[Asharq Al-Awsat] What does the fact that the international tribunal will begin work in March mean to you?
[Al-Hariri] We have heard a lot about the tribunal and we have received many threats. Several deputies, ministers, journalists, civilians, and military personnel have been martyred. They all fell for the sake of the tribunal and in order to plant the seeds of doubt and terror in the hearts of the Lebanese. Despite that, the tribunal was established and God willing, justice will triumph. The start of the work of the tribunal is a great accomplishment in itself. For us, it means that the sacrifices that the Lebanese people have made since the criminal assassination of martyred Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and his companions were not made in vain. It means that the tidings of the truth that we raised as our motto as soon as the crime was committed have begun to loom in the horizon. Everyone knows that over the years, Lebanon had been a state whose security had been violated and the blood of whose leaders had been desecrated. It is now high time to confront and put an end to this violation and desecration. That is why we are wagering on the international tribunal. We look forward to this tribunal to be serious and to act within the framework of the justice for which we all aspire in order to expose and prosecute the culprits. For us, the issue of the tribunal is not a case of personal or family revenge. It is an issue connected to the protection of Lebanon and of the concept of justice.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The tribunal has become a reality. But is there no concern for a deal that might protect the real killer from punishment?
[Al-Hariri] We have been hearing this for four years. We have been hearing about deals, compromises, and so on. But the tribunal has become a fact now despite all the propaganda and the empty slogans. The tribunal was established because we have deep faith in God and because we are confident of our cause. Our people are sincere and honest. The tribunal has become a fact and all the attempts to contain it and abort it have failed. As for deals and so on, it is wishful thinking propagated by certain political and media circles that are wagering on tying the fate of the tribunal to political changes. We are confident that this wagering will not succeed. Those responsible for the crimes will one day find themselves standing before the tribunal no matter how long it takes. Justice will come; nothing is more powerful than justice.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are you prepared to make certain sacrifices that might protect the killer from punishment in return for “cooperation” in the Lebanese file?
[Al-Hariri] The prosecution of the killer is now in the hands of the international tribunal. The issue is no longer tied to making or not making sacrifices in the wake of the huge sacrifices that the Lebanese people made and paid the price high from the blood of its leaders and intellectuals over the past four years. The issue is now beyond making sacrifices here and there, particularly after the long and complicated strides taken in the investigation of the terrorist crimes that targeted Lebanon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There is domestic talk that the 14 March Forces intend to exploit the tribunal in the upcoming elections.
[Al-Hariri] The truth and fact is that Rafik al-Hariri was martyred and his companions and our companions were martyred. This is a fact. It is shameful and regrettable for such things to be said. We are loyal to or martyrs and we grow with them after they offered their lives for the sake of the homeland. We do not exploit the martyrs; they are the ones that are exploiting the martyrs. They are trying to change the course of justice and to obstruct it. We are confident that the people will vote in these elections with awareness. I ask them for one thing only: I ask them to vote for Lebanon.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do these elections mean?
[Al-Hariri] They mean that Lebanon is standing before a crossroads. That is why we say they are fateful elections that will determine our destiny. The 8 March team has the right to have its political program and it is our right in 14 March to have our project that consists of reconstruction, economic growth, freedom, sovereignty, and the fight against corruption. They should not outbid us in talking about corruption because their only project is corruption. The team of 8 March represents corruption par excellence. Our electoral battle is for Arabism, independence, reconstruction, and economic development. Not many know the meaning of these words. Praise be to God, we gained our independence with the blood of the martyrs that fell in assassinations and bombings, the martyrs of July 2006 war, and the martyrs of the Israeli aggressions in the past few years and in all the wars. This is what we should protect and safeguard.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What does the phrase “fateful elections” mean? What will change?
[Al-Hariri] A victory by 14 March will mean that the Lebanese people continue to cling to the march of sovereignty, independence, democratic system, and co-existence. It means that the Lebanese people give precedence to the option of the Lebanese state over the options of dependence on regimes in the region. It means the rejection of interference in Lebanon’s internal affairs. Losing would mean the exact opposite. The Lebanese have to choose which Lebanon they want. If the 14 March Forces lose, everything will change. The country will move in a different direction and towards a different project. We keep hearing about a “mashru mumana’ah” [a plan for resistance] and so on. However, they do not have an economic plan. So how will they manage the country? I do not know. In return, they get mad when we receive aid for the army. Now they will launch a new campaign after the army received aid from the United Arab Emirates.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] A debate is going on about the military establishment, including recent remarks by Deputy Walid Junblatt who withdrew his representative in the committee drafting a defense strategy. What is your position?
[Al-Hariri] Walid Bey is a political leader and has questions. It is his right to receive answers to his questions.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Answers from whom?
[Al-Hariri] From those in charge of this file. Clear answers are needed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Some are saying that no one will score a sweeping victory in the upcoming elections.
[Al-Hariri] Who says so?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Many people are saying so, including Chamber of Deputies Speaker Nabih Birri. Are we going to have an experiment similar to what we have now of “co-existence” in the governance?
[Al-Hariri] No one can predict the outcome but one can wish, like those in 8 March that say such things. At any rate, if 8 March wins, it will be impossible for me to participate in a future government. I will not join if they win; let them rule. As for me, I will not consecrate the obstructive one-third.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] And what if the opposite takes place and 14 March wins?
[Al-Hariri] There is a new equation in the country. There is 14 March as well as independents that believe in us and that we believe in them. A new political equation is crystallizing. Let us wait and see; there is no need to speculate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Are they independents or “centrists”?
[Al-Hariri] Call them what you wish. What concern us are their policies and their political and economic programs. What concerns me is to know what the future of Lebanon will be. What concerns me is to know Lebanon’s economic future and its living conditions in the wake of the global economic crisis that they do not talk about as if it did not take place.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does President Suleiman need a bloc to rule?
[Al-Hariri] This question should be addressed to President Suleiman personally. As far as I know, the president of the republic has repeatedly proclaimed that he is not involved in what is being proposed in this regard. There are those that use the centrist bloc as an excuse to attack the president of the republic. Every now and then, they aim arrows at the president in order to target the presidency and to weaken its influence on the current political realities. They want to confound the issue of the establishment of the state and they want to keep Lebanon the hostage of external regional plans.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you feel that as far as 8 March is concerned the political angle comes before everything else?
[Al-Hariri] Let them feed the people the political “sandwich”. But the people also need to make a living. It is our duty to ensure new job opportunities for them. What is happening now, for instance, is that Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has a number of laws related to the conference of Paris-3 and the economic reforms but he cannot refer to the parliament.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is Speaker Birri refusing to accept them?
[Al-Hariri] This is a problem that we should resolve.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does this include the international tribunal?
[Al-Hariri] The international tribunal has become a fact; the rest of the laws are in the interest of reform. We hope to find the suitable way to enact these laws; the debate on them is continuing.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Does he refuse to accept them because he feels that they were issued by an illegitimate government?
[Al-Hariri] We have overcome this issue; the elections were held in Al-Mitn and Speaker Birri recognized the results. I am determined to go beyond this issue in cooperation with Speaker Birri.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How?
[Al-Hariri] We have to find a way. We have overcome many issues, such as the method of electing the president of the republic (without amending the constitution) and the issue of elections in the Beirut second district.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the status of the unified list of the 14 March Forces?
[Al-Hariri] It is hard to put together the unified list but this does not mean that there are differences within 14 March. There are independents and we have to find a way how to deal with them and form an alliance with them on the basis of their political program. The 14 March Forces will have complete and closed lists in the Beirut third district, Akkar, al-Dinyah, Bshirri, Zgharta, Al-Shuf, Alay, and Sidon. We will also support some independents in the south and in Ba’labakk-al-Hirmil.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Will the lists be announced soon?
[Al-Hariri] They will be announced on 14 March.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] There are no more differences?
[Al-Hariri] There are very few differences and they can be handled. At any rate, I urge 8 March not to wager on any internal differences.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the issue of the Beirut second district? Is there an agreement on this district with 8 March?
[Al-Hariri] Yes, there is an agreement to divide the seats of this district between us at the ratio of two seats for each. This was the result of the agreement in Doha on the Beirut electoral districts.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] It seems you have a new ally in Patriarch Sufayr, as Deputy Michel Awn described him recently.
[Al-Hariri] The patriarch is Lebanon’s conscience. When some of them fled he remained steadfast. I am very shocked at the way the religious leaders are being targeted in such a manner. This is a big mistake. His Beatitude the Patriarch is foremost among those that stood fast and resisted for the sake of Lebanon. They were not upset when the opinion of His Beatitude the Patriarch was suitable to them in 2005 and we did not object.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How is the relationship with Hezbollah?
[Al-Hariri] It is an ordinary relationship. A calm dialogue is going on and contacts are being held for the sake of the country. We differ in politics and we censure one another (laughing) in certain matters.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is there a chance for a meeting in the near future with Hezbollah Secretary General Al-Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah?
[Al-Hariri] There is always the chance for a meeting in the interest of the country.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your position on the debate regarding the ongoing wiretapping?
[Al-Hariri] We have a communications minister that works alone. He has refrained from giving information to the security organs despite warrants from the court of appeals public prosecutor in the interest of the investigation of major crimes that have been committed. These are not for wiretapping. They are to intercept the telephone calls in order to determine the path of some communications. There is a lot of ambiguity in this regard and the minister is resorting to bullying tactics. We now understand why they insisted on the Communications Ministry portfolio. Instead of strengthening the communications sector, the minister is obstructing the security organs under the pretext of implementing the law. What do we tell the families of the martyrs when the minister refuses to implement the law and then the criminal bombing in Al-Buhsas (Tripoli) takes place?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] The minister is now worried about his personal safety because of this file.
[Al-Hariri] It would be better for Minister Basil to carry out his duties as minister of communications instead of making such claims. At any rate, I am certain that Minister Basil is very reassured about his personal safety because he knows that those who are carrying out acts of assassination are his allies in the Syrian regime.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the secret behind the attacks on Egypt and Saudi Arabia?
[Al-Hariri] When the custodian of the two holy shrines put forward the initiative of the brave at the Kuwait summit, he was rescuing the Arab situation from those that are seeking to divide the Arabs. When he launched his initiative, his intention was to bring the Arabs together and to open a new page. This shows that the kingdom is always above such petty matters for the sake of the supreme Arab interests. The onslaught that took place during the aggression on Gaza targeted the kingdom and Egypt that have offered the most for the sake of the Palestinian issue and that have struggled the most for this issue in history. The attacks were made under extremely silly pretexts. What is the situation now? The Palestinian division is regrettable and humanitarian conditions in Gaza are regrettable while Israel continues to reject the establishment of a Palestinian state. All this is not fought against with slogans but with wisdom.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the motive behind this onslaught?
[Al-Hariri] The motive is a clear regional dispute. As for the Arab interior, there is an initiative today on the table to unite the Arabs. It is obvious that those that do not agree with this initiative are marching along a strategic decision somewhere else and with external sides.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What are these external sides?
[Al-Hariri] Let us call them regional sides. What we care about is the success of the initiative even if this is very difficult for us in view of our position on the Syrian regime. But what concerns us is the supreme Arab interest, especially pertaining to the issue of Palestine where Arab division is impermissible. Is it not shameful to have division among the Palestinians? Is it not shameful to abort the Mecca agreement?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is the alternative to the Arab peace initiative?
[Al-Hariri] His Majesty the king said that it is not a long list. The initiative says that Israel should know that it should pay the price for peace and this price is land and the right of return. The Israeli reply then came in the form of besieging President Yasser Arafat in his headquarters during the convocation of the summit.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you not believe that the Arab world is the victim of two extremes, an Israeli extreme and an Arab extreme?
[Al-Hariri] No doubt, the bad deeds by Israel strengthen some quarters that have nothing but slogans. The Palestinian issue is more than 60 years old. It is a struggle that should not stop and that should not lead to our division. There are different ways to struggle. Some struggle inside Palestine and others struggle in the international forums in defense of this issue.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Saturday [14 February] marks the fourth anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Al-Hariri. How are you preparing to commemorate it?
[Al-Hariri] The observance of the anniversary is hard. I remember everything that happened on that day and how it happened. I remember the magnitude of the crime. It is a day full of painful emotions. However, each time I see the people flocking to commemorate this anniversary, each time I recall the hopes that they had pinned on the martyred prime minister, and each time I see the people advancing on the path of sovereignty, independence, Arabism, and justice, I feel some satisfaction inside me because I see how much they believe in the justice of the issue for which we are struggling.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Where were you when the assassination took place? How did you receive the news?
[Al-Hariri] I was in the plane on a trip from Riyadh to Abu-Dhabi. I received the news by telephone. At first, we were told that Abu-Tariq al-Arab (Prime Minister Al-Hariri’s personal bodyguard) was martyred in an assassination attempt against my father. They were very difficult moments. I did not believe what was happening around me. I recall that the first telephone call I received was from the custodian of the two holy shrines who was trying to find out what had happened. When I confirmed the news, I returned his call and he asked us to be patient and to stand fast. After that I left Abu-Dhabi for Beirut and it was the longest trip in my life. I wanted to arrive and not to arrive. I went to the hospital and paid my respects to the martyr and then returned home. The situation was extremely difficult for all of us. Walid Bey (Junblatt) was there. He stood by us and this is something I will not forget as long as I live. He was our support, our friend, and our father’s brother and our brother.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How did you feel?
[Al-Hariri] I was a man losing his father, his hopes, and his protector. The country lost a statesman and a patriot that worked for Lebanon. I had to be strong for the sake of my family, my relatives, and the people. I had to hide the tears and stand by the people to support them and support my family. Praise to be God, at certain specific moments a man can stand and do things that he never imagined he could do or tolerate.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Is the pain still the same after four years?
[Al-Hariri] It is still the same; it has not changed.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What do you tell your children about him and about Lebanon?
[Al-Hariri] They know him and remember him all the time. They miss him. Husam remembers him all the time; he sees him in his dreams and cries. Lulu remembers him as well. My nephews also remember him and miss him. The children are always talking about him among themselves as they compete with one another in narrating how he spent his time with them. Abdulaziz was born after he was martyred and we always talk to him about our father. Praise be to God, one always remembers the beautiful things, how he loved us, and always wanted us to meet as a family. He made each one of us feel that he was his favorite. Although they are still young, my children are growing up while remembering their grandfather and knowing that he was a great man and that they will read about him in the history books. Despite his busy schedule, he devoted a lot of time for his grandchildren. Some of them have memories about him that they continue to narrate. As for Lebanon, they are aware that Lebanon is their homeland and that they are away from Lebanon involuntarily and due to the security situation. I always tell them what my martyred father used to say and believe in. He used to say that Lebanon is our homeland and that no matter how far we may be from it, we will return to it and contribute to building its future. Lebanon lives in us and in our fathers and grandfathers.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What is your response to the rumors that have circulated about the cohesion of the family after his departure?
[Al-Hariri] I have said it before and I say it again: Let them think of something else to say.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What has changed in you as a person and as a politician after you became involved in political action under difficult circumstances like the ones that Lebanon has experienced?
[Al-Hariri] I became involved in political action without planning for it. I suddenly found myself responsible for completing the march taken by martyred Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri. It is a long and hard march but it is a trust that I will never relinquish despite all the challenges that we have faced. I feel that somewhere he is satisfied with what I am doing and I hope that I am up to the magnitude of the trust. A person’s style of action may change but the basis is my upbringing. I was taught to always stand alongside the people and to sympathize with them. I do not place a barrier between me and their aspirations, particularly the aspirations of the youths. I now feel I have a bigger responsibility towards the people and towards the political line of defending the freedom of Lebanon and its independent decision. This responsibility has imposed on me an almost basic change in my way of life. Commitment to the issues of the people and of the homeland is a gift and blessing from God Almighty.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You chose the harder path after the departure of your father and the symbol. You engaged in political action despite the challenges and the great dangers that surrounded you. Would you take the same decision if the days take you back to those painful moments of 2005?
[Al-Hariri] It was not I that took the decision then but the Lebanese masses that took to the streets on 14 February and 14 March. It was the Lebanese masses that urged the leaders of the Al-Arz [The Cedars] Revolt to continue the march of regaining freedom, sovereignty, and independence. We know that these Lebanese are pinning their hopes on us. Had it not been for their support, we would not have been able to accomplish what we did: We evicted the Syrian army from Lebanon and held parliamentary elections in 2005 that they tried their best to foil and abort their results. We also convened the Paris-3 conference, elected General Michel Suleiman as president of the republic, and other accomplishments.