Tensions are growing on the streets of Lebanon as many suspect that their (ex-)Prime Minister has been manipulated by Saudi Arabia.
This comes after Saad Hariri’s surprise decision to resign from office, which he announced on November 4 from the Saudi capital of Riyadh.
In his speech, he blamed his resignation on Hezbollah, a terrorist organization which is also a political party in Lebanon. They are longtime opponents of Hariri, and the United Nations has concluded that they were likely involved in the 2005 assassination of his father Rafik Hariri, who was also prime minister.
Nevertheless, Hariri’s own political party, the Future Movement, found itself in a coalition with Hezbollah, and things seemed to be running fairly smoothly. It was only once he was in Saudi Arabia that he suddenly announced that he was stepping down, and claimed that the rival organization was planning to end his life.
Many on the street thus have an alternate theory: Saudi Arabia has forced Hariri to resign, and wants Hezbollah, the proxy of rival Iran, to take the blame. Many believed that Hariri was now being held against his will.
That was explicitly the belief of Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, according to his own statements in a televised address.
“The resignation was a Saudi decision dictated to Prime Minister Hariri,” he said. “He was forced into it. The resignation wasn’t his intention, desire or decision.”
On Sunday, November 12, Hariri finally appeared on television to address the issue.
“I can leave Saudi Arabia whenever I want,” he said, and vowed to be back in the Lebanese capital city of Beirut “soon.”
Since making that speech, he has now relocated to Paris, though his son and daughter are still in Saudi Arabia.
Many remained worried and unconvinced. Posters of Hariri are decorating Beirut’s Martyr’s Square, written with the words “Waiting for YOU.” A satirical website called FreeSaadHariri.com began to count down the seconds since his resignation, with the tagline “Free Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri from the Saudi Arabia Jails!” It has since restarted, counting from when he left for Paris.
This may be the most popular that Hariri has ever been; it is hard to get universal approval across all of Lebanon’s many sects and parties, but everyone is calling for his return to the country.
Conspiracy theories aside, it is unclear why Saudi Arabia would want Hariri to step down, as they had been his staunch supporters. The general theory among the people is that they did not like him working with Hezbollah, and view Lebanon more as a puppet state than an independent ally.
That is the opinion of Dr. Bessma Momani, who works for the Centre for International Governance and Innovation. He worries that the whole situation will unbalance the nation, whose 54% Muslim population is demographically divided evenly between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shia Iran.
“It’s enough. We want all the international interference to stop,” said Elie Khoury, who owns a sandwich shop in Beirut.