Talks in Riyadh will decide Hariri’s fate
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.