Hariri's return: the fruit of a counterrevolution

Hariri's return: the fruit of a counterrevolution

6 min read
09 Nov, 2020
Comment: By returning Hariri to the premiership, Lebanon's ruling class has completed a counterrevolutionary cycle that started with his resignation under popular pressure one year earlier, writes Nizar Hassan.
'All evidence suggests that Hariri brings nothing to the table but himself' writes Hassan [Getty]
You would think that a year after the October 17 uprising, in which the country was led off the cliff, Lebanon's ruling politicians would offer us an apology and some steps to restore hope. Instead, they brought back to power the prime minister we overthrew.

Saad Hariri's nomination 'coincided' with his supporters heading to downtown Beirut and setting fire to the "revolution fist", marking Hariri's return literally over the ashes of this uprising. But more importantly, the October uprising was against corruption, sectarianism, ineffectiveness, and the rule of vested economic interests; things that Hariri perfectly represents.

Apart from him being a pillar of the rotten establishment, Hariri has consistently failed at achieving any success, both as a political official and a businessman. Which makes it beyond outrageous that he should be handed the country's executive authority at this historical moment of economic meltdown and social crisis. 

To be clear, Hariri's return is far from surprising, and not only because merit and vision are worth nothing in the calculations of our ruling class. Hariri represents both a sectarian political establishment and a financial oligarchy that have spent the year since his resignation instilling despair and division, in what feels like a deliberate attempt to ensure he would not be overthrown again.

After causing the economic crisis, the oligarchs adopted a no-action agenda that made us pay the price for it, and blocked any attempts for reform, while security forces heavily suppressed protests. In parallel, incendiary politics by all sides attempted to re-establish sectarian divisions to restore polarisation along ruling class lines, and resurrect the boogeyman of civil war.

Hariri has consistently failed at achieving any success, both as a political official and a businessman

When people demanded that "all of them" go, it was based on the realisation that when politicians fight, we lose, and when they come together, they do so against our interest. The notion of a"national unity", i.e. one based on consensus and includes shares for all major political forces, became synonymous to the problem.

However, one of the main aims of the counterrevolution was to portray such a government as the only way to prevent civil strife and escape the crisis.

Imagine riding with a taxi driver who drives recklessly fast and wants credit for not crashing the car. This is how it feels to live under the rule of these politicians, but in this case the ride is full of crashes, making us constantly wonder whether the big crash will ever come, while losing what remains of hope along the way.

This idea of "unity" is perhaps the main premise behind the support for Hariri from his political opponents, especially Hezbollah; despite the fact that Hariri's nomination was based on a feeble majority of votes from parliamentarians, which does not exactly scream "national unity".

So what should we expect from Hariri this time?

Away from the naïve illusions of stability and restoring economic confidence, all evidence suggests that Hariri brings nothing to the table but himself. What this means is more of the doing nothing policy, especially in areas where in matters most.

Will Hariri task his cabinet with passing capital controls bill to prevent the oligarchs from smuggling more money out of the country while ordinary people are denied access to their money?

Will he make banks pay their fair share of the crisis's cost after they benefited for so long from the flawed economic model and policies?

Read more: Lebanon's oligarchs crashed the economy, now they're making the people pay

Will he push for removing obstacles facing forensic audit of the central bank to investigate the mismanagement of reserves, the lack of transparency, and the policies that outrageously benefited the banks at the expense of everyone else? 

Will Hariri enact a new tax system that redistributes wealth as the country drowns in poverty and inequality increases?

It is really not difficult to answer these questions. Hariri is himself a major shareholder in a bank, and has defended banks' interests every step of the way. He is the closest political ally to the infamous central bank governor Riad Salameh, and has recently stated that he wants him to be "by his side" when he takes power. And throughout his political career, he has shown outright bias in favour of the oligarchy's interests, and has constantly empowered the most reactionary voices from the business lobby such as Mohammad Choucair and Nicolas Chammas.

One of the main aims of the counterrevolution was to portray such a government as the only way to escape the crisis

After all, it was Hariri's government that passed the ridiculous and regressive "Whatsapp tax" a year ago, one day before the popular uprising began. And it was Choucair, who was part of Hariri's share of the cabinet, who suggested that tax.

The next government's mission will be primarily to acquire foreign loans to bring in foreign currency to refill the central bank's reserve and save the financial sector. To do that, Hariri will most importantly need to negotiate a programme with the International Monetary Fund, in addition to convincing the World Bank and other donors to make good on the pledges they made in the CEDRE conference.

Given his alignment with the banks, it is highly unlikely that Hariri's delegation will be able to convince the IMF technocrats to offer a bailout. In the end, the banks' estimation of losses has already been discredited, and the plan they put forward against the previous government's was both deeply flawed and explicitly biased towards their interest in long-term profit.

There is nothing to expect from Hariri or his upcoming government other than more inaction on things that matter

In that sense, the ruling class's ambition behind bringing back Hariri, i.e. to use his international connections to securing funding, seems like a very risky bet.

There is nothing to expect from Hariri or his upcoming government other than more inaction on things that matter, and more unfair policies and attempts to protect vested interests.

If anything, Hariri's nomination has proven that we are ruled by one of the rudest political class imaginable. If he succeeds in forming a government, the focus should shift towards resisting the neoliberal agenda that his government will most certainly impose.

By bringing back Hariri, the oligarchs have put aside some of their political conflicts to intelligently consolidate around their common material interests. It is now our job to come together around ours, and fight back the class war from above with an agenda of economic and social justice.

Nizar Hassan is a Lebanese organiser, researcher and podcaster based in Beirut. He is a co-founder of the progressive political movement LiHaqqi, he researches workers rights and social movements, and co-hosts The Lebanese Politics Podcast.