Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said Wednesday that he will be putting his resignation on hold. Hariri’s announcement came upon his return to Lebanon after more than two weeks of hiding in Saudi Arabia following his sudden resignation.
During a press conference held just hours after he returned from Riyadh, Saad al-Hariri said that he had accepted President Michel Aoun’s request to suspend his resignation and allow more consultations on the reason behind the sudden move to be made.
Hariri shocked the public on Nov. 4 after saying he was standing down as Prime Minister of Lebanon in fear for his life and the safety of his family. The statement was made in Riyadh, sparking controversy in the media after Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun claimed Hariri was held hostage in the Saudi Capital. Despite the mass outrage and speculation arising in Lebanon, Hariri denied he was held against his will.
After more than two weeks where he remained mostly silent on the issue, Prime Minister Hariri returned to Lebanon late Tuesday night. His first few hours in Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, were spent visiting the grave of his late father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, after which he attended the annual Independence Day military parade with President Aoun.
His public outing at the Independence Day parade was followed by a private meeting with Aoun at the presidential palace. According to CNN’s latest report, Hariri, a Sunni politician, stated that he was looking forward to “a genuine partnership of all political forces” that will put Lebanon’s interest first and keep the country together.
Hariri’s statement comes as an answer to the political turmoil that peaked following his sudden resignation. The crisis has stoked fears of potentially devastating conflict between Lebanon’s moderate, Saudi-backed government bloc and Hezbollah, a Shia militant group supported by Iran. In Lebanon’s coalition government, Hezbollah holds extensive power and is seen by the majority of the moderate Sunni and Christian population as an immediate threat to Lebanon’s stability.
Celebration interlaced with doubt
Following his meeting with President Aoun, Hariri addressed the mass of people that have gathered in front of his political headquarters in Beirut.
As reported by the CNN, hundreds of men, women, and children, all supporters of Hariri and his Future Movement, had gathered to celebrate Hariri’s return to Lebanon. Music and chanting were reported, as well as waving of flags, with many of them being Saudi.
Hariri’s stirring speech was followed by cheers and applause, with many of the people present expressing their faith in the Prime Minister and his Future Movement.
However, despite the widespread celebration, CNN reported a large percentage of the people present have expressed their doubts about Prime Minister Hariri staying in Lebanon.
International support for Hariri might bifurcate the government even more
Saad al-Hariri’s resignation came at a time of deep political uncertainty for Lebanon. Following his sudden displacement to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s statements against the Lebanese government have arduously escalated. According to a report by Reuters, Riyadh claimed that Lebanese government as a whole, not just the opposing Hezbollah, has declared war on Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia’s close allies, namely the United Arab Emirates, have not been so vocal on the issue but have stated their belief that Lebanon needs to keep out of Middle East conflicts in order to see its government stabilize. Prime Minister Hariri had also stressed the importance of implementing Lebanese state policy of steering clear of regional conflicts, referring to the war raging on in Yemen, where a Saudi-led government is fighting the Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
With Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun being a close political ally of Hezbollah, the overwhelming international support Hariri has received in the past weeks might have a destabilizing effect on the already split government.
The CBC has reported the U.S. reaffirming their support for Hariri and his political fraction, joining Cyprus in an attempt to defuse the tensions in the country.
Also calling for Saad al-Hariri’s return was Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, who said on Monday his group was open to “any dialogue and any discussion” regarding the current political situation in Lebanon. Following his call for dialogue with Hariri, Nasrallah also issued a statement denying any Hezbollah involvement in Yemen. The denial comes after weeks of Saudi Arabia accusing the Shia militant group of supporting Houthi rebels in their war against the Saudi-backed Yemeni government.
Such vast political differences between the ruling parties of Lebanon might not bring the stability and peace predicted after Saad al-Hariri’s return to the capital. With the fighting in Yemen intensifying, and Iran continuing to support Hezbollah’s activities both in Lebanon and elsewhere in the region, Saudi Arabia’s involvement seems crucial in these times of turmoil.
Neither Prime Minister Hariri nor President Aoud have commented on how long Hariri’s resignation will remain suspended.