Five things you didn't know about Saad Hariri

Profile: Syria’s richest foe.

A bomb blast in central Beirut and the assassination of Wissam al-Hassan have stirred things up in Lebanon. Countrywide anti government protests, next year’s forthcoming elections and a national fear of what Syria’s regime might plot next have put the spotlight on Lebanon’s opposition Future Movement. But the Movement’s fiery leader has more reason than most to fear violence in Syria. Here are five things you may not have known about Saad Hariri:

  1. His father Rafiq Hariri, who was Prime Minister of Lebanon for a total of 10 years, was assassinated in a similar explosion on 14th February 2005. A UN Special Tribunal named four Hezbollah leaders responsible for the attack. Saad maintains that the members were under orders from President Assad of Syria.
  2. Saad’s own term as Prime Minister ended in 2011 when Hezbollah members of his coalition government resigned over his endorsement of the tribunal’s verdict.
  3. Formally a businessman, Saad Hariri is worth $2 bn. Collectively, the Hariri family is worth about $9.6 bn making them one the wealthiest families of the Middle East. Their riches come from Saudi Oger, a family construction company that rode the petrodollar boom in Saudi Arabia. Another company, Solidere, has rebuilt most of the war battered downtown Beirut.
  4. Jacques Chirac is a close friend and, since stepping down as French President, has lived in a Paris apartment owned by the family.
  5. Evidently fearful of further assassinations, most of the Hariri family live abroad. His many siblings and half-siblings live in elaborate Parisian apartments or palatial Saudi homes. Saad himself spends most of his life in Saudi Arabia, where he has moved his wife and two sons.
Saad Hariri. Photograph: Getty Images

Oliver Williams is an analyst at WealthInsight and writes for VRL Financial News

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Is anyone prepared to solve the NHS funding crisis?

As long as the political taboo on raising taxes endures, the service will be in financial peril. 

It has long been clear that the NHS is in financial ill-health. But today's figures, conveniently delayed until after the Conservative conference, are still stunningly bad. The service ran a deficit of £930m between April and June (greater than the £820m recorded for the whole of the 2014/15 financial year) and is on course for a shortfall of at least £2bn this year - its worst position for a generation. 

Though often described as having been shielded from austerity, owing to its ring-fenced budget, the NHS is enduring the toughest spending settlement in its history. Since 1950, health spending has grown at an average annual rate of 4 per cent, but over the last parliament it rose by just 0.5 per cent. An ageing population, rising treatment costs and the social care crisis all mean that the NHS has to run merely to stand still. The Tories have pledged to provide £10bn more for the service but this still leaves £20bn of efficiency savings required. 

Speculation is now turning to whether George Osborne will provide an emergency injection of funds in the Autumn Statement on 25 November. But the long-term question is whether anyone is prepared to offer a sustainable solution to the crisis. Health experts argue that only a rise in general taxation (income tax, VAT, national insurance), patient charges or a hypothecated "health tax" will secure the future of a universal, high-quality service. But the political taboo against increasing taxes on all but the richest means no politician has ventured into this territory. Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has today called for the government to "find money urgently to get through the coming winter months". But the bigger question is whether, under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour is prepared to go beyond sticking-plaster solutions. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.