Rafik Hariri’s legacy for Lebanon is being undone
On Sunday, Lebanon's prime minister-designate, Saad Hariri, solemnly commemorated the 16th anniversary of the assassination of his father and former prime minister Rafik Hariri.
Many credit the elder Hariri with rebuilding the nation after its brutal civil war ended in the 1990s. His murder also marked the moment Lebanese society demanded and successfully rid their country of the Syrian military's decades-long occupation.
What the anniversary should not have reminded Lebanon of, but unfortunately did, was that Hariri’s death marked an early episode in the rise of impunity for political murder in the country.
The lack of accountability for the assassination has cast a long shadow over the nation. The UN ruled last year that the attack was carried out by the Iran-backed Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah. Salim Ayyash, a supporter of the group and organiser of the blast, which left a further 21 people dead and 230 injured, remains at large. Hezbollah refuses to hand him over.
Slim's murder raises the prospect that death could become the fate for those who speak up
If the killer of a former prime minister cannot be brought to justice, then everyday citizens who criticise corruption have good reason to fear for their own safety. Last week, Lokman Slim, a critic of Hezbollah, was gunned down in the south of the country. A pitifully small number of Lebanese politicians have worked in earnest to seek justice for his family. More notable is the strong solidarity of a number of prominent ambassadors. Washington’s envoy to Beirut addressed the crowd at Slim’s funeral, remembering him as a great man and decrying his barbaric killing. Throughout Lebanon's recent troubles, the international community has consistently been a more constructive force in supporting the plight of Lebanese citizens than the country's own politicians.
The murder of Slim raises the ugly prospect that death could, again, become the fate for those who speak up.
Despite the danger, there are many who want to do so. An economic crisis, almost entirely of the government's making, continues to blight all aspects of life in the country, whether through inflation, unemployment or a struggling health sector. Corruption is pervasive and persistent. Even the supply of electricity is unreliable. Daily life only seems to grow more difficult.
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As the state unravels, unimaginably catastrophic events, such as last year's Beirut blast, defy the belief of those who used to view Lebanon as a prosperous centre of culture, finance and tourism. The belligerent corruption of much of the nation's dysfunctional political class continues to baffle citizens and foreign observers alike. The World Bank’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa, Ferid Belhaj, marked the arrival of a shipment of Covid-19 vaccines to Lebanon yesterday with a tweet that signed off with the hashtag #NoWasta. “Wasta" is the Arabic term for nepotism.
The story of Lebanon in recent years shows that a nation’s decline, unchecked, can be a bottomless cycle. Sixteen years on from Hariri’s assassination, and with the worrying prospect of politically motivated killings returning, Lebanon's people deserve the world’s help more than ever.
Updated: February 16, 2021 08:24 AM