“He looked at the sun shine on Beirut. This could be Cannes or Miami, he thought, if only for a few details.” So ends French author Gérard de Villiers’ latest espionage novel set in Lebanon, part of his popular erotico-political SAS book series.
La Liste Hariri (The Hariri List), first published in January 2010 in French, has the CIA – with the help of the Lebanese secret service and the dashing hero Prince Malko – solve the case behind the 2005 assassination of Lebanon’s real life ex-prime minister and billionaire, Rafik Hariri. It’s a fast-paced plot that hurtles the reader through glamorous and dangerous Beirut neighbourhoods filled with colourful characters, including a sex-obsessed Arab princess and a Lebanese general with fluctuating allegiances. The mystery unravels when a Hezbollah apparatchik, eager to take revenge on his Syrian allies for the killing of his uncle, hands over a list of 10 perpetrators to Prince Malko.
Sales of the book have been booming in Lebanon, fuelled by an article in the French daily newspaper Le Figaro suggesting that the Lebanese General Security was set to ban it (this is the country that also banned issue 31 of Monocle because it featured members of the Israeli National Search & Rescue Unit on the cover).
For all of De Villiers’ literary fantasies, they bear an uncanny resemblance to some real news stories. A Lebanese politician recently divulged to the press that the UN Special Tribunal in charge of investigating the assassination was to interview 12 people close to Hezbollah. Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s leader, confirmed this development during a televised interview last Wednesday on Al Manar – although stressing that these people were only witnesses and also criticising the political nature of the investigation. He also questioned accusations made by Le Monde and Der Spiegel that have attempted to link his party to the Hariri murder. The German weekly went as far as naming the head of the operation unit involved and claiming it reported directly to Nasrallah.
Although the Lebanese would be loathe to admit it, the Tribunal’s slow pace and the tight-lipped approach to the investigation by its head Daniel Bellemare have helped produce some stability for Lebanon. So the arrival of a delegation to interview these “witnesses” in Beirut has caused nervousness. Especially since, five years on, Saad Hariri’s (Rafik’s son) government includes Hezbollah members and also because many of the anti-Syrian politicians who appeared on the political scene as a result of the assassination are now paving the road back to Damascus in the name of realpolitik.
For Nicholas Blanford, the author of Killing Mr Lebanon and The Times of London correspondent in Beirut, the reason the Tribunal is now focusing on Hezbollah might be because it has little evidence about Syria’s involvement in the killing after all. Yet, he warns, the indictment of Hezbollah officials could lead to a political crisis. Unless of course, all the witnesses, like in De Villiers’ novel, get killed before they can make their revelations to the court.