BEIRUT, Lebanon — Saad Hariri, who resigned from Lebanon’s premiership Saturday, is a son of assassinated billionaire Rafik Hariri who never achieved his father’s aura but fears he could suffer the same fate.
He is a vociferous critic of Iran, the powerful Lebanese Shiite terrorist movement Hezbollah and the regime in neighboring Syria, which he blames for his father’s killing.
The 47-year-old’s political career, which has included two stints as prime minister, has been marked by his opposition to Syrian influence in Lebanon.
Hezbollah, which is also part of Lebanon’s government, is a key backer of the Assad regime.
Born in Saudi Arabia, Hariri was running the family’s vast Oger construction firm in the kingdom when his father was assassinated in February 2005.
At his family’s urging, he returned to Lebanon to enter politics, playing a key role in mass demonstrations that ended with the departure of Syrian forces from Lebanon after a 30-year presence.
Hariri then headed an anti-Syrian bloc to victory in 2005 legislative elections.
Confrontations with Hezbollah
In August 2007, he formed the Future Movement, a Sunni-majority bloc, which won 2009 legislative elections with just over a quarter of the parliament’s 128 seats.
In November that year, he became prime minister, forming a unity government with Hezbollah and its allies after marathon negotiations.
But tensions nearly boiled over in May 2008, when Hezbollah fighters seized parts of Beirut following pitched battles with Future Movement supporters.
That raised fears of a new conflict in the country, still scarred by its 1975-1990 civil war.
Hariri’s first government finally collapsed in January 2011, when Hezbollah and its allies pulled their ministers from the cabinet.
Hariri was also locked in a standoff with Hezbollah over funding for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, which is prosecuting his father’s murder and had implicated Hezbollah members.
Hezbollah dismisses the body as a US-Israeli conspiracy.
Differences between the two sides deepened as an anti-government uprising in Syria deteriorated into civil war.
Hezbollah, backed by Iran, has sent fighters, advisors and weaponry to bolster President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
Hariri meanwhile backs opposition to Assad and enjoys the support of Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia.
Dwindling fortune, influence?
Hariri, a business graduate from Georgetown University in Washington DC, was a virtual political unknown before his father’s death.
Despite speaking several languages, he was mocked for his poor public speaking skills and derided as a political novice.
But his decision in 2016 to back a presidential bid by his rival, Hezbollah ally Michel Aoun, showed his comfort with Lebanon’s treacherous political landscape.
After ending more than two years of political stalemate by backing Aoun last year, Hariri returned to the prime minister’s office in a bid to restore the standing of Lebanon’s Sunni community and counterbalance Hezbollah’s influence.
Sporting a beard and trademark slicked-back locks, in July Hariri visited the White House and met US President Donald Trump.
In a joint news conference, Trump labelled Hezbollah a threat to the entire Middle East, accusing it and Iran of fuelling a humanitarian disaster in Syria.
On Saturday, after just over a year in office, Hariri quit, citing Iran’s “grip” on the country and his fears for his life.
Hariri has Saudi citizenship and has tirelessly praised the kingdom, from which he announced his resignation.
His wife Lama Bashir-Azm, who is of Syrian origin, and their three children have stayed in Saudi Arabia during his time in Lebanon.
But despite talks in March with Saudi Arabia’s powerful Mohammed bin Salman, who was later named crown prince, Hariri’s influence in Riyadh appears to have dwindled since the death of King Abdullah.
Meanwhile, the Saudi-based Hariri business empire has struggled.
His father’s once-mighty Saudi Oger construction firm has drawn close to collapse after years of financial strife, with workers going unpaid.
In Lebanon, Hariri has faced criticism within his Sunni constituency for his lengthy absence and failure to bolster the community.
Former justice minister Ashraf Rifi openly challenged his position in June 2016, running a rival list in municipal elections in the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli.