Saad Hariri’s Resignation as Prime Minister of Lebanon
Professor Habib Malik
Lebanese American University, Beirut
It is somewhat odd, to say the least, that a sitting Prime Minister of a Lebanon, Saad Hariri, would actually tender his resignation on Saudi television from Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then would not come to Lebanon to follow up such a move according to all of the constitutional specifications for such an eventuality. So people in Lebanon have been quite puzzled at this development, and some have actually seen in it a rather poorly-produced tragicomic play. But on the other hand there are underlying ominous sings attached to this given the regional atmosphere of tension between the Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Now, the statement that Prime Minister Hariri made announcing his resignation, in it he said that there was some danger on his own person. But, actually, since then all of the credible Lebanese security services and the Lebanese army have come out with official statements saying they have no knowledge, no information, that there was any plot to assassinate the Prime Minister or to do him any kind of bodily harm. So that aspect apparently has been discounted.
There was lots of speculation initially about whether Hariri is actually free to move about, or whether he’s been detained in Saudi Arabia, perhaps even as part of the ongoing detentions of princes and so on. It wasn’t clear, and frankly it’s still not clear, even though he was allowed to go the Emirates briefly, and he is returning to Saudi Arabia, that maybe a move simply to allay fears and put to rest suspicions that he is in fact not very free to move about. Obviously his arrival in Lebanon would be a very important step. What’s behind all of this is a number of things. Saudi Arabia has been very frustrated regarding its failures almost everywhere in the Arab world – whether in the Syrian arena, in Iraq in Yemen, in Lebanon, in the face of what the Saudis perceive as a kind of advancement of Iran.
What is surprising about the sudden resignation of Hariri is that in fact he had been cohabiting with Hezbollah in Lebanon for the past year, and in fact all of this was part of a deal to bring General Michel Aoun as President of the Republic after two years of vacancy of the presidency in Lebanon. And during this past year a lot of achievements have come about by the Hariri government, and as part of this deal. A budget was passed, an electoral law was put in place, and now parliamentary elections are scheduled for this coming spring, and people were, in a sense, anticipating that matters would start to improve. Certainly, economically that was the case. So this came as a blow. There has been some discontent in the Sunni community with the leadership of Hariri. This is a fact. He’s been perceived by some as being weak, and by others as being rather tight-fisted, meaning stingy, as compared with the generosity and largesse of his late father Rafic Hariri, as far as the Sunni community is concerned.
In any case, matters now go beyond the person of Hariri. The question is – will Lebanon be able to put together a government to replace the fallen Hariri government, many scenarios are being considered. One is to have a small government of technocrats that would not include any of the political parties, and certainly not include Hezbollah, whose main job would be to prepare for the spring elections, and after those elections normal, political life can resume. That is one idea. Other ideas are perhaps to rename Hariri himself as the new Prime Minister and start consultations on that basis, but that would require that he would need to come, and he would need to approve. His future movement is very much inclined in that direction. So a number of things are being considered.
However, we should not overlook the ominous side of all of this. It appears that there are some in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, who would like to cause trouble in Lebanon, mainly in the view if punishing Hezbollah, or reducing its power. Doing that can occur in many ways: fabricating a crisis, perhaps using the presence of a large number of Syrian refugees in the country in one way or another to bring about internal unrest and foment sectarian trouble. One should be assured that Lebanese are going to resist this, because no one in Lebanon is interested in revisiting the horrors of the civil war. Nobody wants to return to that, and so very few will fall into a manufactured trap of that sort, including Hezbollah themselves. So I think in that regard there is some awareness of the danger. But who knows, things can get out of hand. And even though Lebanon has a strong army for internal purposes, and very competent security services, those who want to foment unrest can find all sorts of ways to do that. So Lebanon seems poised on one of those roller coaster rides of uncertainty and possible upheaval.
I would hope that the United States would do anything in its power to hold any nefarious plans that some may have to destroy Lebanon or to bring about this catastrophic scenario. Lebanon has been one of the most peaceful places in the Arab world since the start of the upheavals associated with the poorly named Arab Spring. Everything should be done to preserve that peace and tranquility, and all other problems, I think, can be resolved short of something as cataclysmic as that. Lebanon is quite robust and resilient and has been through many periods where there was no government, for months on end, and even as I said recently, Lebanon did not have a President for two years. So Lebanon can endure a lot. But one thing that is for sure, no one in Lebanon in their right mind now wants a return to sectarian civil strife, whether it’s Shia-Sunni, or any other configuration in that respect. So it would be very, very important for the international community, the European Union, the United States, others of good will who care about Lebanon to do the best to abort nip in the bud any brewing, nefarious plans for bringing about unrest in Lebanon