May 26, 2005

UNLUCKY SON:

Heir apparent in Lebanon (Nicholas Blanford, 5/27/05, The Christian Science Monitor)

Saad Hariri, a billionaire businessman, is set to trounce his opponents in the parliamentary elections that begin Sunday, securing his position as the dominant Sunni Muslim voice in Lebanon.

In an interview with the Monitor at the Hariri family's sprawling headquarters in West Beirut, Mr. Hariri vows he will pursue his father's economic and political reform policies, while predicting a tough battle in the coming months as Lebanon adjusts to independence from Syria.

"I think there are going to be challenges and issues that are going to be very difficult to resolve," says the tall and well-built Hariri, who bears a striking resemblance to his slain father. [...]

Hariri is confident that despite the splits, the opposition will secure between 80 and 90 places in the 128-seat parliament, with his bloc grabbing the largest share, making him the front-runner for next prime minister.

Although he is regarded as a shoe-in for the job if he wants it, Hariri will not confirm whether he will seek the premiership. "I will sit and wait after the elections and then I'll decide," he says.

Still, he has a clear vision of the first tasks awaiting the next government which will steer Lebanon into the post pax Syrian era. "My first mandate is to have a new election law," he says. "We owe it to the Lebanese to work on a permanent election law that will be ready for the next elections in four years time."

He also intends to complete the purge of the domestic security apparatus which carried out Syria's orders in Lebanon and which many Lebanese believe played a hand in the assassination of his father. But Hariri acknowledges that it is impossible to ignore neighboring Syria.

"We and the Syrians will be there for a 1,000 years so we have to have normal and regular relations with Syria," he says.

Relatively unknown in Lebanon, Hariri was selected by the family to take over the political reins after his elder brother, Bahaa, chose to remain in business. "I was the unlucky one," he jokes.

He may be a newcomer to Lebanese politics, but Hariri is no neophyte. He ran his father's massive construction company, Saudi Oger, for over a decade and has extensive financial interests in telecommunications in the Middle East. He is ranked at 548 in Forbes Magazine's annual list of billionaires with an estimated fortune of $1.2 billion. His father was ranked 108th with $4.3 billion.

Hariri has adopted his father's globe-trotting existence, holding talks with Jacques Chirac, the French president and a close family friend, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Middle East leaders.

A European ambassador who recently met Hariri says, "He is an impressive and smart figure. He is listening carefully to his father's advisors

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 26, 2005 5:42 PM
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