Hariri assassination – five years on

Today is the fifth anniversary of the explosion in Beirut that killed former prime minister Rafik Hariri and at least 20 others – an event that triggered the most extraordinary period in Lebanese politics since the civil war.

Five years on, though, it's difficult to say what the Cedar Revolution (as it became known) really achieved apart from the withdrawal of Syrian troops. Lebanon's political landscape hasn't changed that much. Hariri's son, Saad, is now prime minister and apparently is now reconciled with the Syrian regime: last December he dined with President Bashar in Damascus.

Demands to uncover "the truth" about the assassination are still unfulfilled. The UN investigation rumbled on for four years and the ensuing tribunal, set up a year ago to try the so-far-unindicted suspects, seems embroiled in politics.

The most noteworthy changes, however, have happened on the Syrian front. "Socially, politically and economically, Syria has changed more in the past five years than in any similar period in our generation," the Syrian News Wire blog says – and it's true. If anyone had predicted in 2005 that Syria would be in this position today I would have said they must be joking.

Lebanon will be commemorating the assassination today. For many Lebanese, but certainly not all of them, Hariri has been posthumously elevated to something approaching sainthood.

Last week there was a walk-out by several politicians at the Antonine University when a speaker made "offensive comments" about the late prime minister. The comments in question referred to an academic paper in the Leadership Quarterly entitled "The dynamics of effective corrupt leadership: Lessons from Rafik Hariri's political career in Lebanon".

Despite the offence caused, the paper (reproduced here) actually made a very interesting point. Noting that "corrupt political leaders are usually ineffective, self-interested, and bad for the countries they serve", it argued that Hariri was an exception: 

"Hariri ... proved to be an effective corrupt leader – one who engaged in corrupt practice, but actively pursued, and delivered, tangible welfare benefits to his people."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 14 February 2010.