Thousands of Lebanese took to the streets of Beirut on Sunday demanding that Hezbollah disarm. Their demonstration, called for by ex-prime minister Saad al-Hariri, marked the sixth anniversary of a massive “Cedar revolution” in 2005 staged by the same players, which demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon.
Worldwide media attention of this weekend’s demonstration was minimal, however, as news agencies were busy covering the natural catastrophe in Japan and the ongoing war in Libya. The tiny Mediterranean country and its sectarian chiefs have also found themselves irrelevant amid the massive upheaval that has swept the Middle East and North Africa since January.
For weeks, Hariri’s Future TV had been building momentum for the Sunday march, claiming that arms need to be controlled by the state, rather than non-state players like Hezbollah. Many argue, however, that had Hariri not been ejected from office through the collective resignation of 11 ministers from the Hezbollah-led camp last January, such a demonstration would have never taken place.
He seemed perfectly comfortable with a tactical alliance with Hezbollah between November 2009 and January 2011.
Saad’s father, former premier Rafik al-Hariri, supported and endorsed Hezbollah before his assassination in 2005, living up to his reputation as an ardent Arab nationalist. Future TV grandly celebrated the May 2000 Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon, attributing it to the military might of Hezbollah.
Hariri also lobbied Western powers extensively after September 11, 2001 to make sure that Hezbollah was sheltered from any international campaign and kept off Washington’s “terrorist list”. And it was the same Hariri who pledged, on creating his first cabinet in November 2009, to “protect and embrace” the arms of Hezbollah.
The only difference between father and son is that Rafik worked with Hezbollah out of conviction, whereas Saad did it out of need. One week before his assassination, Rafik told Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah, “I believe in this resistance. And I am telling you that if I become prime minister again I will not implement the [disarmament] article of [UN] Resolution 1559. I swear to you that the resistance and its weapons will remain until the day a comprehensive regional settlement is reached, not just until [the Israeli] withdrawal from the Shebaa Farms.”
Hariri added, “On that day, when that agreement is reached, I will sit with you and say: ‘Sir, there is no further need for the resistance and its weapons.’ If we agree, that’s what will be. If we disagree, I swear to you and before God [he also swore by his deceased son Hussam] that I will not fight the resistance. I will resign and leave the country [before that happens].” Rafik after all had started out as a young man in the Arab nationalist movement of the 1960s, taking part in student demonstrations in favor of Gamal Abdul Nasser who spoke a language very similar to that of Nasrallah in the 1990s.
Six years after his mysterious assassination, his son came out on Sunday saying: “It is impossible that any of us here accept tutelage over Lebanon again, whether foreign domination or the domination of arms within Lebanon, working for foreign interests.” He added, “It is impossible to accept that these weapons continue to be turned against the democratic will of the people.”
Just over a year ago, this same Saad al-Hariri visited Turkey, where at a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan he strongly supported Hezbollah’s right to defend Lebanon against Israeli aggression. Then, in February 2010, Hariri had admitted that not a day passed where the Israeli Defense Forces did not infringe on Lebanese waters or airspace, clearly breaching UN Resolution 1701.
“Terrorism,” Hariri explained, “is not when one defends one’s land – the opposite is correct” His cabinet, it must be noted, had lobbied extensively with the Turks to do away with UN Resolution 1559, which calls for the disarmament of Hezbollah. Hariri himself, it must be remembered, had visited Iran in 2010, taking souvenir photos with the Grand Ayatollah Ali Khemeni and President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. When Ahmadinejad, a principle patron of Hezbollah, visited Beirut last year, he was greeted with a red carpet by Hariri at Beirut International Airport.
Nobody ordered Hariri to go to Iran and nobody forced him to cuddle up to Hezbollah; he did it all at completely at will. He had to work with them in 2009 to secure the premiership for himself and his March 14 Coalition. No cabinet can pass in Lebanon, after all, unless the Shi’ites are represented – regardless of who controls the majority of seats in parliament.
Hariri bent to every one of Hezbollah’s demands, mending broken fences with Damascus, pledging to hammer out a policy statement that pleased Hezbollah, and appointing all of Hezbollah’s allies in key positions in his government. Now very swiftly, he is turning his back on all of his actions – and doing it with a completely straight face.
To hear Hariri spill out so much venom against Hezbollah today raises one serious question. Was Hariri the premier lying when it came to Hezbollah’s arms and his support for the resistance? Or is he convinced of the need to maintain Hezbollah’s arms, as explicitly stated in his cabinet policy statement, and just bitter at having been ejected from office?
The likely answer, given Hariri’s background since 2005, is that he was never a supporter of Hezbollah and that today he is showing his true colors. Meaning, Hariri was putting on a big show during his 14 months in power and was completely unconvinced of any of his actions or words.
Not only does this make him look silly, both before the international community and his own constituency, but sheds severe doubt about how fit and mature he is to assume the Lebanese premiership.
This article appeared in Asia Times on March 14, 2011 entitled, “Hezbollah unruffled by show of force.”