Lebanon's former PM Saad al-Hariri bows out of political life

AP , Ahram Online , Monday 24 Jan 2022

Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri announced Monday he was suspending his work in politics and will not run in forthcoming elections, calling on the "Future Movement" to follow suit and not to run for parliamentary elections scheduled in May.

Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al- Hariri
Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al- Hariri speaks during a press conference in front of a picture of his late father and former Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafic al-Hariri, at his house in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 24, 2022. AP

The decision marks the first time in three decades that the powerful Sunni family is out of politics and comes as Lebanon is in the throes of a financial meltdown.

"There is no room for any positive opportunities in Lebanon in light of the Iranian influence, international confusion, national division, sectarianism, and the state's collapse,” Hariri said in a televised address on Monday.

Hariri's decision came after Saudi Arabia, once his main backer and the country where the Hariri family made much of its fortune, has distanced itself from the 51-year-old politician.

Hariri, a three-time prime minister and current member of parliament, inherited the political leadership from his late father, billionaire businessman Rafik al-Hariri, who was one of Lebanon's most powerful and influential politicians after the end of the 1975-90 civil war.

The late Hariri was assassinated in February 2005 in a massive truck bomb in Beirut. Afterward, the family chose Saad Hariri to lead the family despite the fact that he has an older brother.

Hariri said, “After the assassination of martyr Rafik Hariri, the choice fell on me to continue his political project, but not for the Hariri family to remain in politics."

"Rafik Hariri's project prevented civil war and secured a better life for the Lebanese; I’ve succeeded in the first, but wasn’t destined to succeed in the second,” he added in regret. 

“I was forced to make settlements from Doha, to visit Damascus, to elect Michel Aoun; all of these settlements came at my expense,” Hariri said. 

Hariri added “But every step I’ve taken emanated from my concern for the Lebanese people’s best interest, which cost me my personal wealth and my foreign friendships. Some of the Lebanese have come to consider me one of the authority’s main pillars that have sparked the country’s disaster. Yet, I was the only to reciprocate to the October 17 revolution, as I submitted my government’s resignation and insisted on forming a government of specialists.”  

He held back tears as he spoke and vowed to continue to help people in need.

“We will cleave to our position as citizens who adhere to Rafic Hariri's project to prevent civil war, and we will endeavor to provide a better life for all the Lebanese.”

In 2020, a U.N.-backed tribunal sentenced a member of the Hezbollah militant group to life imprisonment for his involvement in Rafik Hariri's assassination. Hezbollah denies the charges.

Hariri has been the most powerful Sunni Muslim politician in Lebanon since 2005. He took the post of prime minister three times until he was forced to resign in October 2019 following mass protests against the country's ruling class after the government imposed a $6 monthly fee for using WhatsApp voice calls.

In 2017 when he was prime minister, Riyadh forced him to announce his resignation during a visit to the kingdom, citing Hezbollah's domination in a televised statement.

The dramatic move backfired: Hariri returned home and restored his alliance with Hezbollah, losing Saudi backing.

Hariri's decision came despite the fact that several prominent politicians including Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Druze leader Walid Joumblatt tried to convince him to change his made.

Many in Lebanon fear that the abstention of the moderate Hariri to run could bring hardline Sunni politicians to play in bigger role in Lebanese politics.

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