World Congress for Middle Eastern Studies

Barcelona, July 19th – 24th 2010

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The Hariri Political Dynasty and the Sunni Scene in Lebanon: Practices of Transition (120) - NOT_DEFINED activity_field_Panel

· NOT_DEFINED date: TUE 20, 2.30-4.30 pm

· NOT_DEFINED institution: University of Louvain (Belgium)

· NOT_DEFINED organizer: Ward Vloeberghs

· NOT_DEFINED language: English

· NOT_DEFINED description: Since the 2005 assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the uprising of Fath al-Islam in 2007 and the electoral victories of Saad Hariri in 2005 and 2009, the political wing of the Hariri conglomerate has been put to severe test. Its political credibility has been challenged both on a local and a regional level and both by political and religious entrepreneurs, resulting in a culmination of tensions in May 2008. Meanwhile, notwithstanding the brutal elimination of the pater familias, the political heir(s) of Rafiq Hariri have consolidated and developed his legacy into another dynastic power bastion that is to be reckoned with in Lebanon.

This panel examines a number of evolutions in the positioning of the Hariri political dynasty on the Sunni scene of Lebanon from a perspective of the social sciences. The objectives are threefold: 1) to analyse how the Hariri family has reacted to this climate of political and religious defiance 2) to assess evolutions between Rafiq Hariri’s positioning and that of his successor 3) to describe practices that have accompanied the first five years of Saad Hariri’s leadership.

Chair: Jakob Skovgaard-Petersen (University of Copenhagen)

Paper presenter: Hannes Baumann (School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London), “The Philanthropy of Rafiq Hariri and Lebanon’s ‘Sunni scene’”
Baumann’s paper will address the role of philanthropy in Rafiq Hariri’s transformation from political outsider during the civil war (1975-1990) to political leader in Lebanon’s post-war period. Political leadership is not confined here to governmental power but includes recognition of Hariri as the leading representative of Lebanon’s Sunni community. Baumman argues that Hariri’s philanthropy was central to achieving this recognition by documenting the resources Hariri mobilized for his educational and health programmes and facilities. A study of Hariri’s two-phased philanthropy helps us to map the “Sunni scene”: the struggles for leadership between Hariri and established notables on one side and Islamic groups on the other; the interplay of local identities in Beirut, Tripoli or Sidon with confessional identity, and the relationship of politicians with the religious hierarchy.

Paper presenter: Tine Gade (Sciences Po, Paris), “Saad Hariri’s Battle for Tripoli”
In order to complement and compare the networks thus sketched, Gade’s intervention will focus on the Hariri family’s struggle for influence in North Lebanon (80% Sunni population). In the past two legislative elections, Tripoli voted massively in favour of Saad Hariri’s Future Movement and so helped capturing the premiership. Hariri’s endorsement by Tripoli’s citizens constitutes a novelty for the city’s relationship with the Lebanese state. Few bureaucratised political parties ever succeeded in Tripoli. Until the civil war, politics in Tripoli worked by personal leaderships of political big bosses with well-established constituencies, gained through long-rooted transactions with local communities. Controlling the direction of the Islamic militancy seems to be of great difficulty to political leaders in the city who, in times of turmoil or elections, often turn to religious leaders in search of legitimisation.

The ambiguities of politics in Tripoli raise a set of questions: e.g. what are the idiosyncrasies of the relationships between poor youth, religious leaders and political big bosses in Tripoli? Can we speak of modes of transaction that resemble traditional clientilism or are we facing a hitherto unknown phenomenon? Finally, can we discern patterns in the strategies deployed by Rafiq Hariri and his successor?

Paper presenter: Ward Vloeberghs (University of Louvain), “Moulding a Sunni Martyr: Rafiq al-Hariri and the Politics of Remembrance in Lebanon”
Indeed, it is important to assess how R. Hariri contributes to legitimising S. Hariri, either as a national hero or as a Sunni leader. That question is also reflected in Vloeberghs’ paper dealing with the emergence of the tomb of Rafiq al-Hariri as an important forum for political activity, from where speeches and practices are launched. His paper analyses a number of spatial rearrangements in the layout of the gravesite as well as to commemorative practices attached to it. He argues that the visible transformations of the mausoleum are meaningful reflections of the tribulations of Lebanese society as a whole. Secondly, the successive rearrangements of the site itself suggest that the Hariri family, its heirs and allies have reacted to the climate of defiance in the wake of the assassination by installing a nascent but elaborate cult around the “martyr president”. This cult gradually evolved from a powerful scene of nation-wide grief and trans-confessional solidarity to a place nominally dedicated to a victim of oppression but effectively displaying an increasing number of (Sunni) practices of devotion centred around one single politician. To a considerable extent such practices of transition have conferred Saad Hariri’s leadership with an important source of legitimacy.

Paper presenter: Thomas Pierret (Princeton University), “Exploiting Hariri’s Assassination on Syria’s Domestic Scene: The Case of Shaykh Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti”
Finally, to put the emergence of the Hariri political dynasty in a wider context, Pierret’s paper will document how during the last years of his life, Rafiq al-Hariri had become popular among the Syrian Sunni bourgeoisie. The latter viewed him as the embodiment of its dreams of political and economic liberalism, and as a symbol of Sunni assertion in a context dominated by Damascus’ Alawite regime. Therefore, his assassination caused deep resentment among Syria’s social elites, putting the regime in a delicate situation at the moment it was going through serious diplomatic tensions.

In this context, the position formulated in November 2005 by Sa‘id Ramadan al-Buti, Syria’s most revered Sunni Muslim scholar, constituted a major symbolic victory for Bashar al-Asad. Indeed, the cleric accused Israel and the United States of having killed Hariri as a part of a larger conspiracy aimed at “destroying the Islamic civilization”. In face of such a threat, he concluded, Syrians had to renounce opposing the regime. Resorting to his favourite strategy, al-Buti actually exchanged public support for concessions in favour of the Sunni clergy. In fact, during the following months, Syria witnessed its “Islamic Spring”, i.e. an unprecedented wave of religious effervescence. Hariri’s killing was thus at the centre of a bargain whose success probably helps to explain the resilience of the regime, which many observers had described in 2005 as being on the verge of collapse.

In sum, these contributions examine, by adopting an interdisciplinary approach, how the case of the Hariri political dynasty can serve to explore a range of topics: from the phenomenon of succession to the politics of remembrance and from dynamics of appropriation to pragmatics of ideological discourse vis-a-vis the various stakeholders on the Islamic and political landscape in Lebanon, and beyond.