Beirut – Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s comment on his political work left a great shake in the Lebanese scene. Observers expect that allies and opponents will rearrange their cards a few months away from the elections, especially since the retreat of the first leader of the Sunni community, and the owner of its largest parliamentary bloc, may generate dangerous setbacks, in a country governed by the logic of balances, on the political, sectarian and regional arenas.
Hariri announced today, Monday, his expected position on two levels: First, suspending his work and the work of his (Future) movement in political life. Secondly, not to run for parliamentary elections and not to submit nominations from his party or in his name.
Thus, Saad Hariri, 51, withdrew from the elections for the first time after entering the political fray as an heir following the assassination of his father, Rafik Hariri, in 2005.
While the features of sadness and disappointment prevailed over him during his appearance today, Monday, he linked the suspension of his political work to a number of reasons; Perhaps the most important of which is his saying that all his political settlements came at his expense, and caused the loss of his wealth, foreign friends, national alliances, and even brothers, adding, “There is no chance for Lebanon under Iran’s influence.”
The man lived a biography full of turmoil and contradictions, and gained his popularity from great sympathy with him after the assassination of his father, and the sharp split between the “March 14” and “March 8” forces and the withdrawal of the Syrian army in 2005.
Hariri served as prime minister 3 times: the first between 2009 and 2011 before it was toppled by Hezbollah and its allies. At the beginning, he visited Damascus under political pressure to meet with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which sparked widespread controversy against him.
The second was in 2016 after he concluded a presidential settlement that brought Michel Aoun as President of the Republic after two and a half years of a presidential vacuum, and he resigned in 2017 from Riyadh amid mysterious circumstances.
And the third after the 2018 elections, which reduced the number of his parliamentary seats, and then announced the resignation of his government after the popular movement in October 2019.
Since then, Hariri has remained one of the stars of political events, especially after the fall of his settlement with Aoun and his son-in-law, Representative Gibran Bassil, and their differences reaching an unusual height, and his inability to form a government for more than 9 months after the resignation of the government of Hassab Diab in August 2020 following the explosion harbor.
How will the electoral landscape of the Sunni sect be affected?
For years, “Al-Mustaqbal” has distinguished itself as a trend that crosses the Sunni regions. On the other hand, Sunni leaders and forces with a history of political life emerged, and derived their influence from their regional and Islamist presence, or from their alliances with Hezbollah, to be known as the “Sunni of March 8.”
All these forces were waiting for Hariri’s decision regarding the elections next May, because his reluctance would lead to a number of calculations for them.
Among these forces, Najib Mikati, Prime Minister and leader of the “Azm Movement” in Tripoli, northern Lebanon (which has a Sunni majority), won the 2018 elections with a high percentage of preferential votes, amounting to 21 votes.
The data indicates that Mikati may not run, but the deputy of his bloc, Ali Darwish, indicates – to Al Jazeera Net – that Mikati will participate in the elections, and if he does not run, he will announce a list he supports, in Tripoli and Akkar. He said that the electoral vision is not clear, and Mikati is slow to announce his final position on it.
For his part, MP Adnan Traboulsi, who was a member of the Sunni Consultative Gathering, an ally of Hezbollah, believes that Hariri’s decision is personal and means his current. He tells Al Jazeera Net that most of the Sunni forces will wait before announcing their position and electoral orientations, “because we are waiting for who will run after Hariri’s emptiness.”
Many question the role of Islamic forces and currents after Hariri’s decision, especially since his current was described as “Sunni moderation.” Here, journalist Wael Negm points out that Hariri’s withdrawal from the parliamentary symposium will leave a large gap in the Sunni arena. He says – to Al Jazeera Net – that the existing Sunni forces suffer because they are regional forces more than they are national over the country.
Najm believes that the advantage of being nationally present is enjoyed by the Sunni Islamic movements, including the Islamic group, “but these currents do not present themselves as an alternative in the Sunni arena, even if they aspire to play a political role, in order to preserve the gains of Sunni Muslims and their role in Lebanon.”
He finds that the absence of a “future” may give an opportunity for regional leaders and Islamic currents to be an alternative for voters, “because boycotting the elections is dangerous and Lebanon’s Sunnis should not repeat the experience of Christians when they boycotted the elections in 1992 and their disastrous results on the political scene.”
He explains that these currents do not lack experience, “the Islamic Group was present in Parliament from 1992 to 2000, and from 2009 to 2018, but the currents of political Islam in the region, especially after the Arab Spring revolutions, have become in the circle of targeting, and they lack material support and regional depth to support them.” .
motives for withdrawal
Speculation abounds about Hariri’s motives for suspending his political career, and analysts see his move as an unexpected counter-response to his opponents and even some of his allies.
Here, the editor-in-chief of the Lebanese newspaper “Al-Liwaa”, Salah Salam, says that Hariri took a proactive step, given his personal circumstances, the circumstances of his current, and the great turmoil in his internal and external relations.
He adds – to Al Jazeera Net – that the Sunni community is the most affected by his withdrawal, as it suffers from frustration, and Hariri’s decision has increased its confusion, especially since former prime ministers may match Hariri in his step, as the former prime minister, Tammam Salam, announced his reluctance to run, and so he may do for the second time. His colleague Fouad Siniora, as well as President Mikati.
Salam adds that the vacuum at the leadership level is worrying, and it is not easy to install a new leadership within the logic of sectarian balances in Lebanon. It is expected that several forces seeking to seize his parliamentary seats will benefit from Hariri’s absence, whether from the Christian forces or from the Sunni allies of Hezbollah.
After the withdrawal
The writer and political analyst Hussein Ayoub rules out that Hariri’s choice will be the culmination of the conclusion of his political life and the life of his current, and he told Al Jazeera Net that Hariri is launching a new phase with unknown features and results, and without an internal horizon, meaning that what Hariri complains about will remain.
According to Ayoub, “Michel Aoun’s term ends, but Hezbollah’s mandate continues, and this keeps the Saudi horizon ambiguous. This break may open doors for him and push him to search for protection of another kind or for new regional relations.”
He believes that Hariri paid the price of his choices on the Lebanese, Arab and international scene, as he made several settlements and linked the conflict with Hezbollah to the issue of the International Tribunal, all of which gave him zero results, while “at a certain stage he formed a Christian, Islamic, and Sunni Shiite safety valve.”
Ayoub describes Hariri’s decision as a “national earthquake”, which, in his opinion, will have repercussions on the Sunni street and the balances of the Lebanese street, “because the Sunni vacuum will raise questions whose answers are difficult to predict.”
He rules out finding a replacement for Hariri at the current stage, and believes that “the repercussions of his withdrawal are not limited to the Sunni component, but go beyond it to the question of the identity of Parliament and the Presidency of the Republic.”
Does Hariri’s decision threaten the possibility of holding elections?
Ayoub answers, “If the elements of the electoral game are local, his decision will lead to its postponement. If the external factor, particularly the Americans, entered the direction of holding the elections in isolation from Hariri’s decision, this raises major questions about whether what is required to take Lebanon into a confrontation, perhaps Hariri did not want to involve himself and his audience. In which”.