Talks in Riyadh will decide Hariri’s fate

Sunday 25/09/2016
Saudi Oger is facing multibillion-dollar debt restruc­turing

BEIRUT - The fate of former Leba­nese prime minister Saad Hariri and his Future Movement depends on the outcome of delibera­tions between Hariri and Saudi offi­cials in Riyadh, sources close to the movement told The Arab Weekly.
It was not clear which Saudi offi­cials Hariri met with but the recent talks focused on the debt crisis sur­rounding construction firm Saudi Oger, which Hariri owns. The talks over Saudi Oger, one of the king­dom’s top construction firms, will be pivotal in deciding Hariri’s fate as Future Movement leader while he faces increasing political pres­sure in Lebanon.
Reuters reported that the talks aimed at saving Saudi Oger had collapsed, with the firm facing a multibillion-dollar debt restruc­turing. There was no official state­ment from Riyadh, Saudi Oger or Hariri regarding the talks. Political observers in Lebanon waited to see the outcome.
The Future Movement an­nounced that it was postponing its party conference from October to November, citing logistical issues. Sources within the Future Move­ment revealed that the postpone­ment is due to the party awaiting the results of Hariri’s talks with the party’s main backer.
According to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, Riyadh could seek to take a number of different approaches in the talks.
Those include Saudi Arabia with­drawing political and financial sup­port from Hariri, which could lead to his retirement from politics. Ri­yadh could also reaffirm its support for Hariri and the Future Movement as its main face in Lebanon or Saudi Arabia could seek to pursue a new policy based on supporting both the Future Movement and other Lebanese political parties to serve Saudi interests in Lebanon, the sources said.
Diplomatic ties between Beirut and Riyadh have been tense since Lebanon failed to join other Arab governments in condemning at­tacks last January on the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Riyadh cut $3 billion in military aid and another $1 billion to Lebanon’s security ser­vices in response. Many regional observers expressed concern about the effect this had on the political crisis in Lebanon.
Lebanon has been without a pres­ident for more than two years amid a deadlock between the Future Movement-led March 14 alliance and the Hezbollah-led rival March 8 alliance. The Future Movement has lately denied that claim that Hariri could be willing to accept the Hez­bollah-backed candidacy of Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun for president and also denied this was based on a Saudi veto to the idea of Aoun as president.
Media affiliated with Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement sought to strengthen the idea that Hariri would accept Aoun as president but Future Movement sources said this is only an attempt to pressure Hariri during a difficult period.
Hariri and the Future Movement have confirmed they will continue to back Marada Movement leader Suleiman Frangieh for president, although some analysts have sug­gested that Hariri could throw his weight behind Aoun in a deal that would see Hariri become prime minister.
According to this analysis, Hariri returning as prime minister, even with Aoun as president, could be part of a campaign to secure politi­cal and international legitimacy to alleviate pressures on Hariri.
Sources close to the Future Move­ment, however, deny that he would need any such political deal to return as prime minister, given that the Future Movement holds the largest parliamentary bloc, and he would be able to secure the necessary votes to form a new government.
The sources added that the deci­sion to agree to Aoun as president would require a regional and inter­national agreement and that a fu­ture president Aoun is something that many regional and internation­al governments object to.
Observers in Riyadh said Saudi Arabia may have reservations about Hariri and the Future Movement’s ability to confront Iran-backed Hez­bollah in Lebanon but there is no real alternative for Riyadh to back in the country.
Saudi Arabia delaying a resolu­tion of the debt crisis surrounding Saudi Oger and the lack of clarity on Riyadh’s position towards Hariri and the Future Movement reflect Saudi Arabia’s changing regional priorities. They also reflect Riyadh’s conviction of the futility of seeking to resolve the situation in Lebanon given developments in Syria, ques­tions over Iran’s policies in the re­gion and the approaching US presi­dential elections.