News from the Arab Press

An Uncertain Future For Lebanon

By Asaf Zilberfarb | The Media Line

November 14, 2017

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Al-Araby Al-Jadeed, London, November 7

The dramatic resignation last week of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri left many around the world, and certainly in Lebanon, with several unanswered questions. The move came as a complete surprise to even the most avid observers of Lebanese politics. Just a day before the resignation, while still in Beirut, Hariri held a conference that celebrated his government’s achievements. And in his media appearances in the preceding weeks, the Lebanese premier sounded optimistic about his country’s future, showing no signs of frustration nor giving any indication he wanted to step down. Then, without warning, he traveled to Saudi Arabia and announced his resignation via satellite television. An official letter of addressed to Lebanon’s president was issued shortly thereafter. Since then, Hariri has not returned home. The obvious question, therefore, is what prompted all of this? Internally, Hariri expended all of his political capital in forming a coalition with Shiite Hizbullah, which paved the way for the election of President Michel Aoun after a 29-month deadlock left the position unfilled. In the aftermath, however, Hariri has not been able to achieve any political successes, whereas his submission to Hizbullah has enhanced Iran’s influence in Lebanon. Hariri’s previously strong support base, primarily comprising Lebanese Sunni Muslims, has gone so far as to accuse the prime minister of abandoning Sunni interests in favor of “national unity.” But there is another factor at play: Saudi Arabia was directly involved in Hariri’s decision to resign, as the Kingdom has long viewed Tehran as a growing threat to the region whose influence in Lebanon had to be nipped in the bud. By pushing Hariri to step down from Riyadh, the Saudis sent a clear message to Hizbullah: either side with Iran or Lebanon. If Hizbullah parliamentarians are interested in seeing their political system collapse then they will continue taking orders from the Islamic Republic; however, if the country’s stability is more important to them then they will have to make big concessions. There are other options on the table as well. One scenario might involve a Saudi-led coalition that would fight to dismantle Hizbullah’s foothold in Lebanon, a move that might even involve Israel. Overall, there are many unknowns. We do not know what will become of Lebanon over the next few days, let alone weeks and years. Regardless, it is clear that the political turmoil in Beirut is a direct result of the ongoing confrontation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, this time being played out in the Lebanese playground.   – Wael Najim

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