Saad Hariri, the prime minister of Lebanon, abruptly resigned on November 4 amidst rumors of political interference from Saudi Arabia.
Speaking from an undisclosed location in Riyadh, Hariri announced on Saturday that he will resign as Lebanon’s Prime Minister. His announcement was aired on Al Arabiya, a Saudi state-owned news station. In his speech, Hariri admitted that he felt his life was in danger in Lebanon and that he worried about possible assassination plots against him.
“We are living in a climate similar to the atmosphere that prevailed before the assassination of martyr Rafik al-Hariri. I have sensed what is being plotted covertly to target my life,” Hariri said.
Rafik Hariri was Saad Hariri’s father and Lebanon’s Prime Minister until his assassination in a 2005 bombing in Beirut.
In the speech, Hariri also accused Iran of meddling in Arab affairs and Hezbollah of leading Lebanon into turmoil, according to Al Jazeera.
Hezbollah is a military and political organization predominantly made up of Shi’ite Muslims and backed by Iran. It occupies seats in the Lebanese parliament and is part of Hariri’s own coalition government that took power in late 2016, Reuters reports.
Hariri, a dual citizen of both Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, is supported by the Saudi government. As Hezbollah and Iran-backed forces have made progress in Syria against the Saudi-backed rebel forces, Hariri has come under pressure from Riyadh to distance himself from the party.
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, called Hariri’s resignation a “Saudi statement” and claimed that Saudi Arabia coerced him to resign.
Rumors of Saudi interference emerged on the same day that Mohammad bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, ordered a new anti-corruption initiative which has led to the arrests of at least 17 princes and top officials on charges of corruption, according to Al-Monitor. Those detained include rival members of the prince’s family.
Hariri is the chairman of Saudi Oger, his family’s construction company based in Riyadh. Reuters reports that there is speculation that the family’s construction business is involved in the corruption scandal which ultimately led to Saudi Arabia pressuring Hariri to resign.
Riyadh’s possible involvement in the resignation of Saad Hariri would be another example of its struggle for power with Iran, Al Jazeera reports. The two regional powers already support opposite sides in Syria and Yemen.
According to Abdel Jubeir, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, the idea that Hariri was coerced into resignation by the Saudi government is “nonsense.” He added that Hariri is free to leave the country at any time.
Hariri’s abrupt resignation comes as a surprise to Lebanese political officials and the international community, and it has plunged Lebanon into a political crisis, according to Reuters.
President Michel Aoun and Speaker Nabih Berri announced that Hariri’s resignation was unconstitutional and that he is still prime minister, as reported in the Daily Star. If he does not return, it is not immediately clear who will succeed him as prime minister.
The full political and economic consequences of Hariri’s surprise resignation remain unclear, but Reuters reports that these developments clearly have the capacity to reignitetensions between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim factions within Lebanon.