Lebanon: prime minister Saad Hariri suspends his resignation

Returning to Beirut on Tuesday, Hariri announced that he is suspending his resignation. 'Our nation today needs at this sensitive time exceptional efforts from everyone'

Saad Hariri (Photo: the Independent)
Saad Hariri (Photo: the Independent)

The Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri, said he is suspending the resignation, which he announced two weeks ago from Saudi Arabia.

“Our nation today needs at this sensitive time exceptional efforts from everyone to protect it against danger,” Hariri said during independence day celebrations, having returned to Beirut late on Tuesday.

“We must dissociate from wars, external struggles and regional conflicts.”

The unusual nature of Hariri’s surprise resignation on 4 November prompted fears that he had been forced to leave office under the orders of his regional backers.

It came against a backdrop of a regional power tussle between Saudi Arabia and Iran and renewed Saudi condemnation of Hezbollah, Hariri’s partners in government. 

The postponement of his resignation will offer a brief respite for the Lebanese, who are struggling with the spill over from the war in Syria and a large refugee population in a country already rife with sectarian divisions.

Lebanon’s president, Michel Aoun, argued that he would not accept Hariri’s resignation unless he presented it in person, saying that he was acting on the assumption that Hariri was being held in Riyadh against his will.

Hariri said he presented his resignation to Aoun at the presidential palace, but then responded to Aoun’s request to take more time for consultations, “hoping it will constitute a serious introduction for [national] dialogue”.

He reiterated the need for Lebanon to remain neutral on regional disputes and conflicts “and all that undermines internal stability and brotherly relations with Arab brothers”.

Top Lebanese officials accused Hariri’s patron, Saudi Arabia, of forcing his resignation and detaining him in the kingdom for days.

The Lebanese rallied around Hariri, unanimously calling for his return from Saudi Arabia in what became an embarrassment to the kingdom.

Hariri’s announcement suggests that Saudi Arabia’s young crown prince realised he had overreached by firing Hariri, which constituted another failed move to try to counter Iran. 

His resignation was followed by a steep escalation in Saudi statements against the Lebanese government, which includes Hezbollah. Riyadh said the Lebanese government as a whole - not just Hezbollah - had declared war against it.

Western governments including the United States struck a different tone, affirming their support for Hariri and Lebanon and the stability of the country, which is hosting 1.5 million Syrian refugees - nearly one-in-four of the population. 

After his announcement, Hariri supporters marched through central Beirut, chanting “Saad” and waving the blue flag of his Future Movement political party.

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