Rafiq Hariri was twice Lebanon’s prime minister, first from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 to 2004. Hariri, a Sunni Lebanese billionaire who made his fortune in the construction business in Saudi Arabia, was the primary force behind Beirut’s reconstruction after the long Lebanese civil war, which ended in 1989. (He was also a trustee and benefactor of the American University of Beirut, where I served as president from 1998 until 2008.) Hariri was assassinated in a massive blast in Beirut in 2005 that killed dozens of people and that a UN special tribunal has blamed on members of the Shiite militia Hezbollah. Baumann focuses on Hariri’s economic reforms, specifically his program of acquiring undervalued property in Beirut and redeveloping it and his pegging of the Lebanese pound to the U.S. dollar. He argues that such policies exploited the state’s power to engineer a huge transfer of wealth from ordinary Lebanese to oligarchs such as Hariri himself, many of them based in Gulf Arab states. The story is well told, but Baumann crowds too much under the umbrella term “neoliberalism.” The Gulf-based oligarchs, for example, did not need Lebanon to make their fortunes, which were more directly affected by oil prices than by the Beirut property market.
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