Yesterday, Saad al-Hariri pulled his sponsorship of a conference held at Antonine University, in which a speaker quoted an “offensive” statement about Rafiq al-Hariri from a recently-published academic study. What was this offensive remark, you ask? That Rafiq al-Hariri was an efficient and productive leader who also happened to be corrupt, though not as corrupt as most other Lebanese prime ministers. Shocking, I know.
The media is having a field day with this issue. Here’s the news report in Naharnet, and here’s an article in al-Akhbar (thanks KT). In the meantime, why don’t we take a look at the academic study that was the source of the offensive statement (“The dynamics of effective corrupt leadership: Lessons from Rafik Hariri’s political career in Lebanon,” by Mark W. Neal and Richard Tansey.)
The article is thought-provoking, worth reading, and sure to generate controversy. Hariri-haters will dismiss it as a bunch of social-scientific claptrap meant to vindicate one of the most corrupt politicians in the history of the country, while Hariri-lovers (except, of course, for Saad himself, Fouad Saniora, Tarek Mitri, and all of the other Mustaqbal officians who stormed out of the conference) will find themselves nodding along in agreement with the basic argument, which is this:
“This article introduces the notion of “effective corrupt leadership” to distinguish those in public office who engage in corrupt practice, who are more effective, and better for their people, than alternatives. The paper examines a case of such leadership by discussing the career of the late Rafik Hariri, the Lebanese Prime Minister who initiated and achieved the rebuilding of Beirut after the Lebanese civil war between 1975 and 1990. Using the historical case-study method, an examination of Hariri’s activities allows us to appreciate the difficulties of achieving tangible welfare benefits in corrupt circumstances. Notably, the moralizing attacks by Hariri’s rivals show that while achieving and sustaining political powermay require corrupt practice, such practice can ultimately undermine the leader authority and power. This “blifil paradox” demonstrates how difficult it is to lead effectively in corrupt circumstances. Through a discussion of these difficulties and challenges, the article attempts to demonstrate the significance of “effective corrupt leadership”, both in terms of its impact upon people, and its importance for the refinement of our understanding of leadership.”
I’ve written to Leadership Quarterly to get permission to post this article here at QifaNabki.com, so you can feel free to download the entire text guilt-free.