PM Saad Al-Hariri Arrives In Beirut, Lebanon On Flight From Egypt

by Bamidele Ogunberu Posted on November 21st, 2017

Beirut, Lebanon : Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned as prime minister on Nov. 4, is back in Beirut on a flight from Egypt. Hariri announced his resignation Nov. 4 in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia throwing Lebanon into a serious political situation. Lebanese President Michel Aoun refused to accept it, accusing the Saudis of holding him against his will.

While in Paris, France, Hariri said he would clarify his resignation on return to Lebanon From France For Independence.

“With regard to the political situation in Lebanon, I will go to Beirut in the coming days, I will participate in the Independence celebrations, and it is there that I will make known my position on these subjects after meeting President (Michel) Aoun,” Lebanon Prime Minister Hariri said after holding talks with French President Emmanuel Macron on arrival in Paris – from Saudi Arabia – on Saturday.

Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as Lebanon’s prime minister this month while in Saudi Arabia, said on Saturday he would clarify his position when he returns to Beirut next week.

Hariri’s resignation on Nov. 4 threw Lebanon into political situation and put it center-stage in the Middle East’s overarching rivalry between Sunni Saudi Arabia and its allies and a bloc led by Shi‘ite Iran.

The shock announcement set off speculation that Hariri had been forced to step down by the Gulf kingdom and was being held there against his will. But he left Saudi Arabia for Paris on Saturday by invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron, before traveling on to Beirut by way of Egypt and Cyprus.

Hariri arrived in a private jet from Cyprus on Tuesday night, after meeting with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri made an unexpected detour on what was assumed to be his flight home to Beirut and  instead landed in Cyprus to meet with President Nicos Anastasiades there.

Several photos showed Hariri and Anastasiades meeting at what looks like Larnaca airport’s VIP lounge. Hariri departed from Cairo earlier in the evening on Tuesday, after talks with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri has held talks with the Egyptian president on the political situation triggered by his resignation.

Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi together with France’s leader, Emmanuel Macron, is reportedly trying to mediate a solution that would involve rolling back Hariri’s resignation.

Hariri was leading a coalition government with his political opponents in the militant group Hezbollah when he stunned Lebanon by announcing his resignation in a televised statement from Saudi Arabia on Nov. 4. He accused Hezbollah of holding Lebanon hostage and hinted there was a plot against his life.

EARLIER: Hariri arrived Saturday in France on Macron’s invitation, and was received at the Elysee Palace courtyard by the French President. The prime minister was accompanied by his wife Lara al-Azm on Saturday, but none of his three children appeared in TV footage.

It’s Hariri’s first appearance outside Saudi Arabia since he made a strange resignation announcement Nov. 4 that some feared was Saudi-engineered. Hariri insisted that he was not a Saudi hostage.

Lebanese state-run National News Agency says Hariri told Lebanese President Michel Aoun that he would return for independence day ceremonies Wednesday. Macron has sought to mediate in the situation. France has centuries old ties to Lebanon.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency is reporting that President Michel Aoun has received a telephone call from Prime Minister Saad Hariri after his arrival in Paris and Hariri informed him that he will take part in Independence Day celebrations in Beirut next week.

Lebanon will mark Independence Day on Wednesday and there have been concerns about whether Hariri will attend the annual celebrations. The ceremony is usually headed by the president, prime minister and parliament speaker.

Hariri thanked France for the “positive political role” it is playing in the Middle East.

Hariri was joined for lunch at the Elysee Palace by his wife and older son along with Macron and his wife.

Hariri made a short statement in French and similar one in Arabic in which he said: “As you know I have resigned and we will speak about this matter there (Lebanon).”

Hariri declined to take questions, but is set to return to Beirut by Wednesday when Lebanon celebrates its independence day. He thanked Macron, who has been mediating as part of French efforts to try to ease tensions across the region, for his help.

It is the first official comment on when Hariri is likely to be back in Beirut since his Nov. 4 resignation through a broadcast on a Saudi-owned TV station from Saudi Arabia.

NNA quoted a presidential statement saying that Hariri informed the president that he arrived in Paris with his wife earlier Saturday.

The office of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri says he has arrived in Paris with his wife from Saudi Arabia without mentioning two of his children.

The statement says Hariri will meet French President Emmanuel Macron later and have lunch with him along with his wife, Lara, and older son Hussam.

The statement did not mention Hariri’s younger son, Abdul-Aziz, and daughter Loulwa.

Lebanese local media outlets say Hariri’s younger children are still in Saudi Arabia where they are attending school.

Hariri’s older son, Hussam, studies in Britain and arrived in Paris to meet his parents.

Hariri’s cousin and close aide, Nader Hariri, was seen walking into the Paris residence Saturday morning. Nader Hariri told the local LBC TV that he arrived alone in Paris without other family members from Lebanon.

Hariri’s resignation in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia Nov. 4 has thrown Lebanon into a serious political situation. Lebanese President Michel Aoun refused to accept it, accusing the Saudis of holding him against his will.

Hariri announced his resignation Nov. 4 in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia throwing Lebanon into a serious political situation. Lebanese President Michel Aoun refused to accept it, accusing the Saudis of holding him against his will.

Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri says his stay in Saudi Arabia has been to consult with officials there on the future of Lebanon and its relations with its Arab neighbors.

He dismissed as “rumors” reports about his alleged detention in the kingdom.

Hariri’s tweet on Friday came hours before he was expected in France two weeks after his surprise resignation in Saudi Arabia.

Macron earlier said Hariri will be received “with the honors due a prime minister,” even though he has announced his resignation, since Lebanon hasn’t yet recognized it.

Macron had leveraged France’s close relations with both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia to secure a deal that saw Hariri travel to Paris and open the door to a resolution of the situation.

Hariri, who arrived at his residence in Paris in the early hours of the morning, told Aoun in a phone call from Paris that he would be in Lebanon on Wednesday for the celebrations, the Lebanese president said on Twitter.

Hariri’s abrupt resignation and continued stay in Saudi Arabia has caused fears for Lebanon’s stability. His visit to France with his family is seen as part of a possible way out of the situation.

EARLIER: Ex PM Saad Hariri Says Returning To Lebanon This Week – Riyadh, Saudi Arabia : Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri – who resigned suddenly Nov. 4, while on a trip, in a televised address from Saudi Arabia, said on Tuesday that he will return to Lebanon this week.

“I am feeling very well,” Hariri tweeted, adding that he plans to return to Beirut in two days. “My family lives here in Saudi Arabia, the kingdom of goodness.”

Hariri in his televised resignation address from Saudi Arabia, was critical of Iran and its dominant ally group in Lebanon, Hezbollah — whom he accused of sedition and of meddling in Arab affairs beyond their borders.

Hezbollah is involved in Syria’s civil war and supports President Bashar al-Assad. It also supports Houthi rebels in Yemen in its conflict with a Saudi Arabia-led coalition. The military battles are proxy wars that have raised tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Hariri’s resignation triggered a political situation in Lebanon and provoked suspicion that Iran, through Hezbollah, infiltrated the Lebanese government. When Hariri appeared in Saudi Arabia, rumors began that he was coerced into leaving the prime minister’s post and that the Saudis held him hostage.

In a televised interview Sunday, Hariri expressed hope that he’d return to the prime minister’s post, if Hezbollah agreed to stay out of regional disputes.

Tuesday’s announcement came on the same day the United Nations called for the end of a Saudi-led closure of all ports in Yemen — which were closed after a Houthi ballistic missile attack, amid fears on the part of Saudi forces that weapons were being smuggled. Riyadh announced the reopening of ports on Monday, but Hodeidah, the port through which 80 percent of Yemen’s imported food passes, remained closed Tuesday.

EARLIER : Kuwait Asks Citizens to Leave Lebanon, Joins SaudiArabia, Bahrain – Kuwait has also asked it’s citizens to leave Lebanon, in an escalation, following similar moves by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Kuwait becomes the third country after Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to instruct its citizens to leave Lebanon.

Kuwait’s Foreign Ministry cited “circumstances experienced by Lebanon” and taking “precautionary measure against any negative impact that might take place” as reasons for the move.

Kuwait also urged citizens not to travel to Lebanon and included an emergency phone number for citizens in need of help.

Earlier Thursday, Saudi Arabia instructed its citizens residing in or visiting Lebanon to leave the country “as soon as possible”.

On Sunday, Bahrain called on all citizens in Lebanon to leave immediately.

EARLIER: Saudi Arabia Orders Its Citizens To Leave Lebanon ‘Immediately’: Saudi Arabia has ordered its citizens out of Lebanon ‘immediately’ and warned against travel to Lebanon. This is coming in the midst of the sudden resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and the purge and arrest of dozens of leading Saudi officials, ministers and princes by 32-year old crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A brief statement carried by the state-run Saudi Press Agency called on all Saudis living in or visiting Lebanon to depart, and warned against travel to the country.

The official reason given for carrying out such a frenzy of arrests, demotions and sackings has been given as anti-corruption.

The death of Prince Mansour bin Muqrin, along with seven government officials, in a helicopter crash near the Yemen-Saudi border at the same time as the purge is notable to say the least.

The crown prince, at just 32, is on course to be the youngest Saudi king in the nation’s relatively short history. Surrounded by rivals and potential rivals for his father’s throne — chief among them son of the late King Abdullah, Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah — and what with the various crises that have beset the oil-rich Sunni theocracy of late, there seems no doubt that a changing of the guard, and perhaps with it a settling of accounts, is the real reason.

Since replacing his cousin bin Nayef in June, bin Salman has embarked on a campaign to consolidate power, taking on rivals within the royal family. Riyadh has taken on more aggressive policies since bin Salman’s elevation to the position of defense minister and deputy crown prince in 2015, and later to the position of crown prince.

Crown prince Bin Salman – leading the probe as the head of a newly-formed anti-corruption committee – has detained 201 people as part of a sweeping probe, estimating that at least $100 billion has been misused through embezzlement and corruption in past decades. An estimated 1700 bank accounts have been frozen.

Among those detained are billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, including Prince Miteb who until Saturday had headed the powerful National Guard before he was ousted and detained. Prince Miteb was once a contender for the throne and was believed to be opposed to the king’s 32-year-old, Mohammed bin Salman, becoming successor as crown prince.

The sudden resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a close ally of the faction of the Saudi power structure that has just been upended by Prince Salman’s purge, merely adds to the intrigue involved in this affair. Someone in no doubt as to the connection between Hariri’s resignation, which the Lebanese Prime Minister blamed on an Iranian/Hezbollah plot to assassinate him, is Hassan Nasrallah, leader of the aforementioned Lebanese resistance movement. In a recent televised address to his supporters, Nasrallah claimed, “It was not his [Hariri’s] intention, not his wish and not his decision to quit,” asserting that the decision was “imposed” on him by his Saudi backers.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri shocked his country Saturday when he announced in a televised statement out of Saudi Arabia that he was resigning. He has not been seen in Lebanon since.

He said his country had been taken hostage by the militant group Hezbollah, a partner in his coalition government and a major foe of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia says it considers Hezbollah’s participation in the Lebanese government an “act of war” against the kingdom.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said he will not consider the premier’s resignation until the two meet in person.

The political party of Prime Minister Saad Hariri is calling for his immediate return to Lebanon after he announced his resignation in a strange, pre-recorded statement from Saudi Arabia.

Following a meeting of his Saudi-aligned Future Party in Beirut Thursday, the party issued a statement saying it was “necessary” for Hariri to return “to restore Lebanon’s dignity and respect.”

The statement read by former Prime Minister Fuad Saniora seemed to indicate that Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia against his will.

Hariri resigned his post abruptly on Saturday in a pre-recorded speech from Saudi Arabia and has not returned to Lebanon.

In his absence, Lebanon has been awash with speculation the 47-year old prime minister may be held against his will in Saudi Arabia. Saudi officials have denied Hariri is under house arrest.

Hariri reportedly met the French Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Thursday in Riyadh, and has met EU, U.K. and U.S. diplomats in recent days.

Bahrain, a close ally of Saudi Arabia, advised its citizens against travel to Lebanon a day after Hariri’s announcement.

Saudi Arabia is obviously a state currently engulfed by multiple crises to put it mildly. The war in Yemen has entered its third year with no end in sight. Indeed the recent interception of a ballistic missile, launched from Yemen and headed for the airport in the Saudi capital Riyadh, is evidence of the quagmire the war has become for the kingdom. The human toll of the conflict on the Yemeni people — and deafening silence on the part of Western governments, especially the kingdom’s closest Western allies, the US and UK, over the war crimes committed against civilians by Saudi forces — has been so egregious as to leave no doubt, if indeed there could be any, of the desperation on the part of what increasingly resembles a rogue state to neuter the power and influence of Iran in the region.

The Shia behemoth, Iran, is as everyone knows Riyadh’s most bitter regional rival and mortal enemy. It is an objective that drives the kingdom’s foreign policy and alliances, both within and without the region, and which like a rabid dog coveting a bone is an obsession that has succeeded in banishing rationality from its actions in recent years.

The failure of the kingdom’s designs for regime change in Damascus, the failure of its war aims in Yemen, the sharp fall in the price of oil and its concomitant impact on the Saudi economy, an historically high level of youth unemployment at home and clamor of condemnation internationally over the country’s deplorable human rights record — taken together with its failure to weaken Tehran, despite doing its utmost to leverage it’s US ties against the Iranians, does not bode well for it’s long term stability.

Saudi Arabia and Iran are already in a de facto state of war, and have been for a number of years. Each heads a countervailing and antagonistic regional axis of religious, political and geopolitical rivalry, pitted in a determined struggle that evinces no sign of abating. The Saudis, backed by Washington and the West, represent a rigid sectarian Sunni vision for the region, while the Iranians — along with their close allies Hezbollah, the Assad government in Syria, and in conjunction with Russia — are a pillar of non-sectarianism and resistance to US hegemony.

The Israelis, meanwhile, share in Iran a common enemy with Riyadh. Thus the under-the-radar visit to Israel by crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in September, despite both countries sharing no formal diplomatic ties, allows us to speculate that military and intelligence cooperation when it comes to dealing with Iran is now considered of such strategic importance by both countries that it supersedes any other consideration or difference between them.

Time will tell whether Saudi Arabia’s crown Prince Salman is, as some suggest, bent on opening the door to modernity and reform in a society that has long laboured under the stifling weight of religious sectarianism, oppression and with it corruption and hypocrisy on the part of its sclerotic elite. Whatever unfolds in the weeks and months ahead, Saudi Arabia is a state that currently exists in the cross hairs of multiple and enveloping crises of its own design.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he would travel to Saudi Arabia after leaving the United Arab Emirates to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and discuss crises in Lebanon, Yemen and the wider region.

“I will go in the coming hours to Saudi Arabia to meet the Crown Prince,” Macron told a news conference in Dubai.

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Bamidele Ogunberu

Bamidele Ogunberu

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