Profile: Saad Hariri, Lebanon's beleaguered prime minister

Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference after a cabinet session at the Baabda palace, Lebanon October 21, 2019.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news conference after a cabinet session at the Baabda palace, Lebanon October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

Saad Hariri, who stepped down Tuesday as Lebanon's premier for a third time, was propelled into politics by his billionaire father's assassination but has struggled to stamp the same authority on his fractious country. 


The announcement followed almost two weeks of unprecedented cross-sectarian protests demanding an overhaul of Lebanon's entire political system.

The 49-year-old, who sports trademark slicked-back hair and a closely cropped beard, was thrust onto the political stage after his father Rafik, himself an ex-premier, was assassinated in a February 2005 car bomb attack.

But he has struggled to fill his father's shoes, grappling in the latest crisis to address nationwide protests demanding the removal of a political elite viewed as incompetent and corrupt.

Hariri has cast himself as a champion of economic reform held hostage by unwilling coalition partners, but protesters have categorised him as a product of Lebanon's hereditary politics.

His image was further tarnished last month when reports surfaced that he had sent $16 million dollars to a South African model, even as his family business's employees were being laid off or unpaid.

After several days of protests, the embattled premier last week announced a string of economic reforms, but the plans have failed to quell anger in the streets.

Hariri's face has appeared on flyers calling for him to "Leave!".                 

Second resignation 

Hariri sent shockwaves across the region in 2017 by resigning from office while in Saudi Arabia and accusing the Iran-backed Shiite movement Hezbollah of destabilising the region.

The announcement triggered a flurry of international interventions that eventually saw Hariri return to his post, adopting a more conciliatory tone towards the group which he blames for his father's killing.

He has had little success in reining in Hezbollah, the only faction to have retained its arsenal after Lebanon's 1975-1990 civil war.

Hariri's Future Movement lost a third of its seats in parliamentary elections last year, when Lebanon held its first legislative election in nine years and voters reinforced the Shiite movement's parliamentary weight.

It then took him more than eight months to form a government, which has now been in office less than a year.

Hariri launched his political career at the urging of his family, after his father's death.

He left his post in Saudi Arabia running the Oger firm that was the basis of his family's business empire.

Back in Beirut, Saad played a key role in mass demonstrations that culminated in the end of a 30-year Syrian military presence in Lebanon.

His political career has been something of a rollercoaster, beginning with his August 2007 formation of the Future Movement.

Hariri is regarded as de facto leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community, although critics deride him as a political novice with at times hesitant classical Arabic.

Beirut bike rides 

Hariri is generally soft-spoken in his public pronouncements, eschewing the table-thumping style preferred by some of his political rivals.

His close friends say he enjoys cooking and exercising, and would make appearances at Beirut bike rides and the city's annual marathon.

Hariri began his first term as prime minister in November 2009, forming a unity government with Hezbollah and its allies after marathon negotiations.

But confrontations with the group had begun six months earlier, when Hezbollah seized parts of Beirut after street battles with Future Movement supporters.

Hariri stayed on as prime minister until January 2011 when Hezbollah and its allies abruptly withdrew their ministers from the cabinet.

His first government collapsed while he was meeting with then-US president Barack Obama in Washington.

The deposed premier stayed in self-imposed exile in France and Saudi Arabia for several years, citing "security" concerns.

But in 2016, he decided to back a presidential bid by Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun.

The move ended more than two years of political stalemate and saw Hariri return to head a unity government that again included Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia has long accused Iran and Hezbollah of effectively holding Lebanon hostage.

Hariri has Saudi citizenship and has tirelessly praised the kingdom, but the changing of the guard in the Gulf state appears to have left him with fewer allies.

His wife Lama Bashir-Azm, who is of Syrian origin, and their three children live in Saudi Arabia, where they have remained during his terms as prime minister.



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