Sayed Hassan Nasrallah – One of the most influential men in Lebanon today, Sayed Hassan Nasrallah is the secretary-general of Hizbullah* (“The Party of God”), which is both a political party representing the country’s Shi’ite population as well as a military group.
Nasrallah was born in East Beirut in 1960. When he was 15-years-old, during the Lebanese civil war, he joined the Amal movement, a Shi’ite political and paramilitary organisation. Nasrallah then moved to Najaf in Iraq to study Qur’anic science at a Shi’ite seminary.
Three years later, he and other Shi’ite religious leaders and students – considered “radical” by Iraq’s secular Ba’athist leadership – were expelled from the country. Nasrallah returned to Lebanon and studied at the school of Amal leader Sheikh Abbas al-Musawi, where he later taught.
A few years afterward, Amal elected Nasrallah as its political delegate in the Bekaa region of Lebanon. But in 1982, following the Israeli invasion of the country, Nasrallah left Amal to join an umbrella organisation called Hizbullah, which was under al-Musawi and whose overriding goal was to resist the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon. Nevertheless, determined to resume his religious education, Nasrallah moved to the sacred Iranian city of Qum in 1989 to continue his studies.
In 1992, after the Israeli military assassinated al-Musawi along with his wife and three children, Nasrallah took over the leadership of Hizbullah. Under Nasrallah’s direction, Hizbullah became a formidable military opponent of the Israel Defence Forces in southern Lebanon, and one of the main factors leading to Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in 2000, which ended 22 years of occupation.
Nasrallah’s own standing in Lebanon was enhanced when his elder son, Muhammad Hadi, was killed by Israeli forces in 1996. Nasrallah is also credited with having played a major role in a 2004 prisoner exchange between Israel and Hizbullah, which resulted in hundreds of Palestinian and Hizbullah militants being freed. The agreement was hailed across the Arab world as a victory for the resistance group and Nasrallah.
On 12 July, Hizbullah militants captured two Israeli soldiers and killed eight others, prompting Tel Aviv to respond with an air assault on Lebanon. On 14 July, Nasrallah’s home and office in south Beirut were destroyed by Israeli bombing raids.
* This spelling is an exact transliteration from the Arabic, although the spellings Hizb Allah, Hezbollah and Hizbollah are also used. The name is derived from a Qur’anic verse referring to those who belong to and follow the “Party of God”.
Late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri – Born in 1944 in the Lebanese coastal town of Saida, Rafik Hariri was a self-made billionaire before becoming prime minister from 1992 to 1998 and again from 2000 to 2004.
Hariri left Lebanon for Saudi Arabia in 1965 to work for a construction company before establishing his own building firm in 1969. Benefiting greatly from the 1970s oil boom, Hariri became one of the Saudi kingdom’s most prominent builders. By the late 1980s, he was one of the world’s richest men, with business interests that included banking, telecommunications, petroleum, industry and real estate.
Hariri was also one of the main architects of the 1989 Taif Agreement, which officially ended 15 years of civil war in Lebanon, before becoming prime minister. He was also a major shareholder in Solidere, the private company that rebuilt much of post-war Beirut. Hariri’s critics blame him for spending Lebanon’s monetary reserves on building schemes, which had the effect of raising the country’s national debt to US $35 billion.
Hariri resigned in 2004 over the extension of Emil Lahoud’s term as president. Lahoud is seen by his critics as a pawn of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, with whom Hariri lived in open conflict much of his political life.
On 14 February, 2005, Hariri was assassinated by a massive bomb explosion in downtown Beirut. A UN investigation team last year implicated Lebanese and Syrian officials in the crime amid strenuous denials from Damascus.
Prime Minister Fouad Siniora – Born in 1943 in Saida, Fouad Siniora was a close friend of former prime minister Rafik Hariri for most of his life, serving as the late PM’s financial advisor in business and politics for over 20 years. He held a senior position in Lebanon’s central bank before joining the banking and insurance branch of Hariri’s business empire, and served in all of Hariri’s cabinets as either minister of state or minister of finance.
In 1998, he was accused of corruption and financial mismanagement, but charges were dropped in 2003. In June 2005, he was asked by President Emil Lahoud to become prime minister and form a new government, in which he brought together a broad coalition of both anti- and pro-Syrian forces.
President Emil Lahoud – Born in 1936, Lahoud served as an officer in the army under General Michel Aoun during the final years of the Lebanese Civil War. By the end of the 1980s, however, he switched sides and became a commanding officer in Syrian-controlled West Beirut. He served as commander-in-chief of the Lebanese army from 1989 to 1998. He became President in 1998 after the Lebanese constitution was changed to allow former army commanders to serve as president.
Although the constitution allows presidents to remain in office for no more than six years, Lebanon’s pro-Syrian parliament voted for a temporary change in the constitution in 2004, allowing Lahoud to remain in office an additional three years. Hariri was strongly opposed to the extension and resigned as prime minister in October of the same year.
Lahoud currently remains in office, despite calls for his resignation. His enemies in parliament cannot remove him from office, however, without a required two-thirds majority.