Bahaa Hariri, the son of late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, landed in Washington in his private jet on a beautiful spring day in 2011. Many assumed that Bahaa was visiting on behalf of his brother, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who was scheduled to visit Washington and meet President Barack Obama in June.
But Bahaa was not visiting to discuss his brother’s business. He was in town to discuss his own business and explore his chances as a leader who could replace his brother.
When Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005, it went without saying that his elder son Bahaa would succeed him. When Bahaa and Saad visited the late Saudi King Abdullah in Riyadh, the Saudi monarch instructed them to reverse roles: Saad would inherit his father’s political leadership, while Bahaa would run the Hariri business empire.
The arrangement seemed to work for a while, until Bahaa told Saad that he planned to sell his shares in the family business. To keep shares within the family, Saad bought out Bahaa, but at such a high price that left him insolvent while flushing his brother Bahaa with cash.
When Bahaa Hariri visited Washington in spring 2011, around the time the Arab Spring was unfolding, he bought himself a series of meetings with top Washington shakers and decision-makers. He donated $10 million to the Atlantic Council for the creation of the Rafik Hariri Center.
A few days into his leadership shopping in Washington, Bahaa Hariri received a call from Riyadh. “Board your jet right now, and leave Washington,” Bahaa was told. He complied.
Meanwhile, Saad Hariri had to sit and watch his father’s empire sink. Their signature contracting company, Saudi Oger, suffered large-scale embezzlement, and the Saudi government was withholding its due payments to the Hariris. To keep his institutions going, Saad Hariri shopped around the region for loans. The government of Qatar, Doha, was generous enough to throw him a lifeline loan, as Lebanon’s “Leader of the Sunnis” tried to figure out how to mitigate his financial troubles.
This summer, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates launched a blitzkrieg media attack against Qatar, quoting a statement by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, in which he had presumably called for improving relations with Iran. It turned out that the website of the official Qatar News Agency was hacked, and fake statements, attributed to the emir, were posted.
By the time Qatar, with U.S. assistance, had proven the news agency was hacked, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt had announced a “boycott” of Qatar, and presented a list of 13 items that they demanded Doha must fulfill, including the closure of Al Jazeera Arabic satellite channel.
The U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia went on a diplomatic offensive, instructing their friends and allies to follow suit and cut ties with Qatar. While some governments obliged, others sat on the fence. Jordan, for instance, withdrew its ambassador, but kept its embassy in Doha open. Kuwait sprung to action to bridge the gap between the two contending parties, and so did countries like Turkey.
In Beirut, a top Hariri aide, who had told me about the Qatari loan to Hariri, also noted that Hariri had maintained neutrality. He was right. Hariri often avoided commenting on the Gulf crisis, and when he did, he said he wished the misunderstanding would be resolved. This stance might have alienated the U.A.E., the leader of the anti-Qatar campaign.
The Hariri aide also told me that Riyadh summoned Saad Hariri, and instructed him to pay Qatar back, and that they would partially settle his debt. By the time of the writing of these lines, information about the Qatari loan to Hariri was scattered and contradictory.
Be that as it may, Hariri suddenly appeared on TV in Riyadh, this month, where he read the statement of his resignation as prime minister of Lebanon. Hariri had returned to the country and formed his Cabinet in December 2016, and before mid-November, he was tendering his resignation.
Hariri’s resignation was depicted as him taking a stance against Iranian influence in Lebanon. Shortly after, news about his arrest in Riyadh surfaced, and reports about his house arrest became common knowledge that French President Emmanuel Macron, in Saudi Arabia for a state visit, raised the issue of his freedom with top Saudi officials, since Saad Hariri carries a French passport, in addition to his Saudi and Lebanese passports.
As Saad Hariri was in trouble in Riyadh, his brother Bahaa wasted no time. In Lebanon, Bahaa was believed to have been sponsoring a splinter faction of the Hariri movement, under the command of the former police officer Ashraf Rifi. Should Saad Hariri become unavailable for the premiership, his brother Bahaa -- who enjoys excellent ties with the rulers of the U.A.E. -- would be available to replace him. At the very least, Rifi could win a useful parliamentary bloc in the elections scheduled for May, and become a seat warmer prime minister, until the time comes when Bahaa Hariri can emerge as a Sunni leader and prime minister instead of his brother Saad.
The plan of the U.A.E., Bahaa Hariri and Ashraf Rifi might seem feasible on paper. But in reality, for a politician to emerge as the leader of the Sunnis is not enough to make him the prime minister of Lebanon. A host of Lebanese politicians, and their sects behind them, are involved in one of the most complicated political choices on the planet. The making of a Lebanese president takes a year or two, on average. The selection of a prime minister, if not done within the election-of-the-president package, also takes a year or two. There have been times when Cabinet formation in Lebanon took up to two years, and that was when most parties were in accord over most issues.
From the perspective of Lebanon’s pro-Iran factions -- Hezbollah, President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri -- if Bahaa Hariri is closer to the U.A.E., and therefore to the current leadership in Saudi Arabia, as opposed to Saad, who might look closer to Qatar, then the Iranian choice is easy: Go with the guy who is further away from Riyadh. Bahaa Hariri might get the Saudis to empower him as a replacement for his brother, but Iran has a whole vetting process through which it approves the selection of Lebanon’s prime minister.
Bahaa Hariri is known to have been, and still marketing himself as, the more firebrand confrontational brother. Should he become prime minister of Lebanon, Iran and its allies -- mainly Hezbollah -- would be on the back foot, his supporters say, which is another reason that his accession to power in Lebanon would be hard, if not impossible.
Hariri’s resignation had nothing to do with strategic rivalries or the ongoing conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and had everything to do with petty rivalries and personal vendettas. Because this is the case, the consequences of Hariri’s resignation have had no effect on Lebanon or its stability, or on the situation between Lebanon and Israel.
Despite winning the world attention's, Hariri’s resignation is simply a personal setting of scores, in which he -- Saad Hariri -- appears to be the victim.* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.