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Bahaa Hariri, the billionaire son of one former Lebanese prime minister and brother of another, tells Axios his younger brother Saad Hariri must not cut any political deals with Hezbollah in order to form a new government.

Why it matters: Lebanon is in a deep political, social and economic crisis amid the COVID-19 pandemic and after the catastrophic Beirut port explosion. Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last year after mass protests, was tasked again two weeks ago with forming a new government in which Hezbollah is expected to play a role.

Flashback: Bahaa and Saad's father, Rafik Hariri, was one of Lebanon’s most prominent politicians and business tycoons. He was assassinated in 2005 several months after resigning as prime minister.

  • An international tribunal ruled last August that members of Hezbollah were behind his murder.
  • After the assassination, Saad became Rafik's political heir while Bahaa, the elder brother, focused on the business world.

Bahaa has avoided politics and lived outside of Lebanon for the last several years, managing his investment firm. His wealth is estimated at around $2 billion.

  • In the last several months, though, Bahaa has begun raising his public profile in part by publicly backing the civil society groups that are demanding reforms to Lebanon's political system.

What he's saying: “The situation now has become so critical for the country and the people of Lebanon, and for Rafik Hariri’s legacy," he told me in an exclusive interview. "At my age I can’t just sit and do nothing about it."

  • "It has reached a point where we are in the abyss and what happened in Beirut just compelled me more to do everything I can to help."
  • Hariri said he wants to play an active role in the public life in Lebanon, but stressed he is not planning to run for political office. “I don’t want to be a prime minister, or a member of parliament or a minister. But I intend to serve my country," he said.

The state of play: Hariri is very concerned that in the coming weeks his brother will form a government that will be "controlled by Hezbollah," which he said should be declared a "terrorist organization."

  • “At the time of Rafik Hariri, Hezbollah was not in the government. Until his death there was no Hezbollah in any government with Rafik Hariri — so I think forming a government with Hezbollah is... a big mistake," he told me.
  • "Hezbollah have caused a lot of damage to Lebanon internally and externally. They managed in 15 years to break Lebanon. Hezbollah and their cronies manage to bring down an empire," he said, meaning Lebanon. "Their failure is huge.”

Hariri said a government that included members of Hezbollah would not get the support of the Gulf states or the broader international community, and therefore wouldn't be able to bring Lebanon out of its economic and political crisis. 

  • “Hezbollah and the warlords and all those who support them reached a point of failure that is of no return and they have to step aside and let people who have clean history" take over, Hariri told me.
  • "We have a lot of those, also in the Lebanese diaspora... that can save the nation," he added.

Asked if he was disappointed with his brother, he said:

  • “I love my brother and I care about him, but the political differences between us are stark and very big. To me it is clear that anyone who forms a government which is under the control of Hezbollah is not doing the right thing."

What's next: Hariri said the incoming Biden administration should push for the full implementation of the 1989 Taif agreement, which ended the Lebanese civil war.

  • It called for the formation of a non-sectarian government and for the disbanding and disarming all armed militias, including Hezbollah.

Go deeper

Nov 10, 2020 - World

Exclusive: Bahaa Hariri says Lebanon and Israel should resolve disputes, move toward peace

Bahaa Hariri, the billionaire son of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, told Axios he thinks Lebanon and Israel should resolve their border disputes and move toward a peace deal.

Why it matters: Israel is an enemy country under Lebanese law, making this a very unusual statement from a member of one of Lebanon’s most prominent political dynasties. Bahaa’s brother Saad is currently trying to form a new government in Lebanon and is known for holding hardline positions on Israel.

Updated 7 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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Acting Capitol Police chief: Phone logs show Jan. 6 National Guard approval was delayed

Pittman at a congressional tribute for fallen officer Brian Sicknick. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Acting U.S. Capitol Police chief Yogananda Pittman testified on Thursday that cellphone records show former USCP chief Steven Sund requested National Guard support from the House sergeant-at-arms as early as 12:58pm on Jan. 6, but he did not receive approval until over an hour later.

Why it matters: Sund and former House sergeant-at-arms Paul Irving clashed at a Senate hearing on Tuesday over a dispute in the timeline for when Capitol Police requested the National Guard during the Capitol insurrection.