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Hariri meets Velayati at his office in Beirut. Source: Mehr News

“We praise Hariri, the government and the people for the recent victories in the face of terrorist forces.”

Today this quote may sound like it came from Saudi Arabia, where Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister, is supposedly taking refugee due to what he says is a threat against his life from Iran. But would it surprise you if this flattering quote came from none other than an advisor to Iran’s supreme leader who visited Hariri just one day before he departed and announced his resignation from Saudi Arabia?

The advisor, Ali Akbar Velayati visited Hariri last Friday and added: “The formation of a coalition government between March 8 (Hezbollah-led coalition) and March 14 (Hariri-led coalition) is a victory, a great success and a blessing for the Lebanese people.”

“We had a good, positive, constructive and practical meeting with Prime Minister Hariri, especially since the Iranian -Lebanese relations are always constructive and Iran always supports and protects Lebanon’s independence…” 

Does this sound like an Iran that is threatening Hariri or congratulating him?

But you might say, hold on, wait a minute- this must be some sort of Iranian propaganda. Hariri would never endorse this speech, which is a total lie.

Actually not only did Hariri endorse this speech, he sent it out through his email list to hundreds of journalists on Friday, shortly after the meeting. In fact Hariri sends an email almost every day about his speeches and those that visit him. Surely his staff would not have broadcast a message Hariri believed to be harmful propaganda?

Also have a look at the pictures. Hariri seems to be smiling and very at ease in both shots:

 

Of course this does not substitute for an actual transcript of the meeting and we may never know what all was said. But it does seem odd that Hariri would be distributing a speech by someone who apparently just threatened his life.

I’m posting this because you won’t hear this narrative in much of the US mainstream media coverage, which is reporting Hariri’s story with little question, while demonizing Iran as usual and touting Saudi Arabia’s so-called “crackdown” against corruption, also without question:

An alternate narrative circulating in Beirut is that Hariri’s life was not threatened (the Lebanese army and police both denied having any intel on this), but that he resigned out of fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, where he and his family have huge amounts of financial assets.

What’s also interesting is that the Saudi-led blockade against Qatar also began after a warming of relations between the gulf state and Iran. In that case, Saudi Arabia couched the move as part of the war on terrorism. So is the war on corruption just the latest pretext to consolidate power? Can Saudi Arabia simply not tolerate any cracks in its campaign against Iran?

Like Qatar, Hariri also seemed to be warming up to Iran and its allies in Lebanon over recent months, speaking frequently about the need for dialogue and compromises, working on joint legislation with pro-Hezbollah MPs on such issues as a raise for civil servants and electoral reform. That’s what was so surprising about his resignation-things actually seemed to be going relatively well in Lebanese politics ( a sentiment confirmed by the leader of Hezbollah) and elections were finally expected this year.

Here is the full email as sent by Hariri’s office. Notice that Hariri had other meetings that day, including one with the head of a television network in an effort to combat intellectual piracy and stolen cable channels. It seems like a mundane issue and an odd way to end a day marked by fear.

Full email below:

 

Press Office of the President of the Council of Ministers Saad Hariri

03- 11– 2017

Hariri receives Velayati

 

The President of the Council of Minister Saad Hariri received today at the Grand Serail the senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Akbar Velayati, accompanied by the Iranian Ambassador to Lebanon Mohamed Fathali and a delegation, in the presence of Hariri’s chief of staff Nader Hariri.

After the meeting, Velayati said: “We had a good, positive, constructive and practical meeting with Prime Minister Hariri, especially since the Iranian-Lebanese relations are always constructive and Iran always supports and protects Lebanon’s independence, force and government.

We praise Prime Minister Hariri, the government and the people for the recent victories in the face of the terrorist forces and we hope to see more success. The formation of a coalition government between March 14 and March 8 is a victory, a great success and a blessing for the Lebanese people.

The victory against terrorists represents the victory of all of us against terrorism, and what has been achieved on the Syrian arena, as well as the victory of the Syrian government and people against terrorism, is our victory and our success. We know that these terrorists are supported by the Zionists and by the Americans. Defeating them means defeating the Zionist and American conspiracies against us. The victory of the Iraqi government and people against the separatist movement is also another form of those victories. In conclusion, the Lebanese victory against the terrorists and the Syrian and Iraqi victories represents the victory of the resistance axis at the level of the region and this is the victory of us all. We listened to Prime Minister Hariri regarding the actions taken at the regional level and we support them for the interest of the region.”

 

Electoral law Committee

Prime Minister Hariri headed at the Center House a meeting of the Ministerial Committee for the Implementation of the Electoral Law, attended by ministers Ali Hassan Khalil, Mohammed Fneish, Nouhad Al-Machnouk, Gebran Bassil, Talal Arslan, Ayman Choucair, Youssef Finianos, Ali Kanso and Pierre Bou Asi and the Secretary General of the Council of Ministers Fouad Fleifel.

 

OSN

Premier Hariri met with the CEO of OSN network, Martin Stewart, who said that he discussed with Prime Minister Hariri the participation of the network in the conference to protect the media creativity from piracy and the need to protect intellectual property in Lebanon, thus preserving the Lebanese economy and creativity.

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For years now, construction has slowly been moving forward on the National Library project in Sanayeh. Now with the landscaping in progress, could we see the opening some time soon?

The glass facades have been completed in the last few months:

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The library is located in the old red-roof Sanayeh buildings, which housed an arts school built by the Ottomans in the early part of the century (thus the name) nearby the Sanayeh Park, also build by the Ottomans in the early 1900s.

Over recent decades, the buildings were used by the Lebanese University until the refurbishing began, following a $25 million grant from the Emir of Qatar in 2005.

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The buildings are accessible on Hamra street as well as the street facing the park. Naturally, I got harassed by an undercover policeman (on a scooter) for taking this picture.  When he verified I was not a threat (after simply asking if I was Lebanese and scrolling through my previous pictures) I asked him if he knew when it would open. “God knows,” he said, before speeding away.

So what will the library contain?

At its peak before the 1975 war, the national library possessed some 200,000 books and manuscripts, according to its website, which offers great historical pictures like this:

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But the stacks were badly damaged during the war and some 1,200 of the most valuable manuscripts “disappeared,” the site says, without further detail.

The library was eventually closed in 1979 and the books were boxed up and moved around to various government offices, until the restoration plan was agreed in 1999 with the help of French experts. The books–some 150,000 remain– are now stored at a building in the Beirut Port. Recently, the premises were opened to the public during the archive weekend earlier this year.

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There was some fascinating stuff on display, including old library cards:

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Records of the old librarians and how the reading rooms looked:

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Several ancient texts:

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This one was printed in various directions, I can’t remember why:

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And plenty more contemporary books and illustrated novels:

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Even some vintage sexy collections:

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I’ll have more on this collection as well as the super interesting regional newspapers collection in a future post.

Hopefully it won’t be too long before you are able to see these with your own eyes. It’s only been about 10 years since the construction began and 17 years since the project was started in 1999. Could it possibly take much longer? According to the official website, the opening will be in 2014.

In the meantime, you can have a look at the painstaking restoration process:

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UPDATE Nov. 6:

LBC correspondent Dalal Mouawad got in touch on Twitter after reading this and linked to her recent report on the National Library. In it, she interviews the culture minister who claims the library may not open any time soon because the cabinet has yet to appoint an executive board and director.

I probed Dalal further on this issue, which she said was affecting many appointments. The question now is: why are these appointments being stalled and can the law or public pressure get lawmakers to start appointing?

UPDATE: Nov. 12, 2016: Two years after the post was published, The National Library has finally opened its doors, but only for one month! The reading room has been opened for a temporary exhibit but the collections have not been moved. Check this new post to see the gorgeous interiors. But again, how long will it take for this great space to actually open and be used by the public?