The National - News
System must change, says latest Hariri to enter politics in Lebanon
It has been 20 years since Bahaa Hariri voted in a Lebanese election.
Since the assassination of his father Rafik Hariri in 2005, he has lived in Paris, managing a business empire.
Despite being the eldest son in Lebanon’s most influential family, he says he had no interest in following his father’s legacy.
Yet with the country reeling in a political crisis and an economic collapse, he is launching a new cross-community political movement.
“It was the Beirut explosion. I just couldn’t sit down and do nothing,” he told The National.
He is financing Sawa Li Lubnan, which this week announced it would field a cross-sectarian list in the coming elections.
“We are trying to do things differently,” he said.
That much is obvious. His face and the family name do not appear on the thousands of Sawa billboards across Beirut.
He has employed some of the most successful political consultants in the world. The messaging is strict and disciplined.
The party is polling extensively and the people behind it believe they have a better idea of what the Lebanese people want than anyone else. The slick operation would fit a general election in the UK or a state governor race in the US.
Yet, the odds are stacked against Sawa. Elections in Lebanon have long been dominated by sect and clientelism.
Paying people to vote one way or another is not uncommon.
Messaging is rarely seen as a determining factor.
The Lebanese political system, which operates on confessionalism and allocates power proportionally among the country’s communities, has sectarianism built into it.
Mr Hariri said he would reach out across a divide that appears to have worsened with the political crisis.
“Us as Hariris, we crossed that bridge,” he said.
In the family business, there is no place for sectarianism. It is a practice he is trying to implement politically.
“As we started with our own life, in business and our private lives, we believe the only way for Lebanon to move forward is through a cross-sectarian way,” he said.
Protests that have rocked the country from October 2019 have taken aim at the political class that has dominated post-civil war Lebanon. When it is suggested to Mr Hariri that this includes families like his, he is not perturbed.
“That’s for the Lebanese people to judge, no one else,” he said.
Mr Hariri takes an exceptionally strong line on Hezbollah. Members of the group were found responsible by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon for his father’s murder.
“We will not compromise with a terrorist organisation,” he said.
“Hezbollah and its arms, everything about it must be disbanded. There is no compromise on that.”
He is furious at the recent collapse in Lebanon’s relations with the Gulf following comments made by Information Minister George Kordahi about the war in Yemen.
“That was a disaster,” he said. “The GCC barely took out their finger, maybe not even the nail of the finger, and look what happened.”
Like the young and unemployed who took to the streets two years ago, Mr Hariri believes that the show cannot just go on.
By doing things differently, he hopes to play a part in reviving the country his father built.
Whether Sawa can pick up any seats in Parliament is another question.