Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)
Wednesday,19 June, 2019
Issue 1369, (16-22 November 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Questions linger around Al-Hariri

Saad Al-Hariri’s Sunday TV interview calmed some Lebanese, but did not address all concerns or establish certainty about his next moves, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi


Al-Hariri with Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi
Al-Hariri with Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi

اقرأ باللغة العربية

An interview given by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Al-Hariri from his residence in Saudi Arabia calmed the Lebanese people somewhat about the position he is in, but it did not fully answer their questions about the reasons for his sudden resignation announced a few days ago from Riyadh. Before the interview, there was overwhelming solidarity with Al-Hariri across most of the political spectrum, most notable President Michel Aoun, who said he will give a grace period to ascertain Al-Hariri’s fate after rejecting his resignation.

In fact, a marathon was organised in solidarity with Al-Hariri.

Many in Lebanon, the Arab region and the world watched Al-Hariri’s interview to find answers to a battery of questions since he announced his resignation in a “fiery” statement broadcast on Al-Arabiya news channel from Riyadh. But his responses were not satisfactory as he tried to wax over events instead of explaining them.

Al-Hariri, whom Lebanon on the official and popular levels demands return, appeared uncertain, tired and uncomfortable, and responded to Lebanon’s questions but did not convince doubters. He obviously toned down his sharp scripted resignation speech and did not use language such as “cut off Iran’s hand”. However, he did admit that the step he took outside Lebanese is unconstitutional and said: “I will return to Lebanon within days to complete the constitutional steps for resignation and hold consultations.” He also hinted there is a possibility of changing his mind if “Lebanon is removed” from any foreign schemes.

Observers on Lebanese and Arab social media focused on all these details and launched an extensive debate with special attention to Al-Hariri’s body language rather than actual words.

After raising many questions about various scenarios regarding Al-Hariri’s “stay” in Saudi Arabia, his responses disgruntled enthusiasts on both sides – those who wanted him to say “Help. Save me.” and those who wanted him to pave the way for a war on Hizbullah.

The Saudi representative at the UN, Abdullah Al-Moalami, responded to claims Al-Hariri is under house arrest in Saudi Arabia by saying: “This is not the first time that Al-Hariri visits Saudi Arabia; he goes to Riyadh often. Al-Hariri will return to Beirut within days, he is not under house arrest but is living in dignity and comfort in Saudi Arabia.”

Responding to why Al-Hariri has been wearing the same suit for three days, the Saudi representative told a news conference in New York: “I am not responsible for Al-Hariri’s wardrobe,” adding that he did not watch leaked interview footage of Al-Hariri asking a guard to give him a cellphone, but the latter refuses.

Since Al-Hariri announced he would return within two or three days, the mission of the presidency and Foreign Ministry shifted from seeking international help for his return to focusing on how to help him appropriately reverse the resignation. He talked about this clearly and linked it to Lebanon removing itself from foreign schemes. This should not be a difficult or complicated move since political players, especially the presidency and parliament, have not shown bias towards either of the feuding sides in the region. Some, however, believe the meeting between the Syrian and Lebanese foreign ministers in New York to coordinate with the Syrian regime for the return of refugees as a violation of Lebanon’s neutrality in the Syrian crisis.

Perhaps a new dialogue could be a solution for the crisis triggered by Al-Hariri’s televised resignation. Sources close to Al-Hariri who are informed about ongoing consultations said: “The issue is quintessentially linked to how responsive Hizbullah is to Al-Hariri’s balanced rhetoric and at least meeting him half way by adopting a new position that helps him calm disgruntled Saudis.”

It is clear from Al-Hariri’s statements that he will return and play a political role in finding a settlement that guarantees a minimum level of stability for Lebanon that meets the minimum requirements demanded by Sunni neighbours. Al-Hariri was clear about future roles for Hizbullah, asserting their weapons should not be involved in regional affairs outside Lebanese which is an urgent priority they must respond to quickly, within weeks or months.

Al-Hariri is supported in this position by an international umbrella that is party to the political-military equilibrium in the Syrian war, most notably the US-Russian understanding outlined in the joint statement by the presidents of the two countries after meeting in Vietnam. The statement, explained the US State Department, is not perfunctory despite its brevity. It is the fruit of months of negotiations and denotes an agreement that Russia will pressure the Syrian regime and its allies (Hizbullah specifically) to stay out of southwest Syria. In return, the US and Jordan commit to fighting Al-Nusra Front and Khaled bin Waleed Army loyal to the Islamic State group in that area. This would keep Jordan and Israel safe.

The deal confirms partial global consensus on limiting Hizbullah actions in Syria and will later pave the way for ending its role in Syria altogether and returning to Lebanon, in compliance with the last requirement of the Russian-US deal regarding permanent de-escalation zones.

A statement issued before Al-Hariri’s interview by the Lebanese presidency read: “The mystery surrounding Al-Hariri’s situation since he announced his resignation means his positions now or in the future do not reflect the truth, but are a result of his mysterious and dubious situation in Saudi Arabia. Therefore, we do not believe them.” Accordingly, most Lebanese channels did not broadcast the interview and service in some areas was temporarily cut for channels that were broadcasting it.

Foreign Minister Jibran Bassel said: “We are waiting for Prime Minister Al-Hariri to return to Beirut on Wednesday at the latest to find out the circumstances of his resignation and submitting it officially and constitutionally to President Aoun. After that, he has the freedom to do what he wants. We are in a free democratic country, and the prime minister can take his own decisions about resigning or what he wants to do next.”

Responding to a question about whether Al-Hariri is free to express his own views and travel at will, Bassel told CNN that, “the only proof of his freedom is his return to Lebanon and announcing his intentions on the resignation and what next. This will reveal the truth and eliminate any confusion among Lebanese who saw his cabinet as a truly consensus government that correctly represents all components, and the most successful in over 15 years. In fact, the government was on the verge of granting contracts for gas exploration. The Lebanese people were shocked by the sudden resignation of this premier who had just restored their hopes for the country and did what was necessary to maintain Lebanon’s stability.”

On the international stage, the French Foreign Ministry said: “We hope Prime Minister Al-Hariri has the freedom to travel and fully play a vital role in Lebanon. France has a keen interest in Lebanon and hopes the international community will stand united to guarantee Lebanon’s stability, unity and security.”

The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini called for “Al-Hariri’s return to his country as a priority to ensure stability and security in Lebanon”. Mogherini continued: “The EU supports Lebanon’s unity and supports Al-Hariri’s person based on a strong and special friendship between EU countries, Lebanon and its prime minister. Lebanese political forces must avoid any escalation that harms domestic achievements and obstructs moving towards holding parliamentary elections next year.” She added: “EU foreign ministers do not believe there is foreign interference in Lebanese affairs. Politicians in Lebanon must avoid transferring regional conflicts and tensions into their own country.”

The French presidency felt “there is some breakthrough on Lebanon after Al-Hariri announced his intention to return home soon. [We] could propose other initiatives in cooperation with the UN if the situation in Lebanon is not resolved soon.” A statement from the Elysees affirmed: “We are remaining very alert and will see what will actually happen in the next few days. We will continue proposing initiatives especially in cooperation with the UN secretary general. These initiatives are contingent on developments, and matters are moving forward. French President Emmanuel Macron and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres discussed the initiatives needed to reassure the Lebanese people, guarantee the country’s security, and protect Lebanon from regional influences that could be destabilising. Ending the current crisis begins with Al-Hariri returning home, submitting his resignation to the president if he really wants to resign, unless he has changed his mind since. [France] rejects all interference in the Lebanese crisis by any country.”

On the economic front, Governor of Banque du Liban Riad Salameh said “the efforts by President Aoun, support of the international community, and the appearance of the resigned prime minister resulted in stabilising the crisis but did not resolve it”.

Since Al-Hariri announced his resignation, there have been rumours about the impact of this crisis on all domestic issues, especially in economic and financial terms, and news about pressure on Lebanon’s sovereign dollar bonds. After Al-Hariri appeared in the recent television interview, these bonds began to recover once he said he would be returning to Lebanon soon.

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