How Bahaa Hariri Tries to Impose Himself at Saad’s Expense

Preparing for a political role, the former prime minister’s older brother praises the protest movement and criticizes his sibling’s compromises.

Bahaa and Saad Hariri. Photos Rights Reserved

The cold war between the Future Movement’s leader, Saad Hariri, and his older brother, Bahaa, is not new, but it has taken a new turn as the latter seems determined to enter politics. In an attempt to reclaim a weakened Sunni community, Bahaa Hariri tries to defend the values of the October 2019 uprising. He criticizes his younger brother for the compromises he agreed to make in recent years in favor of Hezbollah and the Free Patriotic Movement, especially the deal that allowed Michel Aoun to accede to the presidency at the end of 2016.

Bahaa Hariri, 54, is a businessman whose fortune is estimated at $2 billion, according to Forbes magazine. The man has never been involved in politics before. On the day after the February 2005 assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, he was clear: He was not interested in succeeding his father, hence, paving the way for his younger brother, Saad. Fifteen years later, the eldest brother presented himself as a supporter of political renewal who listened to the people protesting in the streets. His arrival into the political scene may mean a split in the Sunni community, between his potential supporters and those of his brother.

“Bahaa Hariri’s political project is not linked to a heritage he claims. He wants to address the grievances of the Lebanese who are revolting and are opposed to compromises and corruption,” Nabil Halabi, a lawyer close to Bahaa, told OLJ. “Bahaa Hariri will not accept any compromise. He will embark on political life after the fall of the current political class, as the people want.”

Halabi said Bahaa “supports the (October 17) popular uprising by backing the young people who took part in the demonstrations and held forums for discussions and debates. These forums began their activities in the Bekaa, then in Beirut, Tripoli and Iqlim al-Kharroub,” said the lawyer, referring to the readiness of these forums to become a political party. In a statement released in recent days, Bahaa Hariri, who lives abroad, stressed his “support of the revolution’s just demands, including a radical change in the structure of the Lebanese system.”

His criticisms of the political class – of which his brother is a part – are not lacking as he believes that “since 2005, most of the politicians and parties in Lebanon have amassed power and fortune at the expense of the country and the interests of the citizens." He also denounced “alliances” under which certain parties he chose not to name have decided to “remain silent regarding illegal weapons and violation of national sovereignty,” in return for Hezbollah, which he did not name either, “remaining silent about their deals and their plunder of public funds.”

According to our correspondent Mounir Rabih, Bahaa Hariri has made timid appearances, via social media, since the beginning of the uprising, when his wife began posting photos of him posing as being on the side of the demonstrators. At the same time, he expressed certain views, calling even for the fall of the government led by his brother, before the latter resigned on October 29.

Disoriented Community

The name of Bahaa was mentioned when Saad Hariri was forced to resign during a trip to Riyadh in November 2017. “When he concluded the so-called presidential compromise, Saad Hariri made a commitment to Saudi Arabia that it would regain its longstanding influence in Lebanon in the face of Iran, but that did not happen,” Rabih said. "Saad's failure led to his summoning by the kingdom then to his forced resignation. At this moment, Bahaa was suggested for inheriting Rafic Hariri’s political project. But many international, regional and local interventions prevented this at the time,” Rabih added. Saad Hariri returned to Beirut where he withdrew his resignation.

“Bahaa is trying today to position himself by taking advantage of the fact that the Sunni community has become weaker and its role has declined on the Lebanese political scene” as a result of Saad Hariri’s policies, a political analyst critical of the Future Movement’s leader, told OLJ.

“(Saad) voluntarily abandoned his prerogatives. He had bet that his political deal with Michel Aoun and Hezbollah would be beneficial for him,” the analyst added. “That allowed the traditional opponents of the Hariri family to re-enter the political scene, thanks to the new electoral law which caused Saad Hariri to lose a large number of Sunni and Christian lawmakers, not to mention that his supporters were left scattered. There have also been internal conflicts within the Future Movement, which led to the resignations of party officials." But the analyst said he feared that Bahaa’s strong return to the Sunni community “may push Saad even more into Hezbollah’s arms. He might once again be tempted to find a compromise with Michel Aoun and Gebran Bassil.”

In predominantly-Sunni regions, which constitute the traditional popular base of the Hariris, people seem a bit disoriented and question this cleavage between the two brothers. “Everyone’s talking about it here. They talk about a possible return of Bahaa. They are divided, with some supporting Saad and others Bahaa, ” said a resident of al-Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood in Beirut, a traditional Future Movement stronghold, speaking on condition of anonymity. In the meantime, pictures of Rafic Hariri carrying his nickname, "Abu Bahaa", started to appear in some neighborhoods in the capital, notably near the home of Bahaa in Verdun street.

“ Why now?”

Among the alleged supporters of the older Hariri on the local scene, some include former Minister Ashraf Rifi, a retired police general who fell out with Saad Hariri for a while, before coming to terms with him in early 2019. Contacted by OLJ, a source close to Rifi, denied this allegation. “We are not concerned with what is happening. We are not taking a stand with anyone. General Rifi has nothing to do with this matter,” the source said.

Asked by OLJ about the timing chosen by Bahaa to enter politics, Mustapha Alloush, a Future Movement official, was particularly critical. “Bahaa Hariri could have engaged in politics three, four or even 15 years ago, but he did not. Why now? Is there a particular event he is preparing for?” asked Alloush, also a former lawmaker. He denied that he was referring to the forthcoming verdict by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) concerning the attack that claimed the life of Rafic Hariri. Last week, the STL announced the postponement of its verdict, initially scheduled for this month.

“There are people who try to take advantage of Bahaa Hariri and his generosity to create a place for him. We will be able to judge his seriousness when he presents a practical program,” Alloush said. “We are the political inheritors of Rafic Hariri because we are the ones who fight for his cause on the ground... You will not hear Saad criticize Bahaa; he is his brother in the end,” he added.

The visit of the Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid Boukhari, to Saad Hariri last Sunday evening may mean that Riyadh has not yet completely abandoned the Future Movement’s leader. Beit al-Wasat, Saad’s residence, sweeps away all doubts.“This visit had a clear objective. Saudi Arabia continues to support Saad. Riyadh does not support Bahaa or his actions on the Lebanese scene,” a pro-Saad source told OLJ.

(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 14th of May)

The cold war between the Future Movement’s leader, Saad Hariri, and his older brother, Bahaa, is not new, but it has taken a new turn as the latter seems determined to enter politics. In an attempt to reclaim a weakened Sunni community, Bahaa Hariri tries to defend the values of the October 2019 uprising. He criticizes his younger brother for the compromises he agreed to make in recent years in...