Reflecting on Saad Hariri’s Short Lived “resignation,” Lebanon's Future Remains Bleak
Two months after Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s Prime Minister since December 2016, presumably resigned, Lebanon is still suffering from high levels of external and internal tension that has left the country in its most fragile state. Lebanon’s mysterious crisis started with the Prime Minister announcing his resignation while on a diplomatic trip in Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia. During the resignation speech, which was televised live on Saudi television, Hairri emphasized the dangers that Iran poses to the stability of Lebanon and the region — blaming it on the current chaos.
His sudden resignation from a country other than Lebanon, especially that country being Saudi Arabia, caused uproar from the Lebanese government as well as resulted in international suspicion. Michel Aoun, the current president of Lebanon, called out Saudi Arabia for “forcing Hariri” to resign from his position, and for taking him and his family as hostages. But Hariri denied all of the allegations, saying that Saudi Arabia is a long-term friend. Hariri ended up withdrawing his resignation when he came back to Lebanon, but the consequences of his decision clearly affected the Lebanese government. The resignation of a politician in a small country might seem unimportant in the international arena, but it is important when considering how it signifies a shift in the tense relation between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Two months after Hariri’s resignation, it is evident that his resignation was a political move instigated by Saudi Arabia to preserve and advance its position as a regional power, as part of its proxy war with Iran. Much like the United states and the Soviet Union during the cold war, Saudi Arabia and Iran have different political and religious ideologies. Their pursuit for more power in the Middle East, while not new in any way, has recently increased in intensity.
Lebanon is not the first country to be caught between the collision of these two regional powers. Another key example is Yemen — which is currently devastated by a horrific civil war, in which Saudi Arabia has been a main player. Saudi Arabia’s recent intervention in Yemen has mainly consisted of bombing the Iran-supported rebel group, Al-Houthis. In addition, Mohammed bin Salman’s recent ascent to power as the new crown prince of Saudi Arabia has been blamed on the recent Saudi intervention for foreign affairs. He is reforming Saudi Arabia both domestically and internationally to ensure it maintains its hegemony. While he has gotten some praise for his new legislation to finally allow Saudi women to drive and to open movie theaters, it is important to discuss how his recent policy-making has further destabilized and polarized the region. His newest step in Lebanon has also furthered Iran’s interest in Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shia’a militant organization, which is heavily backed by Iran. These rushed decisions by the new Saudi leader is thus disturbing years-long diplomatic relations in the region.
Saudi Arabia’s political move in Lebanon has profound implications and might hint at a future intervention in the country’s affairs. While it is unclear if Iran and Saudi Arabia will open fire at each other, they have been prone to support opposing militant groups in other countries, unconcerned about the damages and human losses that result from it. After the Saad Hariri crisis, activists were worried that Lebanon was on its way to being the newest country to join as another proxy. Activists in Lebanon are concerned that Saudi Arabia might intervene in the local politics of the country, especially regarding Palestinian refugee camps, where animosity has been brewing since the end of the civil war. While that is unlikely, and unconfirmed at this point, it is important to not undermine Lebanese politics as purely local, but as another pawn in the Middle East’s “Cold War,” that could bring the region crashing down. Hariri’s resignation is another example of how relatively powerless countries are used as an instrument to further the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
On Monday, Feb. 27, Hariri announced that he has accepted an invitation to visit Saudi Arabia. This will be his first visit since his resignation last year.