| 22 May 2024, Wednesday |

Bahaa Hariri calls for urgent ‘non-sectarian’ action to save Lebanon from collapse

Alicia Poehler wrote in Arabian Business:

As Lebanon teeters deeper into economic crisis, amid the latest GCC diplomatic spat, construction magnate and son of former Lebanese PM, Bahaa Hariri is calling for urgent non-sectarian action to fix the failing state.

Saudi Arabia has already banned Lebanese imports and pulled its ambassadors, while the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait have removed diplomats and barred their nationals from traveling to Lebanon, in solidarity with the kingdom after the Lebanese Minister of Information criticised Saudi’s involvement in Yemen last week.

“We urge Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf states to embrace the Lebanese community and distinguish between the Lebanese diaspora and the corrupt sectarian system that caused this unnecessary deterioration in relations between Lebanon and its Arab neighbours,” Bahaa Hariri, son of assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, told Arabian Business.

“No one should be surprised that the inadequate governing system in Lebanon allowed this to happen. It was inevitable. Therefore, we demand not only the dismissal of the Minister of Information, but also an end to the sectarian system as a whole.”

Hariri said Lebanon’s future is non-sectarian, democratic, and needs to be led by men and women not “tainted by the shame of corruption and incompetence”.

Calls for meaningful reform

The Lebanese construction magnate, who is currently based in Monaco, is backing Sawa Li Lubnan (Sawa), a group that is mobilising citizens to campaign for meaningful reform in Lebanon to crush corruption and deliver economic prosperity.

The grassroots movement aims to create a non-sectarian system, end corruption, restore economic growth, empower a new generation of leaders, strengthen the legal system and restore sovereignty through non-sectarian action.

The group has 20 full-time staff and an advisory board of 20 peers, as well as a network of 700 high profile volunteers across eight Lebanese regions. Sawa represents all regions and religious affiliations and brings together industry experts from diverse backgrounds.

According to Sawa’s agenda materials, Lebanon is in “economic freefall” and “if we dodge the fundamental issues that have led us to this disaster, Lebanon and our children’s futures will be destroyed”.

“We want the best relationship with the Arab community. One hand cannot clap by itself – we have to show the Gulf that we are a good partner and a good place to invest. Our most important priority is restore confidence and show that we have a short, medium and long-term recovery plan. We have to regain the trust of the region,” said Hariri (pictured above).

“The most urgent problem that needs to be fixed is the economy. We need to fix the banking system and fix basic access to fuel and electricity– Lebanon spent $35 billion on electricity last year, even though experts say we only need around $4bn. It’s a travesty.”

According to the latest World Bank Lebanon Economic Monitor (LEM), the economic and financial crisis is likely to rank in the top three most severe crises episodes globally since the mid-nineteenth century.

Breaking point

Hariri, who has thus far steered away from politics – unlike his brother Saad who was the country’s PM until the 2019-2020 protests – said his desire to reform his home country stems from an “obligation to the Lebanese people”.

One year on from the tragic Beirut blast, which killed over 200 people and caused around $4bn worth of damage, Hariri said he “had to act”.

“The violent explosion was the point when I decided I couldn’t sit there, watch the horror and do nothing. That was the breaking point.

“To be very frank with you, it’s not something that I want to do – it’s something I have to do. It’s my obligation to show the way. I’m not here to promote myself,” he said.

Hariri said Lebanon’s strongest hope for its future lies with the national elections in March 2022.

“Sawa is a civil movement but there may some members who will choose to represent our values at the ballot box. We are here to support civil society. I am here to support the revolution – it’s their platform, not mine,” he said.

  • Sawt Beirut International