sudden resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri raises a
number of questions.
fast track the main relevant events of the last decade or so, Hariri
was Saudi Arabia’s favourite kid on the Lebanese block. After all,
his father was a close friend and a business partner of Prince Fahed,
who later on became King Fahed. And because he harbours similar
anti-Shiite passions like his Saudi allies, Hariri and Saudi Arabia
became natural partners in Lebanese anti-Hezbollah and anti-Syria
politics and partners in the ”War on Syria” at all levels;
including facilitating the transit of fighters and munitions from
Lebanon into Syria.
loss of the gamble in Syria and the change of guards in the Saudi
hierarchy and the elevation of King Salman and his son Mohamed (MBS)
to power, Hariri found himself demoted. Not only his family did not
have strong ties with the new guards, but also MBS seemed to loath
him. To add insult to injury, with the down turn of the Saudi
economy, Hariri’s main Saudi company (Oger) was under severe
financial stress, and instead of being given the Saudi government
subsidy and huge railway contract it was promised, it received zilch
and it was forced into bankruptcy under the deliberate watchful eye
was punished by MBS for his failures in Lebanon; or rather for the
success of Hezbollah. And even within the fragmented Lebanon, the
once star and head of the so-called the 14th of March alliance
that included a huge range of Lebanese power brokers including
Christian Maronite and Druze leaders, with the failure of the Syrian
venture that coalition was decimated and even its Sunni component was
fractured as some Sunni leaders challenged the leadership and prowess
that effect, even General Ashraf Rifi declared mutiny. Rifi is the
former Lebanese Police Chief. He was the power broker in the northern
city of Tripoli and Hariri’s right arm in arming and supporting the
Sunni militia in the locality of Baba El-Tabbaneh against the little
and besieged Alawite enclave of Jabal Mohsen. Rifi blamed Hariri for
the failure of the military venture within Tripoli and accused Hariri
of weakness and declared his mutiny and formed his own power base;
supported and financed by Saudi Arabia.
a Sunni himself, Rifi did not only challenge Hariri in Tripoli and
won the municipal council’s elections by a strong margin, but has
also challenged the overall political status of Hariri about who is
more worthy of holding the title of the Lebanese Sunni leader. For
this reason, Rifi tried hard to create an image of himself as that of
the tough man who will deal with difficulty and win; unlike his
political opponent Hariri, that he tried to portray as a wimp.
Saudi-Hariri impasse was only strengthened by the Lebanese
presidential elections. Saudi Arabia was adamant to block the
election of Michel Aoun; a staunch supporter of Hezbollah, and as his
election was becoming more imminent, in an act of dismay, Saudi
Arabia recalled its ambassador in Lebanon.
To add insult to injury,
Hariri had to engage in a deal with the new president, his former
foe, and be his prime minister. At that point, one could argue that
the Saudi-Hariri relationship was totally and irrevocably severed.
a matter of fact, when Hariri was given the appointment as prime
minister almost exactly a year ago, he had already lost not only his
strong and powerful Saudi allies, but also his fortune and many of
his Lebanese power brokers and street support. He had very little
clout left, and in a country like Lebanon, leaders with no clout
don’t get a bite of the cherry let alone the whole pie. His
appointment however was meant to be akin to national reconciliation.
brief summary brings us back to the present.
what made Hariri go to Riyadh and announce his resignation, as the
prime minister of Lebanon, from the capital of Saudi Arabia, Riyadh?
both Hariri and MBS are looking for a resurrection.
a few hours after Hariri’s freak resignation, a Burkan H-2 Yemeni
missile has reportedly hit Riyadh airport, and it seems that another
one was intercepted around the outskirts of the capital. The fire
that MBS started and stoked in Yemen is now capable of hitting his
capital, and he has much at stake to fight for and he is desperate
for all forms of Saudi resurrection; and this is why, among other
things, he is pushing for reform.
instead of MBS focusing only on his home front, ailing economy and
finding a way to end the war on Yemen, he continues to enter into new
and expensive ventures, and he seems determined to restore the
destructive role of Saudi Arabia in Lebanon.
on MBS’s agenda is to look for every possible way and opportunity
to lash back at Iran and Hezbollah; the major allies of his Yemeni
Houthi foes. He is being pragmatic, putting former differences
between himself and Hariri aside, to re-establish the Saudi role in
Lebanon and to re-instate its position as a major power broker in
his part, Hariri would have loved to see the rapprochement happen a
year ago or so, and before his Oger went belly up, a rapprochement
that would have saved it, but nevertheless, Hariri will take pennies
even though he would wish for nuggets. MBS has reduced him to the
position of a beggar, and beggars cannot be choosers.
someone who is already the prime minister of a country, what
incentive does he need to be given to quit and what bigger fish does
he have to fry by quitting the top job? These are questions that
cannot be answered unless one knows how the unique politics of
Lebanon, a political leader does not have to be technically in power
(ie in parliament or cabinet) to be effectively in power. Hariri
seems more interested in restoring the grass-root support that he
lost. That said, he originally bought this support base, yes with
money and gifts, and as his fortune dwindled, so did his support
base. Being a “wimp” as his Rifi rival refers to him, was not
alone the reason for the slump of his popularity.
of Rifi again, it is possible, in fact highly likely, that a part of
the new MBS-Hariri deal is that Saudi Arabia pulls the rug from
underneath Rifi’s feet. After all, Saudi Arabia may not see in Rifi
the rightful Lebanese partner. He is to some degree an independent
thinker, not just a follower of orders, and he is in his mid-sixties.
He will soon run out of momentum. The much younger Hariri puppet has
perhaps resurrected his position with the Saudi royals in the hope of
restoring his street support in Lebanon. As for his lost wealth, we
will not know what the details of the new deal are, but money will be
a huge lubricant.
the details of the newly-founded Saudi-Hariri alliance are, they do
not have much chance of success. The battle was lost in Syria, and
for Hariri to be able to pick up the pieces and reverse the situation
from within Lebanon, he does not have much chance of success;
especially that Hezbollah now is stronger than ever, both militarily
and politically. Only an Israeli military gamble in Lebanon can
potentially change the balance in favour of Hariri and Saudi Arabia.
Having said that, any such gamble will most likely backfire, just
like previous gambles. If Israel and Hezbollah have another showdown,
and this is probably a question of when not if, the timing and
location may not be of Israel’s choosing.
and Hariri are more likely to achieve nothing at all with their new
alliance. Apart from getting media coverage and analysis reports like
this one, the most they can affectively achieve is more street riots
and acts of sabotage. This time, the Lebanese security forces and
Hezbollah will be on full alert and preparedness to deal with them,
after all, with the “War on Syria” coming to its end and the
Syrian-Lebanese borders secured already, Lebanon and Hezbollah do not
need to watch their back.