It’s been a rough ride for young Saad Hariri these past few years.
After his billionaire father, Rafik ‘Mr Lebanon’ Hariri was assassinated by a massive bomb in Beirut in 2005, Saad ascended to the leadership of Hariri’s Future party, spearheading the March 14 coalition which swept into power on a wave of revulsion against Syrian security in Lebanon, which many Lebanese and international leaders blamed for Rafik’s murder.
Since then the March 14 coalition has suffered a string of further assassinations of its key leaders and seen its two democratically elected governments brought down by Hezbollah and allies using a combination of political and military force.
When the international inquiry into Rafik Hariri’s murder looked like it was easing its initial blame of Damascus, Saad was forced into a teeth grindingly awkward trip to ‘make nice’ with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who he had long accused of murdering his father.
And to make matters worse, the hugely wealthy Hariri appears to be encountering some financial difficulties. Workers at his Future News company complain of getting paid months late while society types in cafes across Beirut speculate that Saad has frittered his father’s hard earned cash in a series of poor investments.
Hariri has reportedly been outside Lebanon since April, spending most of his time in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where his father made his fortune working mega construction projects for the royal family.
Saad’s absence left many supporters bewildered and commentators questioning his political future.
Writing for Now Lebanon, the always sharp tongued Michael Young said: “Hariri has been abroad for months, an affront to those who elected him. His money problems are genuine and have not yet been resolved, taking a toll on his patronage network and political authority.”
Elias Muhanna, the brains behind Qifa Nabki, one of the best English-language blogs on Lebanese politics, compared Hariri’s disappearing act to that of Imam Mousa Sadr, whose disappearance in Libya became a source of grievance for Lebanon Shiites (Saad is Sunni).
“It is … a policy of “offshore balancing,” suggests Muhanna, “whereby a once-dominant power sits back and lets its enemies destroy each other before swooping in to tilt the balance in its own favor. (In this case, Hariri is the one who is perpetually offshore, trying to manage the affairs back home…) My sense is that this gambit will fail.”
But if Saad's physical absence from the Lebanese political scene might not be giving his traditional supporters much succor, it’s certainly given him plenty of time to engage in some more modern day politicking.
Since the Muslim holiday of Eid began last Friday, Saad has been fielding questions from the public on his Twitter account, tackling everything from what he called the “massacres” perpetrated by Assad’s troops to his favorite actors – “robert di nero, alpacino and many others” and the fate of a small airport in north Lebanon.
The account has been a buzz of activity over the holiday weekend, continuing well into the week. In the time it has taken to write and post this blog, @HaririSaad has Tweeted well over 30 times; perhaps giving a new truth to the age old adage: ‘Out of sight, out of mind?’