Sunday,17 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)
Sunday,17 December, 2017
Issue 1371, (30 November - 6 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

What next for Al-Hariri?

Saad Al-Hariri’s retraction of his resignation as Lebanon’s prime minister has not brought clarity to what remains a mysterious episode in the country’s political history, writes Hassan Al-Qishawi

 

What next for Al-Hariri?
What next for Al-Hariri?

اقرأ باللغة العربية


The repercussions of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri’s resignation from Riyadh continue. In a television interview on France 24, Al-Hariri said: “I want to remain prime minister; what happened in Saudi Arabia I will keep to myself.” At the same time, he said he would “resign if Hizbullah does not change the current situation. Hizbullah is interfering in all Arab countries.”

Al-Hariri continued: “I wrote the resignation statement myself and wanted to trigger a positive shock by it.”

Earlier, secretary-general of the Future Movement, Ahmed Al-Hariri, said: “[The prime minister’s] reconsideration only came after we felt President Michel Aoun was open to the idea. An international umbrella appeared over Lebanon in the past two weeks, confirming the notion that destabilising Lebanon is a red line.”

The headquarters of the Future Movement is still buzzing with tales of Al-Hariri’s decision to reconsider his resignation, and finally retracting it. The only question is whether Al-Hariri coordinated the retraction with Riyadh or whether he chose to side with Lebanon instead of regional powers because he does not want to enter an unequal confrontation with Hizbullah. The answer remains a mystery.

The most one can deduct is that Al-Hariri is trying to take advantage of global pressure, and European and Egyptian efforts to find a settlement, retract his resignation and end the crisis.

US media revealed that “circumstances surrounding Al-Hariri’s resignation poured fuel on the fire of ongoing disputes in Washington between two axes of foreign policy decision-making,” noting that “Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was completely shocked when Al-Hariri announced his resignation in Riyadh.” Reports added that, “Al-Hariri’s policies as head of government began to irritate the Saudis, especially after he was able to convince Washington during a visit there in May to ease sanctions on Lebanese financial institutions suspected of ties to Hizbullah, since sanctions jeopardise an already fragile Lebanese economy.”

The media further reported, “This was the last straw for Saudis who viewed Al-Hariri as submissive to Iran” and decided to replace him with his older brother Bahaa as leader of the Future Movement and the Lebanese government. “Tillerson was not only upset because Washington was not given a heads up about this serious step in the region, but also because he suspected the White House — specifically President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner — was aware of what happened without sharing this information with him.”

The sudden resignation resulted in a backlash since the erratic Saudi move united the Lebanese in demanding Al-Hariri’s return, including Hizbullah, which took advantage of the crisis to show sympathy with Al-Hariri, their traditional rival.

The Future Movement remains divided between those who reject Saudi’s desire to escalate against Hizbullah and those who want escalation because normalisation with Hizbullah is unacceptable in the face of Arab — and especially Saudi — policy. Secretary-General Ahmed Al-Hariri said: “Prime Minister Al-Hariri is now in charge of the conflicting camps within the party, and understands their divergent views. We hope for accountability, but the matter remains in the hands of the prime minister. We will not take revenge, but hold anyone who made a mistake or backstabbed from inside the party accountable.”

Al-Hariri was also supported by MP Walid Jumblatt, leader of the Progressive Socialist Party, who sent advice and messages that solutions can only be reached through dialogue and settlement with Iran, because continuing the war means continued attrition and will result in little.

Here, the position of Lebanese Culture Minister Ghattas Khoury, one of Al-Hariri’s advisers, is notable. He said Saudi interests should not conflict with Lebanese interests in stability and protecting social peace. Khoury said a political crisis in the country must be avoided, which indicates that Al-Hariri wants to de-escalate with Hizbullah. The minister went further by saying Al-Hariri has every right to reassess and hold those near and far accountable.

Al-Hariri referenced Aoun and said they have closer ties and those inside the Future Movement who want to reconcile are waiting for those who want to escalate to be held accountable. Some believe these elements will be sidelined after parliamentary elections. Al-Hariri, however, made this point: “We will not accept Hizbullah’s positions that interfere with our Arab brethren or target the security and stability of these countries. There are serious ongoing contacts and conversations to respond to our ideas, and we must build on them.”

However, some view this position as face saving and implying that Al-Hariri will not remain silent about Hizbullah, as he had for several months. However, this position does not produce practical results and is nothing more than words. Lebanese media believe it unlikely Hizbullah will make any substantial changes in its direct military partnership with Syria, or its intervention in Yemen.

It appears Hizbullah will probably only agree to “neutralising” Lebanon in inter-Arab conflicts. According to the Lebanese media, Hizbullah will not discuss its arms. On the other hand, Al-Hariri is relying on the emergence of solutions and settlements to regional crises.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia will maintain an undefined grace period, although some circles assert the status quo cannot continue. If no progress is made, the resignation of the government is a real option in the future.

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