Lebanon's Hariri Shackled by Bigger Outside Forces

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Lebanon's Hariri Shackled by Bigger Outside Forces

Nothing so encapsulated the political shackles in which Saad al-Hariri has operated as Lebanon's prime minister as the way he resigned in a televised statement made from Saudi Arabia.

Every major decision by the unlikely politician was determined by factors beyond his control. He entered politics after the 2005 assassination of his father and his resignation served the agenda of Riyadh.

The dependence of their leaders on powerful external patrons is nothing new in Lebanon, where regional powers from Saudi Arabia to Iran have long tussled for geopolitical advantage.

But the case of Hariri, who many Lebanese think was summoned to the Saudi capital, coerced into resigning and put under house arrest - which he has denied - underscores an instance of external pressure extreme even by Lebanon's high standards.

In an interview on Sunday, he said he will return to Lebanon in the coming days and might reconsider his resignation. Even if he does, the events of the past 10 days show how decisions taken beyond Lebanon's borders would still define his role.

His shock resignation statement on Nov. 4, which has thrust Lebanon into a new political crisis, included a laundry list of Saudi complaints about the behavior of Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, Riyadh's main political adversaries.

Iran and Hezbollah, Hariri said, are "sowing strife" in the Arab world.

As Riyadh's ally at a time of its enemies' ascendancy, Hariri was already playing Lebanon's intricate political game from a position of weakness.

A year ago, after spending years abroad, he agreed to join a national unity government with President Michel Aoun, a former rival and Hezbollah ally, that included Hezbollah itself.

It was a compromise he said was necessary to end Lebanon's sectarian-tinged political paralysis and one that was personally difficult, as Hariri accuses Hezbollah of the assassination of his father, Rafik al-Hariri.

He seemed committed to that compromise until the moment he flew to Riyadh on Nov. 3, telling officials of discussions planned for his return the following Monday.

Saudi Arabia had previously accepted Hariri's political bargain in Lebanon. But Iran's trumpeting of its successes along with Hezbollah in the wars in Syria and Yemen at the expense of Saudi allies may have altered Riyadh's calculation.

A day after traveling to Riyadh, Hariri appeared on television reading a statement of resignation.

Source: Reuters

Author: Angus McDowall