Former Lebanese PM killed
February 16, 2005 1:37 AM   Subscribe

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed Monday in a massive car bomb attack in Beirut. The billionare was Lebanese PM from 1992 until 1998 and then again from 2000 until 2004 when he resigned after Syria pressured the Lebanese parliament to amend the country's constitution to permit pro-Syrian president Emile Lahoud to remain in office. The resignation of the once friendly Hariri, a Sunni, coupled with the alienation by Damascus of Druze leader Walid Jumblat has isolated Syria in Lebanon and diminished the influence of France. Through the Hariri foundation, Rafik Hariri was, as a Lebanese friend remarked "pretty much single handed in rebuilding Lebanon, making it a descent place to visit, developing programs from schools to hospitals, … much of it is his own money." Fingers point at Syrian involvement and the US has recalled it's envoy from Damascus.
posted by three blind mice (18 comments total)
From this newspaper : This assassination may be a consequence of a conflict in Damascus between factions around and against Bachar al-Assad.

It looks like M. Hariri funerals this morning as turned to an huge anti syrian protest with at least 100,000 or more peoples in the streets of Beirut.
posted by luis huiton at 3:15 AM on February 16, 2005

From a 2001 article on Hariri:

[Hariri] is also regarded by many as having sold the country to Syria and destroyed its economy during the course of his life-long drive to enter the ranks of Lebanon's political establishment

No idea how accurate that article is (seen here). Lebanon seems very very complicated. Also, I can't figure out who exactly the Druze are, nor why Sunni Syria is run by Alawites, who are Shiites (related to Morocco's Alaouite dynasty?).

On preview: I love to read Alexandre Adler's Figaro editorials! He's sometimes quite wrong, but it's a pleasure to read his byzantine prose.
posted by Turtle at 3:28 AM on February 16, 2005

nor why Sunni Syria is run by Alawites, who are Shiites

1 - Alawites may have started out as a Shiite splinter group, but I doubt most Shiite religious leaders would recognize them as fellow believers today, as some of their beliefs and practices are too far out there for most Muslims to swallow; to take one example, they consider the five pillars of Islam to be merely symbolic, not strictures to literally abide by.

2 - There's no reason to wonder why Syria is run by Alawites; Assad Sr. seized power in a coup, and stuffed his regime with his relations and fellow religionists, as per standard Middle Eastern practice.

As for Hariri's killing, I am 100% certain that Syria was behind it; not only had he given Assad's regime reason to hate him by demanding the withdrawal of Syrian troops, but a UN envoy had explicitly warned Syria against assassinating Lebanese politicians just this November, and it beggars belief that a hitherto unknown Islamist group could lay its hands on the estimated 650lbs of TNT required to create such a gigantic explosion.
posted by Goedel at 3:48 AM on February 16, 2005

Up next: regime change in Syria: time to deal with the left flank of the Axis of Evil.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:13 AM on February 16, 2005

Yeah, we'll just have to have uncharged detainees in the War on Terror tortured somewhere else now, I suppose.
posted by raysmj at 4:20 AM on February 16, 2005

A rather well-timed assassination, at a time where the US is rattling its saber at Syria? Against an unpopular, but retired and tactically useless, official? After Syria has taken no action against Lebanon for some time? When both Syria and Lebanon have rejected Israel's peace plan?

Call me skeptical.
posted by FormlessOne at 5:00 AM on February 16, 2005

those pointing fingers at syria have to ask themselves, what does syria gain from this other than the unwelcome attention of the bloodthirsty bush administration?

syrian president bashar al assad was quick to condemn the assassination - yes perhaps only as diplomatic cover, but there are also rumours that al assad is seeking a defense pact with russia so the timing of this assassination only complicates that. (what a way for putin to strengthen his hand, btw.)

the bush administration, on the other hand, have been frustrated by the diplomatic failure to influence iran and north korea and lacking a credible military option against those countries could benefit from changing the focus to syria.
posted by three blind mice at 5:09 AM on February 16, 2005

Uh-oh: BBC reports that Iran and Syria have agreed to form a "common front" to deal with "threats" from abroad. The neo-con wet dream has come true: they have wished the Axis of Evil into reality.
posted by stonerose at 5:36 AM on February 16, 2005

My alma mater, Boston University, named its School of Management building after Hariri, so whenever I hear his name being discussed, I can only think of the only Souper Salad/Breadmaster's on campus and the very foreboding dark globe that sat in its entry way.

CNN was talking about the nervous "troops + border" math this morning, and Iran has agreed to share a common front against their foes. (On preview: what stonerose said)
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:28 AM on February 16, 2005

The neo-con wet dream has come true: they have wished the Axis of Evil into reality.

Hmmm. Or maybe it was there from the beginning.
posted by obeygiant at 6:32 AM on February 16, 2005

It might not have been Syria themselves but what about Hezbullah who operate in Lebanon and get a lot of cash from Syria? If Lebanon was able to get Syrian troops out then operating in southern lebanon would be a lot harder for Hezbullah (who basically maraud across Israel/Lebanon border with no interference from any Syrian troops).
posted by PenDevil at 6:37 AM on February 16, 2005

Rafiq Hariri, R.I.P.
posted by breezeway at 8:02 AM on February 16, 2005

First off, a terrific post. I had thought of doing something similar, but I'm glad I didn't, because I wouldn't have done nearly as good a job. See, kiddies, this is what "supporting links" means: not dredging up a bunch of vaguely relevant pages via a quick Google search so no one will accuse you of the dreaded "single-link post," but carefully chosen sites that each add information important for understanding the main link. Bravo.

luis huiton's Adler link is also excellent (but could I just mention that it's politer to say "Le Monde," perhaps adding "[French]," than just "this newspaper"?); for those who don't read French, the conclusion is that there's been a power struggle going on in Damascus between the moderate "Occidentalist" faction, supported by President Bashar al-Assad, which wants to end Syria's isolation from the West, and a "radical Sunni" faction that objects strongly to the growing Shi'ite domination of Iraq (enabled by the West and of course supported by Iran) and wants to stand firm against any appeasement and anything that might loosen Syria's grip in Lebanon (like the meetings Iran had ordered the head of Lebanese Hezbollah to have with Hariri and Jumblatt).

Lebanon seems very very complicated. Also, I can't figure out who exactly the Druze are, nor why Sunni Syria is run by Alawites, who are Shiites (related to Morocco's Alaouite dynasty?).

Lebanon is indeed very very complicated; it's right up there with the Balkans and the Caucasus in that regard. A simplistic summary: "Lebanon" (or "Mount Lebanon") historically referred not to the present country (known as "Greater Lebanon" when it was being established after WWI) but only to the mountainous backbone of the country (inland between Tripoli and Sidon)—the rest, including Beirut, was simply part of the region of the Ottoman Empire known vaguely as Syria (the Beqaa in the north was part of the Vilayet of Damascus; the rest was at first divided between the vilayets of Tripoli and Sidon, then placed under the new Vilayet of Beirut).

The main players in the history of the region were the Druze (an offshoot of the Isma'ili Shiites who call themselves Muwahhidun or 'unitarians' and have mysterious and from the standard Islamic viewpoint heretical doctrines which they conceal from outsiders) and the Maronite Christians (a Catholic sect that was established at the time of the Crusades and historically had close connections with France); the various Greek Christians and the Sunnis were minor players, the Shiites were completely powerless. Until the eighteenth century the Druze had all the power, but at that time the Maronites began outstripping them economically, and the growing tension exploded in 1860, when thousands of Christians were massacred and the European powers stepped in to impose a new organization for the area (the Règlement Organique). The Lebanon would be governed by a mutesarrif, who had to be a non-Lebanese Ottoman Catholic, assisted by a council representing all the groups: four Maronites, three Druzes, two Greek Orthodox, one Greek Catholic, one Sunni, and one Shiite. (I'm giving the details because similar arrangements have continued down to today.) Under this arrangement the Lebanon, now effectively autonomous (compare Iraqi Kurdistan today), became the most prosperous part of the Ottoman Empire and the population grew to the point that there was massive emigration (mostly to the Americas).

The growth of nationalism in the late nineteenth century exacerbated the divisions in Lebanon. The groups (Greek Christians and Sunnis) that had coreligionists outside the area were sympathetic to the idea of a Greater Syria or an even larger Arab nation; the Maronites, who would lose their privileged position if Lebanon lost its autonomy, clung to the status quo, as did the Druze, who had reconciled themselves to second-class status and wanted to keep the guaranteed position they had.

When the French took over after WWI, they ended the autonomy of Mount Lebanon and created a new country (at first a "mandate") ruled from Beirut; needless to say, they heavily favored the Maronites, who were thrilled with the situation, but the Sunnis and Shiites, now cut off from their coreligionists elsewhere and ruled by Christians, were very unhappy, while the Greek Orthodox and Druze were discontented but willing to accept the situation. After the French left, the country kept to the tradition of a Maronite president and a Sunni prime minister, with the Maronites running the country, but the growing Arab nationalism of the post-WWII period, especially after Nasser took over in Egypt, caused strains that produced a Moslem revolt in 1958 followed by American intervention (the Marines landed in July and restored order). The great change produced by the civil war of the '70s and '80s was the claiming of a share of power by the Shiites, supported by Iran after Khomeini took over.

Now, as to the Alawites in Syria: like the Druze, they're a secretive and "heretical" offshoot of the Shi'a (they have gnostic beliefs and apparently worship Ali as a god, hence the modern term "Alawi"—they are traditionally known as Nusayris, after a ninth-century leader), and they live in the northern mountains called (after them) Jabal Ansariyya; persecuted by the Mamluks and Ottomans as heretics (Ibn Taymiyya, the 14th-century theologian who was a forerunner of the Wahhabis, called them more dangerous than the Christians and urged Muslims to make holy war on them), they experienced relief when the French took over Syria. The French saw themselves as protectors of minorities and carved out an Alawi state in the northwest, called the "Government of Latakia" after 1930, with its own postage stamps and flag, and favored the Alawis in many ways (causing, needless to say, considerable resentment among the Sunnis and Christians). As Syria expert Patrick Seale says in his great biography Asad:
For their part the 'Alawis suffered from an acute sense of grievance, nourished over centuries, which explained the formidable energy, even the frenzy, with which this unfavored community snatched at education, wealth and power once the wheel of fortune turned. With their history of oppression and exploitation, it was to be expected that 'Alawis should seek redress for the injustices of the past and should be utterly determined never to be subdued again.
This explains a lot about Assad's rule.

Uh-oh: BBC reports that Iran and Syria have agreed to form a "common front" to deal with "threats" from abroad. The neo-con wet dream has come true: they have wished the Axis of Evil into reality.

The "common front" has been a reality for a long time, since both countries had a common enemy in Iraq. From the Adler piece:
We arrive therefore at the provisional conclusion that the terrible murder of Rafik Hariri is aimed primarily at Bashar al-Assad and the moderate western-oriented redoubt in Damascus; it announces the great strategic break between old allies of twenty years' standing, Syria and Iran, the one unable to resign itself to the Shiite overbalancing of the Iraqi state, the other unable to do anything but support it, sometimes for reasons as much emotional as strategic.
This comment is way too long already, but I have to quote this bit from the poster's Walid Jumblatt link:

While his Palestinian allies quickly came to terms with the Syrian presence, [Kamal] Jumblatt remained defiant and even approached his erstwhile adversaries in the Christian camp about the prospects of forging a united front against Syrian forces in Lebanon. His refusal to reconcile himself to Syrian hegemony over his homeland cost him his life in March 1977, when he was assassinated on orders from Damascus. Two weeks before his death, exiled Lebanese nationalist leader Raymond Edde warned Jumblatt that the Syrians would kill him and asked him to depart for Paris and help establish a Lebanese government in exile. He declined, saying fatalistically that "the Jumblatts are usually killed - they don't die in their beds."

posted by languagehat at 8:51 AM on February 16, 2005 [1 favorite]

Good post, TBM, and thanks, languagehat. Please don't worry about a long post. People who aren't interested can scroll down, and I for one really appreciate the background information.

PP, I don't think a regime changes are particularly helpful if the new leadership cannot deal effectively with his or her own populations. I say populations, because there are few distinct borders, and most Arabs and Persians share affinities with populations outside of their own nations.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but since the fall of the Ottoman empire, there have been violent conflicts between Arab states (Iraq Kuwait) and even worse conflict between ethnic groups within distinct states.

If the Sunnis lose power in Syria and Iraq, it is unlikely that they will turn tail and run. We will not be dealing with a government, but a regional uprising. At least that is my concern.

Personally, I am not really sure how to make the region more secure, but I am certain that this is a complex challenge. We are not the first to try.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 10:21 AM on February 16, 2005

The CEO of the software company I've been work for the past couple years is one of Rafik Hariri's sons. As you might expect, Monday's news is somewhat more than academic here.

I've only met Hariri's son in person once or twice, as our Seattle facility is a satellite office and he doesn't get out here that often, but I've nevertheless been impressed with him on many levels. To have raised such a son, Rafik Hariri must have been a great man indeed. May God grant his family peace and strength.

posted by kindall at 11:21 AM on February 16, 2005

Thanks, languagehat. I am awed by your erudition and hope to remember half of that summary. Great stuff.

Still, I notice you skirt the issue of the Alaouite Dynasty. What, know your Mashriq better than your Maghreb? ;-) Oh, OK, nevermind: "The Alaouite Dynasty is the name of the current Moroccan royal family. The name Alaouite comes from its founder, Moulay Ali Cherif, who took power in 1631–2 in Sijilmassa." So rien à voir with Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad, whom the Alawites are named after.

Oh, and by the way, Adler writes for Le Figaro, not Le Monde.
posted by Turtle at 2:34 PM on February 16, 2005

D'oh! See, that's why it's better to name the paper in your link -- it saves morons like me who get their Major Frog Papers mixed up from making asses of themselves. (What do I care about Le Monde and Le Figaro, I read Libé!) And yes, I do know my Mashreq better than my Maghreb, so I avoided that side trip; thanks for clearing up the similarity of names (as well as for the kind words)!
posted by languagehat at 4:50 PM on February 16, 2005

Wow, great links and info all around gang! Nice.
posted by dejah420 at 5:13 PM on February 17, 2005

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