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Impact of Hariri's Stepping Back from Lebanon's Political Life Will Be Felt by Allies, Rivals Alike

Impact of Hariri's Stepping Back from Lebanon's Political Life Will Be Felt by Allies, Rivals Alike

Wednesday, 26 January, 2022 - 07:45
Former PM Saad Hariri delivers a speech in Beirut, Jan. 24, 2022. (Reuters)

Head of Lebanon's Mustaqbal movement former Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced on Monday that he was suspending political work, upending the political scene in a country that is gripped by one of the most severe economic crises in the past 150 years.

Before debating over who will fill in the void left by Hariri, one must assess the reactions from his Sunni community and beyond, among his allies and rivals alike.

A former government official told Asharq Al-Awsat that questions will not only be asked over the path chosen by the Sunnis, but rather where his decision will lead Lebanon given his unprecedented move.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official said the shock created by Hariri's announcement will go beyond the Sunni community. It raises questions over what sort of Lebanon needs to be established. Hariri has effectively reshuffled the political cards in the country as it prepares to hold parliamentary elections on May 15.

The official said that perhaps Lebanon needed an unprecedented shock to halt its collapse on all levels. He added that former prime ministers will not declare their stance over Hariri's move before they assess the situation on the Sunni scene. The official explained that the former PMs will then draw up a roadmap that will address the void left by Hariri.

The position of prime minister in Lebanon is always held by a Sunni figure.

Christian figures have yet to declare a stance from Hariri's stepping back from politics. Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri expressed his sadness over the move, saying Hariri represented the voice of moderation. Head of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt voiced alarm that the decision will grant Hezbollah and Iran free reign in Lebanon.

Shiite Hezbollah, meanwhile, is taking its time in commenting on Hariri's move, said a prominent political source. The party has lost in Hariri a main partner in Lebanon's complicated political scene even though they stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum.

The source said Hezbollah's strong commitment to its alliance with President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil had hindered Hariri from making even modest achievements in protecting himself and providing political cover to the settlements that he joined to protect Lebanon.

These settlements did not sit well with Hariri's loyal popular and political bases, which they reacted to with muted opposition. Notably some Mustaqbal MPs abstained from voting for Aoun as president in 2016 whose election was agreed to in a settlement struck with Hariri.

While Hariri stuck with the settlements he struck with rivals, Hezbollah fell short in meeting its pledges to him. When Hariri was designated to form a government in 2020, the party was among the blocs that did not nominate him to the post, evidence of its double standards.

Rather, Hezbollah opted to favor its alliance with Aoun and Bassil. Throughout all this, the party violated the country's policy of disassociation from regional disputes, turning Lebanon into a platform to verbally attack Arab Gulf countries. Bassil was complicit in this when he served as foreign minister.

The former government official said Aoun's position on Hariri's exit from the political scene is irrelevant because the president alone is responsible for destroying the partnership that they had struck up. Aoun's unyielding stances had prompted Hariri to step down from forming a new government months after his designation in 2020.

Aoun had effectively stood against the nomination of the strongest Sunni figure being appointed premier, while he, the strongest Maronite in the country was able to be elected president and the most powerful Shiite figure - Berri - parliament speaker.

As the Sunnis process the news of Hariri's departure, the political source said Hezbollah's rivals must take up the mantle in confronting it politically and stand firm against its attempts to alter Lebanon's identity.

The question remains: How will the main Christian parties, the Kataeb and Lebanese Forces, act without a main Sunni partner and how will the absence impact the elections?

As it stands, tensions had existed between the LF and Mustaqbal Movement and it appears unlikely that any rift will be mended in time for the polls. LF leader Samir Geagea had expressed his personal sympathy with Hariri after he stepped down. He also said he was ready to work with the Mustaqbal. Time will tell if they can move away from the past and open a new chapter in ties.

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