BEIRUT: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri blasted Hezbollah Thursday, saying its arsenal was at the root of Lebanon’s problems, while vowing that his Future Movement, known for its political moderation, would not be dragged into sectarian, violent or extremist positions.
In a televised speech from his Saudi residence in Riyadh to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the assassination of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, he said the upcoming parliamentary elections should be an occasion to restore stability and improve the deteriorating political and economic conditions in Lebanon.
Addressing a rally organized by the March 14 parties for the occasion at the BIEL complex in Beirut, Hariri said he would return to Beirut to lead the election campaign regardless of which electoral law was chosen to govern the June polls.
Hariri, who currently lives in Saudi Arabia, has been living abroad for nearly two years for security reasons.
In the face of the rise of extremist Muslim movements in the region as a result of the Arab Spring uprisings, Hariri sought to reassure the Lebanese that the Future Movement would uphold its moderate approach.
“We have a road map for this state. And we know what a civil state means. We are a civil political movement, moderate and democratic, and no one and nothing can drag us into sectarian, violent or extremist positions,” he said.
“Our project is to renew hope among all the Lebanese, and once again improve the socio-economic and developmental situation and stop the dreadful conditions that all Lebanese from all religions are suffering from, in all regions,” Hariri added.
Escalating his rhetoric against Hezbollah, Hariri devoted more than half of his speech to warning of the consequences if the party retained its weapons at the expense of state authority and the country’s stability. The biggest danger to the Lebanese, he said, was from Hezbollah’s arsenal.
“The problem of weapons in Lebanon, the illegal weapons in all their regional, internal, sectarian, familial, jihadi and expiatory functions is the mother of all problems in Lebanon,” Hariri said, appearing on a huge screen via a video link.
“All Lebanese know that illegal weapons are manufactured daily to produce civil conflict and strife between the sects, security islets, organized and unorganized crime, terrorism, neighborhood ‘shabbiha,’ law violations, kidnapping, corruption, banditry, smuggling and bullying of the state.” “All Lebanese know that Hezbollah possesses an arsenal of heavy weapons, missiles and light weapons said to outweigh the importance of the Lebanese state arsenal,” added the head of the Future Movement.
Hariri stressed that “the state is the only solution, and the Lebanese Army is the only guardian of national security.”
Since his national unity Cabinet was toppled by the Hezbollah-led March 8 alliance in January 2011, Hariri and his March 14 allies have called on Hezbollah to surrender its weapons to the Lebanese authorities. They have also accused the party of using its arms to influence political life in the country.
Hariri blamed Hezbollah for arming and funding groups through so-called “Resistance Brigades” that operate throughout the country.
Referring to other armed Lebanese and Palestinian groups, Hariri said: “In contrast, there are small amounts of weapons in the hands of groups, citizens, organizations and outlawed Lebanese and Palestinian factions, in towns and neighborhoods, that practically resorted to this choice under the pretext of self-defense, in the shadow of the major arms incubator of Hezbollah and Hezbollah brigade.”
“This is the greatest danger that threatens common life among the Lebanese,” Hariri said. “ Hezbollah totally refuses to admit this fact, and clings to the following formula: all policies in the service of weapons.”
The former premier accused Hezbollah of being ready to offer “a ministerial bribe” to Mikati at the expense of its share in the Cabinet, in exchange for forming a government that does not broach the subject of its weapons.
“The biggest predicament is that Hezbollah cannot see Lebanon without the military and security structure built by Iran over the last 30 years,” Hariri said, “the predicament of the state that coexists with a military mini-state over a jungle of illegal weapons, the weapons of all groups and parties of all sects, from Hezbollah’s weapons to Fatah al-Islam’s weapons and the weapons of their likes.”
Hariri accused Hezbollah of monopolizing and exploiting the Shiite sect to further Iran’s interests.
“The existence of the Shiites in Lebanon goes back to more than 1,000 years, while Hezbollah is a phenomenon that appeared with Iran, 30 years ago. However, no one can deny the fact that Hezbollah is using a large part of the Shiite sect as a base for its internal and regional project,” he said.
In his speech, repeatedly drawing cheers from hundreds of supporters, including Future and March 14 lawmakers, Hariri renewed his commitment to the March 14 principles.
He vowed to achieve the goals of the protests that were triggered by the assassination of his father, who was killed along with 22 others in a massive suicide bombing in Beirut on Feb. 14, 2005.
“On the eighth commemoration of this martyrdom, I renew the vow before you, to fulfill the principles of the independence uprising, adhere to the path of national moderation, and do everything to protect the unity of Lebanon, and the safety of coexistence between all its sons,” Hariri said.
Key March 14 leaders, like Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and Kataeb Party leader ex-President Amin Gemayel, did not attend the rally, reportedly for security reasons.
Hariri promised his supporters that despite security risks, he would return to Lebanon for the elections, currently scheduled for June 9.
“I assure you today that I’ll be by your side in the next electoral battle, whatever the law, the challenges and the risks, on the basis of a national political project.”
Hariri decried the lack of necessary public services, such as electricity and medicine, blaming what he called Hezbollah’s “mini-state.”
“Today, every Lebanese is able to see that the problem lies in the fact that a mini-state is devouring the state, devouring its institutions and systems, devouring the harbor, the airport, medicine, food, diesel, university, electricity and communications,” he said.
He went on to recall that his father’s desire had been that essential public services, including schools, medical care, roads, security and justice, would no longer be a dream: “Today, on the eighth commemoration of the assassination of Rafik Hariri ... I, Saad Rafik Hariri, tell every Lebanese: This dream will stop being ... a dream. We, with all the Lebanese, will turn this dream into reality.”
“The first step is the parliamentary elections, which we will run together, all together, with our allies in March 14, with the Lebanese who believe in the civil state, from all religions and sects, who believe in a sovereign, free, independent, unified, democratic and successful Lebanon.”
“We will run them together, to change the current situation, Lebanon will win, and all Lebanese will win.”
Hariri criticized Hezbollah for refusing to hand over four party members indicted by the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon over the assassination of his father. He said the STL was progressing and the criminals would be punished “sooner or later.”
Hariri was confident that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad would collapse, adding that the positive repercussions of Assad’s fall would be felt throughout the region: “Bashar Assad’s regime will inevitably fall, and its fall will resonate in Syria, the Arab world and the world.”
Fares Soueid, coordinator of the March 14 Secretariat-General, delivered the coalition’s speech. “ Lebanon is in danger due to the accelerating breakdown of its state and its inability to apply the law and provide security to the citizens, thus turning Lebanon into a failed state,” he told the rally.