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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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.