What if Rafiq al-Hariri were alive today? The question comes to mind when one sees the delegations of people descending on Hariri’s tomb in Beirut, as his death continues to generate political events despite the eight years that have passed since the passing of this exceptional man.
There are countless thoughts, a mixture of imagination and realism, over what al-Hariri would have done during this political moment, full of events in Lebanon and around it. One can begin by imagining Hariri's non-stop movement in interacting with the developments of the Arab Spring, and wonder what he would have done to safeguard Lebanon and benefit from the opportunity of the popular movements in Arab states in order to preserve stability in the country. He would have done this while taking in the displaced from Syria, and the capital fleeing a number of states, to boost the level of Arab investment in Lebanon. Or, he might have helped Lebanese investors in some countries during a new phase of reconstruction.
Hariri contained a unique mixture of two things. He had a profound and implicit desire to see progress in Arab political regimes, which had began to require more socio-economic growth, especially in the field of education (his obsession), so that the Arabs could arrive at the level of advanced countries in their political foundations. He also belonged to the traditional Arab order, as someone who wielded influence. Hariri belonged to a generation that took shape against a backdrop of pan-Arab nationalism as a doctrine to lead to a renaissance; he would have been happy to see peoples rising up. At the same time, he was a member of the "club" of leading figures and had to submit to the laws governing interactions among them. However, his Lebanese identity, based on a history of democracy and pluralism, helped him gain the legitimacy of combining the two contradictions. This combination, carried out cleverly, was what distinguished him.
From the beginning, Hariri visited Syria and advised Bashar al-Assad to respond to the need to reform quickly, and avoid violence that would lead to bloodshed. This was because he had experienced the regime's capacity for oppressing the Lebanese and their rulers (led by him) and this regime would not be able to return Syrians – whose dignity had been even more violated – to their homes after the wall of fear had been broken, and people had taken to the streets. Hariri was aware that what he had suffered before and after Assad threatened him with destroying Lebanon over his head if he did not approve the extension of Emile Lahoud's presidency, had been experienced by the Syrian people every day before him.
It would have been impossible for Hariri not to try, before losing hope with a regime he knew well, to help Syria not fall into the destruction that Lebanon had earlier experienced, and before the struggle in Syria turned into a regional-international struggle over Syria. The struggle would become more complicated, with intertwined interests of the Great Powers and even bloodier confrontations. In parallel with this attempt, he would have warned about the need to make a top priority of protecting Lebanon from seeing the crisis move there. Perhaps he would have picked up on the idea of disassociating Lebanon from the crisis early on and carried out this policy very skillfully, getting on his plane and traveling the world to gather information and learn the truth behind the various positions; he would then be aware of what the leading powers were planning, so that he could search for solutions for Syria in order to see it avoid more killing and destruction. He would have visited Vladimir Putin and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Francois Hollande and Barack Obama, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Ban Ki-moon, and the emir of Qatar, Hamad bin Jassem, and Angela Merkel, David Cameron and Mohammad Mursi. He would have remained in contact with Lakhdar Brahimi, who he certainly would have missed as a comrade, as he was during the Taif Accord negotiations. Perhaps Hariri would have also visited Tehran, in order to create exceptional ideas and come up with proposals, whether partial in order to lighten the weight of the crisis, or comprehensive, in order to solve it.
In his bid to help unite the Syrian opposition, to speed up the conclusion of the crisis, Hariri would have not ceased to send messages to the regime. He would have asked Wissam al-Hasan to come up with a hunting date with Suleiman Franjieh, in order to ask him to relay an idea to Assad. Or, Hariri would have found a way to send a message to Farouq al-Sharaa or ask a mediator to relay a message to Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who would in turn send it on to Tehran or Damascus. Or, Hariri would have called the leader of Hezbollah to calm things down. He would have visited the Maronite patriarch in order to tell him, "Your Grace, it is your right to fear for the region's Christians amid the rise of the Islamists, as a result of what happened in Iraq. However, do you not see that there are liberal and moderate groups in Arab countries that remain active and stand against fanaticism and extremism?" He would have sent Pierre Gemayel, Antoine Ghanem or Gebran Tueni to the patriarch, to tell him that moderate Lebanese Muslims and democratic Christians are showing sympathy with the rebels in Syria, and that this is something positive for Lebanon, so that Syria's new rulers do not behave in the same condescending way that the older regime had earlier practiced.
Hariri would have been aware early on about the problem of the Syrian displaced and would have set up camps for them on the border; he would have asked for strict security measures in places where they reside, and would have controlled the borders, while on his foreign trips he would have gathered the funding from donor states to help these people. At the same time, he would have cooperated with his leading Syrian counterparts in the world of business to convene a Friends of Syria conference, as a prelude to rebuilding what was destroyed.
A bit of realism then intrudes on these thoughts, as one realizes that if Hariri were alive, what Lebanon has experienced would not have happened, and the same goes for some of what we are seeing in the region, especially Syria. The regime there would have been different. But since the regime is still the same, it would have hated Hariri even more.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily represent or reflect the editorial policy of Arabstoday.