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May 17, 2005
Enter The Son, More Powerful Than The Father

When the Syrians assassinated Rafik al-Hariri in February, they must have imagined a period of disorder in which to consolidate power in Lebanon through their military and intelligence apparatus. Bashar Assad had to have thought that the Hariri clan would trouble his western horizon no more. That gives the current rise to power of Hariri's second son Saad, who has led the Future opposition coalition to the top of the polls for Lebanon's upcoming election, a certain poetic tinge:

The son and political heir of slain former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri said on Tuesday the anti-Syrian opposition would sweep Lebanon's general elections and indicated he could lead the government after the ballot.

Saad al-Hariri, taking over the mantle of his father who was assassinated on Feb. 14, predicted the opposition would win 80 to 90 seats in the 128-member parliament.

The 35-year-old Hariri is expected to repeat his father's landslide victory in Beirut in 2000.

Hariri said the opposition, which has achieved its demands for the withdrawal of Syrian troops, the resignation of a pro-Damascus government and security chiefs, and an international investigation of the former premier's killing, still had much to do after the polls which begin on May 29.

"Our problem is that people think that our battle is over. Our battle is really just beginning: the battle for reforms," Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, told Reuters in an interview.

It won't just be a battle for reforms, and Assad knows it. Instead of chasing the Hariris from politics, he transformed the patriarch's clan into his most formidable Lebanese enemy. The family chose Saad to step into the political arena, and he has proven himself to be a similar unifying presence as his father. If he captures the two-thirds of the Parliament that observers expect, he will have the power to not only stand up to Syrian bullying on the east, but also to chase Assad's toady Emile Lahoud from the presidency -- a potential that has Saad Hariri delighted.

If that happens, the next target for Saad will undoubtedly be the disarming of Hezbollah, Assad's proxy in Lebanon and the only militia still allowed to keep its arms under the cease-fire provisions of the Civil War. An electoral mandate such as that predicted for Hariri would far outstrip any supposed enthusiasm for the continuance of Hezbollah paramilitary forces. While such a move would still cause civil disruption, a strong electoral mandate would help to keep the Lebanese Army unified to carry out the disarming of the terrorists in the south.

Bashar Assad should have stuck with Rafik. He's created a powerhouse in the form of the son instead, and Saad will likely outlive Assad, one way or the other.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 17, 2005 10:45 AM

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