Who Was Rafik Hariri?
“Countries are not built on fanaticism, extremism, and egocentric attitudes; they are built on serious, responsible, and conscientious work and a patriotic consideration of the country’s welfare before anything else.”
–Rafik Hariri, 1944-2005
The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East is named in honor of the late Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Bahaeddine Al-Hariri. Known affectionately as “Mister Lebanon,” Hariri was renowned for his dedication to solving problems through political dialogue, and went on to become an influential leader throughout the wider Middle East as well as in his beloved Lebanon. He played an integral role in brokering the 1989 Taif Agreement that ended Lebanon’s sixteen-year civil war and remained devoted to the country’s reconstruction through to the end of his life. He also worked tirelessly to revive Lebanon’s economy and fought for the country’s independence from Syria, which had occupied the state since 1976.
Born to a modest family in Sidon in 1944, Hariri was known for his high energy and enduring passion for his country’s potential. After majoring in commerce at the Arab University of Beirut, he moved to Saudi Arabia, where he started his own construction business, known today as Saudi Oger, which quickly became one of the leading firms in the Middle East.
A renowned philanthropist, Hariri created the Hariri Foundation in 1979. The Foundation established and operates schools, clinics, a university, and technical institutes, provides health and social services to the needy, promotes cultural and human rights issues, and supports projects that strengthen the ability of farmers and women to earn a living. A lifelong believer in the transformative power of education for both individuals and societies, as well as “convergences,” or shared interests between people in both Arab world and the broader global community, Hariri’s generosity through his foundation also helped to educate over 34,000 Lebanese students, many of them at the best universities in Lebanon, the United States, England, France, and Canada, so that they might help rebuild their country.
Yet the pride of his reconstruction work, to which he contributed personal funds, was the rebuilding and revitalization of downtown Beirut, which was badly damaged by warring militias during the country’s civil war. Hariri’s efforts restored the city center into a meeting place for all Lebanese, regardless of sect, to enjoy Beirut’s vibrance and tolerance. For his efforts, he received the United Nations Special Award for Reconstruction in 2004.
Hariri was appointed Prime Minister for the first time in 1992, serving until 1998. He was elected for a second term in 2000, and served until his resignation in October 2004, over opposition to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad’s attempts to force the illegal amendment of the Lebanese constitution. Following his resignation, Hariri continued his tireless work to strengthen Lebanon’s sovereignty, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1559, to which his efforts were instrumental.
On February 14, 2005, Hariri, along with 21 others, was tragically killed in a suicide bomb attack in Beirut at age 60. Popular outrage at his killing led to Lebanon’s Cedar Revolution, a peaceful uprising that resulted in the end of Syria’s military occupation of Lebanon. Although the judicial process remains ongoing, Hezbollah and the Assad government have both been implicated in the assassination, and the UN Special Tribunal for Lebanon continues to work to ensure that those responsible face justice.
Through its work, the Rafik Hariri Center strives to honor its namesake’s commitment to problem-solving, responsive governance, and optimism in the capabilities and potential of the people of the Middle East.