Hariri’s status as Lebanon’s Sunni community leader confirmed
Beirut- The warm reception that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri received upon his return home two weeks after he announced his resignation from Riyadh November 4 reinforced his status as the undisputed leader of Lebanon’s Sunni community.
Thousands of supporters from various regions, including the north, south and the Bekaa Valley, converged on Hariri’s mansion downtown Beirut to greet him, raising Lebanese flags and the banners of his Future Movement.
“We offer you our blood and soul,” chanted the crowd, reaffirming their allegiance to the political heir of slain premier Rafik Hariri, one of the most popular Sunni leaders in Lebanon’s modern history.
Since Hariri’s return to Lebanon was confirmed, preparations to welcome him kicked off in the streets of Beirut and across parts of the country. Posters of Hariri with the slogan “We are all with you” were raised from the road leading to the airport all the way to Beirut’s centre, including on main streets and intersections and in the mainly Sunni cities of Sidon and Tripoli.
“Regardless of the (controversial) way the resignation was made and which harmed Lebanon’s national dignity, Hariri’s return to the country constituted a test of his popularity,” observed political writer Radwan Akil.
“The rallying of the people from across the country around him clearly revealed that the man is still the number one leader of the Sunni community and capable to lead it politically and in the (forthcoming) elections,” Akil said, adding: “If elections are to be held tomorrow, I am sure that the majority of the Sunni seats in parliament would be swept by Hariri’s party.”
Saudi-backed Hariri, who put his resignation on hold at the request of President Michel Aoun, saw his popularity slide when he agreed to Aoun’s election last year and formed a government largely dominated by Iran-backed rival Hezbollah.
“The scene today and the large demonstration of support would not have happened before Hariri’s resignation. There is no doubt that his declared intention to resign has served his popularity,” Akil said.
“It is an internal message as much as it is a message to the Saudis and the whole world that the Future Movement is the nerve of the Sunni community in Lebanon and that this community is on Hariri’s side,” he added.
Under Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, the president must be a Christian Maronite, the premier a Sunni Muslim and the parliament speaker Shia.