Businessman Bahaa Al-Hariri appeared, on Al-Hurra TV, during the “Lebanese scene” program with the journalist, “Joelle Hajj Moussa”.
Here is the full text of the interview:
Joelle: What does Bahaa Hariri say on the 17th anniversary of the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri?
Baha Hariri: May my father and all martyr’s soul who struggled in the path that he believed in rest in peace. The main message that I would like to convey is that the country is experiencing a severe collapse, therefore, we must realize the seriousness of the situation. I have no doubts that the Lebanese, Muslims and Christians, recognize the situation, but we have to join efforts because we cannot clap with one hand alone. Rafik Hariri has pledged previously to rescue Lebanon and get the citizens out of the civil war, and he succeeded in doing so, and this was so difficult because collapse overshadowed the features of development. We cannot say that there is no hope, but we have to work together so that we can rise again and reach safety.
Joelle: Some parties say that Rafik Hariri’s project in Lebanon is over. How do you respond to those who consider this?
This is an inaccurate statement. Rafik Hariri has put an end to the civil war, and established a free economy, where all institutions were built, starting from the Council of Ministers to the Parliament, ministries, the army, internal security and the judiciary. We know that from 1990s till 2005 the economy was booming, although the situation was very bad before he came, and after him. I am convinced that if this project was not solid, Lebanon will not be able to withstand from 2005 till now. This is what made Lebanon survive, with all the hardships that it faced.
Joelle: You announced a few days ago that you will complete Rafik Hariri’s path. Why did you choose this particular time?
Politics is not my field. After the martyrdom of my father, I thought that it was finished. In any case, I had no intention to enter the political life. I took my decision after the explosion. As a Lebanese citizen, I can’t see the catastrophe that took place in the port where more than 200 people were martyred, and stay watching. This is the main catalyst that made me enter the political life.
Joelle: Do you aim to return to Lebanon and reside here?
Yes, I aim at coming back to Lebanon of course. I hope I can return with my family as soon as possible, but the main obstacle is the security situation, and once I receive security guarantees that I would be able to go back I will do. But this matter shall be studied carefully.
Joelle: Are you threatened in Lebanon?
All the evidences are with our allies or friends in the security field, as we have our connections who give us an indication. We have lost many martyrs so far, and we all know how they were killed. The explosion as well was due to lack of responsibility. Of course, the issue is purely security, and it means that we want to be more careful about this issue.
Joelle: What are the tools you have to complete Rafik Hariri’s path?
We have tried in the last 18 months, and we have succeeded in setting an integrated scheme. First, we established Sawt Beirut International, which is today a media pillar with more than 30 programs. We are proud that we have made more than 4,000 episodes. The number of viewers is between 100,000 to 13 million, as it varies according to the program. At SBI we are not promoting for a person, but rather talking in all fields, and across all sects. This first pillar is the free media, and the second pillar is our work at Nuh Foundation, which is chaired by my wife Hasna. Through Nuh we set out our cross-sectarian work in all Lebanese regions. Humanitarian work will increase, and we will never stop. The third pillar is Sawa Li Lubnan which is based on six points: economic project, a draft constitution, which means how to implement the Taif Accord, independent judiciary, security, health, and eradicating corruption.
Joelle: The projects you mentioned are related to development and aid at the popular and societal levels, but what is the political project that Baha Hariri is carrying today?
The political project is implementing Taif, as the basis of Rafik Hariri’s project is part of implementing it. This means separating religion from the executive and legislative authority, the presence of the Senate that gives powers to minorities, and administrative decentralization. The second issue is the independent judiciary, because through it we can combat corruption. But at the same time we all know that there are several laws in the Lebanese constitution to combat corruption, but they are kept in drawers, and have not been followed up. The integrated economic issue which have four pillars: the banking sector, tourism, medical, and education sectors. The Lebanese expatriates are also an essential part of establishing Lebanon as a free economy. We know that over $9 billion are transferred to Lebanon annually from the honorable Lebanese who live in the Gulf, Europe and America. We want to take a look, of course, what we want from Lebanon, and its presence in the region.
Joelle: How does Baha Hariri describe his relationship with his brother Saad Hariri?
As I said before, Saad is my little brother and I love him, and this is taken for granted, but at the same time I can’t say that the dispute is not vast in terms of thinking and everything. This is normal between brothers and sisters. We respect each other, but our way of thinking is different.
Joelle: The disagreement is on political issues? Do you have comments on his political performance in the previous stage, when he was prime minister?
Saad has left political life, and we have to move forward, but I can say that the disagreement is big. I reiterate that we believe that Lebanon which will survive again and restore its relations with the international community, and accordingly repairs its relations with the Gulf. Lebanon cannot survive with the conflicts prevailing with the international, Gulf and Arab community.
Joelle: Do you have any contact with the Future Movement or with figures from the Future Movement?
Today we have contact with Sawa Li Lubnan Lebanon, which is a cross-sectarian project. We are working as we said to see all the Lebanese components. I will not accept that the Sunni sect that I am proud of being one of it, although we have proven for the last 18 months that our project is cross-sects, will not play a fundamental role in the Lebanese equation and I would add to it. It is the largest sect in Lebanon and we have to respect. Second, it is considered that this honorable sect has a share in the Lebanese equation.
Joelle: What is the nature of the relationship today between Bahaa Hariri and the former March 14 components?
We hope to communicate with all the components that have remained respectful to the principles of March 14th, but at the same time we will not communicate with everyone who has departed from these values and bargained with the system that turned a blind eye to the weapons, and corruption. I am keen to talk about this topic because the situation is very dangerous. Everyone who was in this system that brought the country to a catastrophic, situation is responsible. When the World Bank says, that we have gone beyond the catastrophe of 1929, which is the global collapse, and when for the first time in the Lebanese history the Lebanese bonds become in default, when tens of billions of deposits of Lebanese and non-Lebanese abroad evaporated, here we say no, we have a problem, we have a calamity.”
Joelle: The Christian and the Druze components, which of them remained on these principles that you are talking about?
We have complete faith that the Lebanese have said their word in 2019, and they were very clear that it was a complete cover-up of this injustice that led to a catastrophic situation. We are willing to cooperate with them to open a new page and build the new Lebanon.
Joelle: About the Christian component specifically. The Lebanese Forces were present on the scene in the movements of October 17, is there communication with LF or the possibility of a certain alliance in the upcoming elections?
For us, our work is Sawa Li Lubnan, and we will work on these principles. If there are certain parties who are ready to cooperate on certain matters pertaining to the country we will cooperate and we want to see how we want to progress on this subject.
Joel: You are talking about an Iranian occupation of Lebanon, and you are saying that you will fight the battle to restore the homeland and its sovereignty from the occupiers. What are your capabilities today to fight this difficult battle?
We consider it, of course, a difficult battle, and from here I address the Lebanese telling them that on May we have legislative elections. Thanks God that I don’t know a bullet, and I don’t even carry a gun. We are saying that we want to build institutions, because the state has two components, the economic component and the security component. We say that Lebanon’s salvation lies in restoring the state and its control over the entire Lebanese territory. We say the only way for change is through elections. We are a complete change movement and we believe in what we are doing, and I pledge in front of the Lebanese that I will do the impossible and walk with the values that I talk about.
Joelle: Does the Iranian influence or Iranian occupation ban you from implementing your project ? Today we are talking about the presence of weapons that are outside the authority of the state?
The system gave a full cover of weapons, and corruption has destroyed the country. Where did the money go? More than $30 billion were spent on electricity, and any economic analyst can tell you that the electricity can be provided with investments not exceeding $250 million. Lebanon, during Rafik Hariri’s era was under the legal guardianship of Syria, approved by the international community and the regional community, but today we are not under any guardianship but rather we have a terrorist group, where three quarters of the world consider it a terrorist. This system took the people to the abyss. If under the Syrian guardianship we were able to succeed, so why we can’t win today?
Joelle: Aren’t you afraid that this title will lead to a civil war, and what is the guarantee to avoid such a reality?
I consider that corruption will lead to the collapse, because people cannot bear the situation anymore. People are not able to secure the basic commodities and services, and neither Christians nor Muslims can bear the situation. We first believe in our army, which is strong and has its components, and we, through elections, must first and foremost change and build institutions.
Joelle: What policy will you follow to deal with the Shiite duo, and how will you deal with the conditions and pressures of Hezbollah?
For us, elections are the basis. I consider that the quadruple alliance that happened after the martyrdom of the father was a political infidelity. We will never cooperate with Hezbollah.
Joelle: And the Amal movement?
We can’t cancel any team, as Rafik Hariri was looking forward to Lebanon as a mosaic, and it is forbidden to cancel anyone. We are moderate people, and I hope that all Lebanese renounce this project that led to a catastrophic situation. We don’t believe in weapons, and this is our path.
Joelle: You talk about moderation and communication with parties from other sects, but specifically with the Shiite duo, you say that there is communication and contact with the Amal movement and not with Hezbollah.
No, there is no communication at all. We communicate with Shiite moderation only, and I wish later with the entire Shiite community, because they will know with time that this is the right path.
Joelle: Who represents the Shiite moderation?
I don’t want to mention names in order not to forget anybody, but they are many.
Joelle: But certainly, they are not from the Amal movement.
No, they are not from Amal movement, but we consider that there are many capabilities and competences among the Shiite community who believe in moderation. I will do the impossible to tell them that mistakes should be corrected.
Joelle: What is your position today regarding the current era of President Michel Aoun?
Our position is related to the practices. In this era, we saw a complete Lebanese collapse, as well as International, Gulf and Arab isolation. We saw in the Arab League that we are voting against our Arab brothers. We consider that this covenant is responsible for all the mistakes and failure that is happening.
Joel: With whom will Bahaa Hariri ally or negotiate in the upcoming elections?
We are in contact with several parties, but with time, of course, we will communicate with certain parties. This will become clear over time. We are communicating with everyone who believes in these principles and wants to take Lebanon forward.
Joelle: Is there any contact with October 17 Movement groups?
Of course, because people want change and Lebanon is evolving. We will communicate with everyone who believes in our path, and we will support him on this long journey.
Joelle: The slogans that were raised on October 17 are being raised today by the Kataeb, for example. Could there be communication or an alliance with the Kataeb in the upcoming elections?
I reiterate that we are communicating with only those who believe in our path, values, and principles.
Joelle: Many people today are talking about Sunni frustration that began since the assassination of Rafik Hariri. Isn’t the Sunni reality really frustrating in your opinion?
I say to the honorable sect that we do not accept any disintegration in it, and this is a red line issue for us. Our project is cross-sectarian, moderate, and a life path, but I am eager that this honorable sect will take its full right within the Lebanese equation.
Joelle: Some are warning of the flourishing of Sunni extremism, especially in light of the vacuum left by the Future Movement and Saad Hariri’s suspension of political life. Are you afraid of the growing manifestations of extremism?
Lebanon with its majority is not extremist. Revolutionaries in 2019, said that they want a country of moderation, and did not say ISIS or terrorism. They said we want a state, a moderate state, and as long as citizens are taking their full right, why would they you go to the extreme?
Joelle: They say you have an agenda with the Turks. This is something that has been repeatedly said, what is the validity of that. What is your response to this statement?
We have proven in the last 18 months, where did we go? We went out in Al-Hurra, the Middle East, the Arab, and the Kuwaiti newspapers. I don’t remember I went to a Turkish newspaper, I never visited Turkey and I have no job in Turkey and I have no direct or indirect contact with the Turkish state.
Joelle: How does Bahaa Hariri today describe his relationship with Saudi Arabia?
I remember the father in Makkah, going out during the days of Umrah, and when he finishes he sits at the right side of the king on the ground. We consider the relationship to be an essential and fundamental pillar in the Gulf equation. Saudi Arabia gave us Taif, and basic deposits in the Central Bank of Lebanon. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia urged its institutions, and the private sector, to invest in Lebanon through decades of history. We consider it this relationship to be one of the basic components of the relationship between Lebanon and our Gulf brothers. Of course, Kuwait was also with us in our journey, as well as UAE and Qatar. But, of course, the kingdom has its own privacy.
Joelle: Your relationship with Saudi Arabia is an open relationship? Are you in constant contact with them?
Wherever we go ware are honored. I have never been abused by our Gulf brothers. My relationship is good we have never been offended and we will not be offended the future.
Joelle: Is there any contact for Bahaa with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia?
I reiterate that we have always been honored in our relations, and mutual respect prevails.