By Arab News
By Bahaa Hariri*
I shouldn’t be writing this article. My father, Rafik Hariri, should be the author. As prime minister, he led Lebanon out of the chaos of civil war and rebuilt the country. But, 15 years ago, terrorists from Hezbollah — the very people who control the Port of Beirut where the Aug. 4 explosion took place — assassinated him.
The people of Lebanon are once again dealing with unimaginable loss and devastation. The tragic deaths, horrific injuries and the total destruction caused by the blast have turned the attention of the world on to my country.
As I join those demanding an independent investigation to determine not only what happened, but how it happened, there is another investigation ending. On Tuesday, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon delivered the results of its years-long investigation into and prosecution of those responsible for the 2005 bombing that killed my father and 21 others.
Taken together, these events underscore the need for Lebanon to move forward without Hezbollah. In fact, Lebanon will never be able to become the nation its people need with the continued involvement of this corrupt terrorist organization.
In the past week since the bombing, the people of Lebanon have risen up and are speaking with one voice. They are demanding change. They are calling out the current failing and compromised political system, railing against warlords and corrupt elites, government inertia and the system that supports all of them. They are also calling for an end to the role Hezbollah has played in governing parts of Beirut and Lebanon. Terrorist organizations and warlords cannot build countries — they only know how to tear them down.
The current regime is calling for early parliamentary elections in the hope that they will quell those calling for real democracy, but the people know better.
Lebanon’s economy is in freefall. Investment has vanished. Food prices are rising, and a collapsing currency has made savings worthless. Add in the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the Lebanese people are in the midst of a financial and humanitarian catastrophe. Importantly, given the central role of religion in Lebanon, these views are not unique to any one faith or confession; these are universal problems that every Lebanese faces every day. The protests are a uniting factor capable of forming a nation from a disunited country.
Even before the explosion at the Port of Beirut, some popular national leaders were showing a willingness to work together to reform the current destructive political system, sharing the common belief that Lebanon should be a neutral actor in the region to boost its development. This is a positive step, showing that the people’s voice is being heard and respected by some.
At the heart of fixing Lebanon’s problems is the removal of the decades-long political arrangement that preserves sectarianism and seems to lock in conflict. It’s time for Lebanon to become a true democracy and end the system of prearranged blocs of legislators that are based solely on religious groups and not on the issues important to the people of Lebanon. A new electoral law will halt this cycle of political corruption, while a regenerated civil society can help ensure that the public’s voice contributes to the development of democracy.
I firmly believe this is the best route ahead if the country is to move forward with confidence and conviction to rebuild itself into a modern nation.
This will not be easy, and I don’t claim to have all the answers. But I do know that those saying it is simply too complicated to have a government without Hezbollah are just wrong. We must confront Hezbollah and turn away from their path of continued destruction and corruption.
We cannot do this alone. The Lebanese people need international support for a new, non-sectarian, democratic approach that can reboot the economy and transform the country. This could come in the form of a welcome deal with the International Monetary Fund, further sanctions on those responsible for the blast, and an expanded mandate for the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) that will maintain stability and security in the country through this difficult process. Without this type of support for reform from the international community, Lebanon risks remaining trapped in religious and sectarian strife. This would further destabilize the region and may eventually alienate it completely from the international community.
While I call on the international community to endorse genuine constitutional reform and national renewal to make Lebanon a prosperous, neutral and democratic nation once again, I would also urge those from around the world standing ready to help to reject any future role for Hezbollah.
The Lebanese people have demonstrated that we want — that we need — peace and stability. The only real question remaining is whether the international community will step in to help this transition or if the Lebanese people will once again be left to suffer under the ongoing corrupt sectarianism offered by Hezbollah.
• Bahaa Hariri is the eldest son of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri