Guilain Denoeux's and Robert Springborg's article "Hariri's Lebanon: Singapore of the Middle East or Sanaa of the Levant?" (Middle East Policy, October 1998) presents a scathing attack on former Prime Minister Hariri's economic model in Lebanon. It is not only biased and poorly documented, but it also fails to appreciate the challenges that Prime Minister Hariri faced when he came to power in 1992.
The article is full of personal accusations against the prime minister, and includes rumors cited as facts while ignoring the real situation in the country when Mr. Hariri assumed power and during his administration. Their information about what they refer to as the Hariri model is erroneous, especially when they claim that the Hariri reconstruction program emphasized the "development of Beirut rather than of the country as a whole," or that it stressed "the physical infrastructure as opposed to human capital," or that it devoted more resources to the "construction of ultramodern, high-rise commercial and residential buildings than to the rehabilitation of existing structures." Had the authors bothered to talk to anyone who was involved in the Hariri model, rather than talking only to the opposition in order to attain a more balanced perspective, they would have found that in six years, Hariri transformed Lebanon from a country with a shattered economy and a devastated infrastructure, shunned in the international arena, to a country with working institutions and a stable economy, a respected player within the world community.
When Prime Minister Hariri came to power in 1992, Lebanon was "no Switzerland" as the former prime minister said in a recent interview. Lebanon was emerging from 17 years of civil war and had to contend with the all the devastations of a war-torn country: no infrastructure, no water or electricity or telephone service, political institutions divided by sectarian and political strife, and a fragmented social fabric with hundreds of thousands of displaced people with no hope of going back to their homes.
The country had a huge debt problem and no balanced budget. The authors speak about what they refer to as the "mushrooming of the public debt" under the Hariri governments, but they fail to mention that his administration inherited 43 percent of the current debt from previous governments. Denoeux and Springborg also ignore the fact that Lebanon is a post-war economy and that in such economies deficits and debt buildup are the rule and not the exception. There was no Marshal Plan for Lebanon after it emerged from its devastating war, and despite the strong efforts of successive Lebanese governments to attract foreign aid, only a small percentage of promised monies found their way to the country.
Lebanon had a choice to borrow and rebuild or to continue the misery.
Yet, despite all these odds, in less than six years the Hariri governments succeeded in transforming Lebanon into a country with viable political, economic and social structures:
- The exchange rate of the Lebanese pound to the dollar in 1992 was 2800 pounds, in 1998 it was 1500. The inflation rate was 120 percent in 1992; by 1998 it was down to a mere 4 percent. The GDP tripled within 6 years, jumping from $5.5 billion to $16.6 billion. Treasury revenues increased tenfold during the same period from $320 million to $3.2 billion. However, the most important achievement of the Hariri governments, contrary to the authors' claim, was the rebuilding of the country's infrastructure. Highways, roads, bridges, schools, universities and hospitals were either built or repaired. Beirut's business district, the "jewel" of the reconstruction project, was reconstructed as part of Mr. Hariri's vision of transforming the city once again into the financial and cultural center of the Middle East. Even though the project is ongoing, it has already become a hub for all Lebanese for the first time since the outbreak of the civil war. In addition, other massive reconstruction projects were launched throughout the country contrary to what the authors claim.
- The authors also claim that Mr. Hariri "never showed any real interest in modernizing the Lebanese state." Nothing could be farther from the truth. As a matter of fact, the whole rationale behind Mr. Hariri's "model" was to launch the building of a modem Lebanese state, to strengthen the political institutions and to prepare the country for the 21st century. Prime Minister Hariri's governments took many steps to achieve these goals, foremost of which was holding parliamentary elections in 1996 and municipal elections in 1998. Significant progress was achieved in governmental ministries by modernizing, automating and simplifying their operations and procedures. The Lebanese army was rebuilt and strengthened. The prime minister tried to implement administrative reforms but his efforts were met with opposition from the traditional political establishment. Although the authors allude to these obstacles when they correctly state that "public offices and funds are used to promote the objectives of sectarian institutions and leaders," they nevertheless fail to appreciate the political and institutional constraints under which the prime minister had to work.
- There is a new government in Lebanon after prime minister Hariri declined to form a government as a result of a constitutional dispute with the new president, General Emile Lahoud. The new government of prime minister Salim El-Hoss announced that it will not change the economic policies of the Hariri governments. This is a vindication for Prime Minister Hariri , his policies, and of all those who worked hard with him over the last 6 years to usher Lebanon into a new era. The mere peaceful and orderly transfer of power after Mr. Hariri left office, and the financial stability in the country despite the political change, is a great testimony to Mr. Hariri and his vision for Lebanon.
Finally, and on a personal note I am outraged by the personal accusations hurled by the authors at Prime Minister Hariri. He is a great philanthropist, who educated 33,000 Lebanese students, gave large portions of his money to help the needy, built hospitals, schools and colleges, and used his wealth to fund projects in Lebanon. I am very saddened that Middle East Policy publishes such articles without bothering to check the facts in order to ensure objectivity.