Hariri's withdrawal from Lebanese politics aims to appease Gulf States- analysis

The former prime minister’s decision is a political earthquake in Lebanon, analyst says

LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER SAAD HARIRI takes a selfie with a participant at the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on October 7.  (photo credit: SATISH KUMAR/REUTERS)
LEBANESE PRIME MINISTER SAAD HARIRI takes a selfie with a participant at the UAE-Lebanon Investment Forum in Abu Dhabi, UAE, on October 7.
(photo credit: SATISH KUMAR/REUTERS)

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, one of Lebanon’s most prominent politicians for nearly two decades, announced Monday that he was stepping back from political life and would not run in the upcoming parliamentary elections, sending shockwaves through the tiny Arab country’s political landscape.

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Hariri, who was first elected to parliament in 2005, called on his political party, theFuture Movement, not to run either.

The Future party holds 13 seats in Lebanon’s 128-seat parliament. Parliamentaryelections are scheduled for May 15.

“I am convinced that there is no room for any positive opportunity for Lebanon in lightof Iranian influence, international confusion, national division, flaring sectarianism andthe withering of the state,” Hariri said in an emotional televised address.Lebanese journalist and political writer Amine Kammourieh told The Media Line thatHariri's decision can be described as a "political earthquake," since he and his FutureParty are considered an "essential component of Lebanese politics," and his decision tostay out of the Lebanon’s political arena "will be considered outside of politics and willhave an impact on all major Sunni leaders."

"The decision is not to leave political life, but to refrain from running in parliamentaryelection," he explained.

There is a general feeling in Lebanon that it is time to get rid of the ruling politicalsystem and to allow new blood to get involved in politics and run for public officesinstead of restricting it to families and groups that do not change.

 A lighting pole is seen near buildings in Sidon, southern Lebanon August 10, 2017 (credit: REUTERS/ALI HASHISHO)
A lighting pole is seen near buildings in Sidon, southern Lebanon August 10, 2017 (credit: REUTERS/ALI HASHISHO)
Lebanon has been grappling with a financial and political crisis, as the country’s currencyhas lost more than 90% of its value, sinking the population into poverty.

A massive explosion in the port of Beirut in August 2020 killed more than 200 people,sending influential politicians scrambling to protect themselves from the political fallout.Kammourieh says there are two main reasons behind Hariri's decision. One is personal,a result of the loss of his personal wealth during the ongoing national financial crisis,which also negatively affects the Future Movement. In recent years, Harari closed his

Future television station and his Future newspaper as well as the family business, andhe remains in debt.

The second reason, Kammourieh says, is "a siege on Hariri by some of the Gulf countriesthat were sponsoring his movement, specifically the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia."Hariri's party played a major role in Lebanese politics; it was seen as the counterbalanceto its rival, Hizbullah, whose political and military influence has mushroomed in recentyears with the help of its ally, Iran."There's a feeling of frustration in light of what Sunnis consider a result of the failure ofprevious agreements (to form a government) due to what Hariri called Iranianhegemony in Lebanon," Kammourieh said.

The rise of Iranian influence in the country is weakening Lebanon and the Sunnicommunity, according to Kammourieh. This on top of the other problems Lebanon isfacing, including the country’s crisis with the Gulf States that are withholding assistance,and they are “one of the political and financial outlets for this country," he said.Hariri was viewed as the top leader of the country’s Sunni Muslims, one of the threelargest religious sects that make up the complex power-sharing system in Lebanon.Since his father's assassination in 2005, Hariri has been the leader of the Sunni bloc, andhis self-imposed retirement will leave a huge void in the Sunni arena."They aren't any Sunni figures who have his status and considerations who can fill in,except for some religious figures or religious associations, but they do not have muchinfluence," Kammourieh said.

Kammourieh explains that Harari has made several personal sacrifices to avert civil warin Lebanon.He says that Lebanon is a regional powder keg.

"Saad Hariri's recent stances are believed to have contributed to softening the tension,especially at the height of the Sunni-Shiite conflict that existed in Lebanon and theregion," he said.

One of these positions is Hariri's acceptance of the "political presidential settlement andhis acceptance of balanced relations with Hizbullah by taking certain positions regardingthe trial of his father," said Kammourieh, adding that "all of these things helped preventLebanon from being drawn into strife."

Ali Al-Amin, editor-in-chief of the Lebanese news agency Janoubia and a politicalanalyst, told The Media Line that both local and external reasons forced Hariri'sdecision.

"Apparently, Hariri concluded from his political path that he is the weakest link in thepower equation, and his experience indicates a political and financial drain, which wasthe most prominent conclusion of his experience, without achieving what he aspired toat the partisan and national level," he said.Al-Amin, like others, credits Hariri with saving Lebanon, a country of 5.2 million people,from another civil war."As for the external reason, it is related to the Arab and Gulf position in particularregarding Lebanon, which is heading toward more estrangement, and Hariri does notsee himself in the power equation in Lebanon as long as the Gulf position has becomehostile to the current government, whose strategic choices are controlled by Iran," hesaid.

In 2017, Hariri was summoned to Saudi Arabia, where Saudi officials forced him toresign as prime minister. He announced his resignation in a video that was aired onSaudi television where Harari made threatening remarks against Iran, Saudi Arabia'sregional nemesis.

"Hariri realizes that there is no horizon for his political and national movement outsidethe Arab and Saudi umbrella in particular, that's why he is taking the initiative to adopt aposition that excuses him from a direct and fierce confrontation with Hizbullah,” Al-Amin said.

He adds that Hariri does not want to provoke the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, “and this is why he took this step."

Despite the bleak situation that Lebanon is facing, Al-Amin says the tiny Arab country is not on the cusp of another civil war.

"I don’t think it is close or imminent, because a war needs two armed parties and there is no militia in Lebanon except Hizbullah, and the civil war needs a financier and fortunately there isn't one in the country or the region to invest in a civil war project in Lebanon," he said.