When former five-time Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed in a massive car bomb in central Beirut on Monday, it marked the end of a decade-long renaissance for the country after years of conflict. Hariri is best known for his stewardship of post-civil war Lebanon, where he managed to unite warring factions and spur a spate of rebuilding in the formerly pock-marked Beirut. While not giving up a lavish lifestyle, he also poured money into post-war Lebanon, paying the tuitions of 30,000 students at home and abroad in order to build a new, more educated generation of Lebanese. The billionaire politician (self-made, unlike most Middle East billionaires) had just resigned from his office in October and aligned with opposition parties that have called for Syria to withdraw its 13,000 troops from Lebanon. Naturally, blame for the incident has drifted towards Syria, who once maintained up to 35,000 troops in the country after the outbreak of the 15-year civil war there in 1975 (didn’t help much, apparently). Syria has denied responsibilty for the blast, blaming Israel instead (though few other Lebanese have). Syria has also rejected UN and international calls in the past to withdraw its troops, saying they are needed to maintain stability and unity. Demonstrating this unity, Lebanese of all backgrounds poured into the streets to mourn the Sunni Muslim Hariri, often taking out their anger on hapless (and unarmed) Syrians. Also, Washington immediately recalled its ambassador to determine a course of (military?) action. Hariri’s death was the latest in a series of murders (some not so mysterious) of prominent politicians in past decades, each of whom tried to assert Lebanon’s independence before being, er… liberated. And, like the 15-year civil war whose memories are now refreshed in the minds of Lebanon’s people, it shows again that it is so much easier to destroy than to build.
Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.