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Monday, 4 September, 2000, 14:33 GMT 15:33 UK
Hariri's comeback in Lebanon
Rafiq Hariri
Rafik Hariri's ascent to prime ministership may depend on Syria
By Middle-East analyst Roger Hardy

Lebanon's parliamentary elections have dealt a stunning blow to Prime Minister Selim al-Hoss and to the man who backed him, President Emile Lahoud.

If the president follows the logic of the polls, he must now appoint as prime minister Mr Hoss's rival, the wealthy businessman Rafik Hariri.

Mr Hariri stepped down as prime minister two years ago after friction with President Lahoud.

President Emile Lahoud
Lahoud supporters have been critical of Rafik Hariri
And during the election campaign the president's allies openly accused Mr Hariri of corruption and saddling the country with huge debts as a result of his ambitious plans to rebuild Lebanon after its brutal 15-year civil war.

After so much mud-slinging it will be hard for President Lahoud to appoint Mr Hariri prime minister.

Syrian influence

But as he well knows, that decision will essentially be taken by Syria, the country which controls Lebanon's destiny and stations more than 30,000 troops there.

The Syrians have worked with Mr Hariri before and can undoubtedly do so again.

Syria's new president, Bashar al-Assad, may well calculate that he needs to give Lebanese politicians a bit more room for manoeuvre.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad
Syria Bashar al-Assad may feel he needs to give Lebanese politicians a little more freedom
During the election campaign there was some muted criticism of Syria, reflecting the resentment many Lebanese feel - both Christians and Muslims - over their country's lack of genuine independence.

Such sentiments are no secret to Syrian policy-makers.

But as long as they remain cautious whispers rather than overt dissent, the Syrians will not see them as a threat.

In this sense, the elections, lively as they were, have not changed any fundamental realities in Lebanon.

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See also:

20 Jul 00 | Country profiles
Country profile: Lebanon
29 Aug 00 | Middle East
Opposition victory in Lebanon election
09 Aug 00 | Middle East
In pictures: Lebanese troops return
19 Jul 00 | Middle East
Lebanon timeline
03 Sep 00 | Middle East
The battle for Lebanon's premiership
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