Brent Sadler Delivers Rafik Hariri UN-HABITAT Memorial Award Lecture March 23, 2010

The following lecture was delivered at the Award Lecture Dinner held on March 23, 2010 in Rio de Janeiro.

“For almost 30 years through the lens of a television camera I have reported on many of the world’s most momentous stories and historic events, especially during terrible times of war from Beirut to Baghdad, Bosnia and Belgrade, Chechnya or Chad.

Lebanon’s civil war was the very first armed conflict I ever covered and in 1 983,when I was shot in the arm by an Israeli patrol it could very well have been my last assignment!

From that time onwards my connection, my admiration and my love of Lebanon was sealed and has endured ever since.

The very special story I have the privilege to tell you all about tonight takes a unique look into the life of a remarkable world statesman: the life of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

At the same time but through a separate prism I will also highlight the parallel achievements and statesmanship of His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Prime Minister of Turkey who is this year’s winner of the inaugural, Rafik Hariri UN-HABITAT Memorial Award.

During the last ten years of Prime Minister Hariri’s life I was a first hand witness to the defining moments of his astonishing career during my time as CNN’s Beirut Bureau Chief.

I saw the Prime Minister very often both on and off the camera. I watched, at close quarters, the way he exercised his passion and his fearless drive to put Lebanon back on the international map after the ravages of 16 years of civil war. It took me on an incredible journey through the life and times of Rafik Hariri right up to the moment of his assassination on February 14, 2005. Following his tragic death I reported to the world the historic events that swept through Lebanon and the region after his murder.

My story begins naturally in Beirut. The year is 1992 during Prime Minister Hariri’s first term in office. Lebanon was a war-torn country and the capital Beirut still displayed the deep scars of conflict. There was no Downtown Beirut. Instead there was a rat-infested no- man’s land where mines and unexploded bombs lurked underneath the rubble. Telephone lines were virtually non-existent, electricity supply was much the same and sand barricades still sectioned off many parts of the city illustrating a deeply divided nation.

Lebanon was a place where most Westerners feared to tread after years of ruthless kidnappings. One newspaper headline called Beirut the most dangerous city on Earth

This was the seemingly hopeless environment in which Prime Minister Hariri began his work to rebuild and re-brand Lebanon. Not everyone wanted him to succeed. His ideas were on a grand scale and often highly controversial. But his boundless energy and determination to overcome all the obstacles was unremitting as he started travelling the globe to win over international support for his plans.

When another war struck Lebanon a year later in 1993 it looked as if the fearless Prime Minister had taken on a mission impossible. The tough years that followed allowed little respite but Hariri was undeterred and followed his theme to re-build. But again as Hariri’s Beirut struggled to rise from the ashes a new war with Israel broke out in 1996.

In that same year Recep Tayyip Erdogan was the Mayor of Istanbul. The two men shared many parallels in their upbringing and outlook. Rafik Hariri came from a low- income background. The young Erdogan sold lemonade and sesame buns on the streets of Istanbul to earn extra money.

They shared similar traits recognising that hard work and determination as well as principled and courageous leadership were essential in the face of serious political adversity whether it was Istanbul in the mid 1990s or indeed the embattled capital of Beirut.

As Mayor of Istanbul Erdogan was successful in administering human and financial resources. Istanbul became cleaner and greener with many kilometres of new water-pipes. Recycling facilities were introduced and vital construction got under way to build dozens of bridges.

Still In 1996 two events captured world headlines. For Prime Minister Hariri it was the renewed war with Israel. For Mayor Erdogan it was the Second UN Conference on Human Settlements known as Habitat II, held in Istanbul.

Prime Minister Erdogan is honoured this week partly in recognition of his achievements in hosting Habitat II as well as for his exceptional abilities in displaying leadership, statesmanship and good governance. They are bye words for the vital characteristics of both Prime Ministers Hariri and Erdogan.

By 1998, despite the devastating effects of two wars in only five years CNN was reporting the so-called Hariri success factor in re-building Beirut. Global media began to latch onto the Beirut construction story. It was a cliché but the stories of a Beirut Phoenix arising from the ashes were becoming a reality under Hariri’s leadership.

Between the years of 1999 and 2004 Hariri led his campaign from his Koreitem palace in Beirut. The buildings always buzzed with activity. You only had to spend an hour or two in the corridors of Koreitem to see that the atmosphere was electric. Hariri was always on the move from one meeting to another, tireless in his efforts to try to stabilize Lebanon and re-build international confidence in the country.

In 2004 Lebanon was indeed back on the world map. Or it least it seemed to be on the outside. CNN broadcast a Rediscover Lebanon advertising campaign that was hugely successful. Tourists, especially from Gulf Stares, flooded back to the country. But internally all was not going so well.

In the heat of that August a truly exceptional and now historic piece of television reporting was made. The Prime Minister agreed to allow me to interview him while he walked around Downtown Beirut with his young grandson Hussam. Hariri was relaxed, and proud to show his young protégé how much progress had been made in the city. Hariri said it was his legacy to his grandchildren. As it turned out later it was the one and only time that the Prime Minister made such a journey in front of a TV camera talking throughout the thirty minute tour. It was broadcast in its entirety many times on Future Television after the Prime Minister’s assassination when the nation was in mourning. It revealed a unique and personal insight into the hopes and dreams of Hariri himself.

After that walk through the city the Prime Minister was behind the wheel of his armoured car and I was sitting next to him in the front seat. We were discussing political developments in Lebanon at that time. In what proved to be a fateful and unforgettable remark he said that he thought his adversaries might quote – cut him to pieces – if he was not careful.

The very next month in September 2004 the Prime Minister flew to Barcelona in Spain to receive a Special Citation of the UN HABITAT Scroll of Honour Award. But the intense political stresses Hariri was suffering from were plain for all to see. His arm was broken and he wore a sling. For those who had a good idea of what was going on politically behind the scenes at that time it was hard to watch. But the Prime Minister suffered in dignity and in silence.

His last interview in English took place on his private yacht Nara before the award ceremony. I asked the Prime Minister, despite all the obstacles before him, whether he thought he still had the energy and determination to carry on and to achieve his goals. His final words are haunting to this day. He said, ‘Of course of course. I am a young man I am only 60.’

One hundred and fifty five days after that interview still aged 60, the five times Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated. His bodyguards and more than 20 Lebanese also died in the Valentine’s Day explosion.

I can recall the tragic atmosphere inside Koreitem hours after the blast as if it was yesterday. The shock was paralyzing and the sorrow was overwhelming. Yet amid the tragic wreckage of her husband’s life a trembling voice of courage could be heard. It was that of Madame Nazek Hariri. As we walked through the grieving corridors of her home she had the tenacity, courage and determination to speak of her intention and determination to continue with the family’s responsibilities to help Lebanon.

So in time the political legacy of Rafik Hariri was bestowed upon his son, Sheikh Saad Hariri whose very first interview with me in the chair his father had previously occupied was indeed traumatic.

Today the obstacles and challenges facing Prime Minister Saad Hariri seem no less daunting and certainly at times during the recent past no less dangerous than those which confronted his father.

In conclusion I know that the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan shared an excellent relationship with each other. They had much in common as two leaders unafraid to raise their resilient and courageous voices on the world stage.

It is hoped that whoever was responsible for brutally silencing the powerful voice of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri will be brought to justice through the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Until then Madame Nazek Hariri, Executive Director of UN Habitat Anna Tibaijuka, excellencies, honoured guests, ladies and gentleman the story that I have told you about tonight cannot be laid to rest.”