Feb 21, 2005
On February 14, the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated in the middle of Beirut. He and 15 others were killed when a car was blown up.
The Bush administration hints that Syria might be to blame – when it is not hinting that Shiite terrorists did it. Whoever they finally decide to blame, they all agree that Hariri was the person responsible for rebuilding Lebanon after its devastating civil war, which lasted from 1976 to 1990.
Rebuilding? In a manner of speaking! Hariri, a multi-millionaire, first made his fortune in the construction business in Saudi Arabia. He used this fortune and the ties it gave him to become prime minister in Lebanon in 1992, leading the government until 1998 and then again between 2000 and 2004.
The reconstruction Hariri led built up the central city of Beirut with fancy apartments and luxury hotels for the wealthy from all over the region. The poor population, the great majority, were pushed aside into shacks and slums.
After September 11, business boomed in Lebanon, the rich reduced their travel to the United States and Europe, often heading to Beirut instead. The number of visitors to Beirut shot up 30% in 2002 and again in 2003. The upper classes of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan and the Arab Emirates flocked to Lebanon to buy apartments and land.
Hariri's development plan runs through the year 2018. The majority of the building contracts have already been awarded to Solidere – the company in which Hariri was the largest stockholder. Solidere holds 60% of all the contracts financed by the central bank of Lebanon.
Not surprising then that under Hariri's rule, Lebanon's debt soared to twice the gross national product. Despite this overhanging debt, the world's rich countries, led by the United States and Europe, supported Hariri and his policy. Instead of complaining and pressuring Hariri to reduce this huge debt as they do with other governments, these governments decided in 2002 to refinance Lebanon's debt, giving him an additional four billion dollars in credit.
But these creditors demanded that the Lebanese government impose more austerity measures on the general population, in order to pay back the increased debt. The Lebanese government has attacked the social security system and increased taxes on the population. Electricity is cut off regularly so the government can spend less on oil purchases.
Hariri is now dead, but his replacement will undoubtedly follow similar policies. The population of Lebanon will be asked to pay for what Hariri established while he was alive and in power.
The people of Iraq can expect a similar result if the bombs ever stop falling in their country.