rafic Hariri,” which was published on the day of the latter’s assassination on the Greater Lebanon website.

It described Bahaa as “skillful in abusing a companion, himself, and his family.” Bahaa, who graduated from Boston University and mainly worked in the field of construction and engineering, is considered one of the richest people in the Middle East, with a fortune estimated at $2 billion, according to the Forbes Billionaire List.

Bahaa’s investments are mainly in real estate. He is the founder of The Horizon Group, which invested in major projects in Lebanon, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. In Lebanon it built the ABC Verdun complex, which cost over $200 million, and residential towers and hotels with an estimated value of $500 million.

The group furthermore works with the governments of Jordan and Kuwait in megaprojects in Amman and Aqaba. The company in 2009 also acquired a 5% stake in the Kuwait Projects Holding Company in 2009, making Bahaa the largest shareholder.

At a global level, he sought to gain influence in Washington by establishing the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East think tank in 2011.

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