Hariri returns to Lebanon with Saudi grant to confront extremism

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Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri attending a meeting at the Grand Serial upon his return from his prolonged absence, yesterday, August 8, 2014. (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)

By: Firas Choufi

Published Saturday, August 9, 2014

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri returned to Lebanon yesterday with a promise from Saudi Arabia to provide the Lebanese army with one billion US dollars. Hariri has his work cut out for him which starts with spending the one billion dollars, and fighting Hezbollah. It also includes reorganizing the ranks of his party and confronting takfiri groups.

Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri did not return to Lebanon empty-handed the way he left it three years and four months ago. After having spent his time roaming between the hotels of Europe and castles of Saudi Arabia, he crowned his return to Lebanon with a Saudi grant to the Lebanese army and security forces.

Backed by the decision of King Abdullah bin Abdel Aziz, Hariri is here to spend $1 billion in support of the Lebanese Army in its fight against terrorism. He is also set to “lead the Sunni moderate movement,” as he said at a March 14 meeting yesterday, and as Future Movement officials constantly reiterate.

Many questions surround the circumstances of Hariri’s return, while the answers may start in Mosul but not end in Ersal.

“Hariri is back and this is final. He may travel abroad to visit someone, but he is back in Lebanon,” a source close to Hariri told Al-Akhbar, while Future Movement officials insist that he returned to lead “Sunni moderation” and [oversee] the spending of the Saudi grant.

For Lebanese officials, Hariri’s return was not as surprising as it was for his faltering Future Movement supporters, who celebrated the return of their absent leader late into the night by holding gatherings and setting off fireworks.

In the past few months, MP Walid Jumblatt never tired of publicly and privately calling on Hariri to return. Jumblatt felt “the danger of Hariri staying away from the country amid the proliferation of extremism,” a Progressive Socialist Party minister told Al-Akhbar.

Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri shares Jumblatt’s position. Asked about Hariri’s return, a visitor quoted Berri saying, “Thank God,” holding his hands up in the air, as if rejoicing.

Berri had already made a public appeal to Hariri before the formation of Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government, urging him to return to the post of prime minister.

No regrets there, Hariri actually appeared as if he were the prime minister of Lebanon yesterday. He stepped out of his car in the yard of the government headquarters at the Grand Serail, and informed Salam about King Abdullah’s decision “to allocate $1 billion to meet the urgent needs of the army,” before attending a security meeting.

High-ranking sources in March 8 attributed Hariri’s return to two main reasons. First, the events in Ersal uncovered a frightening reality about a segment of the population that is slipping away from the Future Movement, and is increasingly adhering to the takfiri ideology. The first parties the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) would go after are parties just like the Future Movement. Besides, many divisions have hit the organizational structure of the Movement, and Hariri’s return aims to put an end to losing “Future Movement supporters who are turning to extremist ideologies.”

Second, Hariri’s return fits in the context of King Abdullah’s speech from a few days ago, when he announced that Saudi Arabia intends to fight terrorism.

Concerning Ersal, previous experiences suggest that since the army did not end the battle militarily, it actually denied Hezbollah the chance to invest in the army’s operation in threatening the militants gathered on the borders with al-Qalamoun.

This way, Hezbollah did not win, but it did not lose either. According to the sources, Hariri’s work in the future will focus on just "not allowing Hezbollah to win." This comes after attacks by militants on the army, thus proving to be a serious threat, not just to Hezbollah and its supporters, but to the country as a whole.

He will also work on preventing takfiris from defeating the army, as a victory for them would strip Hariri of all his power.

Setting aside military loses and gains, March 8 sources said, “Hariri’s presence should give more political momentum to the army in future clashes with militants. It would also ward off extremists who are trying to incite Lebanese in various regions to clash with the army.”

What about the Saudi grant? This current grant cannot be compared to the US$ 3 billion announced a few months ago. However, Hariri did not return back then. Also, we do not even know if the grant is going to meet the same fate as its precedent, from which the army has yet to receive a single bullet. The Saudi Finance Ministry has still not received an official request to allocate the money.

Even France, the country chosen to export the arms, has still not presented any of the required weaponry, contrary to the norm between two countries that sign arms treaties, which might suggest that Paris is “not very confident” that the money will actually be paid.

Meanwhile, information obtained by Al-Akhbar indicated that the American share of the weapons has already been classified and packed, waiting for the Saudis to “release” the money.

Although the current grant was announced amid the battles in Ersal, nothing proves, up until this moment, that the army will receive the weapons anytime soon, or that this grant is anything more than a vain promise amid the possibilities of a security escalation.

Will Hariri’s return to Beirut bring a solution for the presidential crisis? Most sources affirm that Hariri does not have any initiative concerning the presidential vacuum.

According to a March 8 source, “the Lebanese lost their chance to solve the presidential issue locally a month ago, when the chance was available.”

“The presidency is now closely linked to the problems in the region, from the US-Iranian (nuclear) agreement to the Saudi position and the Iraqi crisis,” the source warned.

Meanwhile, March 8 and Future Movement sources rejected claims that “a deal was reached between Hariri and [MP Michel] Aoun,” contrary to what was suggested all day yesterday.

Berri’s visitors, however, quoted him saying, “Hariri’s presence will greatly help in setting the right environment to solve the presidential issue.”

Hariri’s return yesterday came at a time of heightened security tensions, more serious than the tensions that were prevalent during the period when he left in 2011. His return comes as a wave of terrorism is hitting the whole eastern Mediterranean, while he used to always maintain security being the reason justifying his self-imposed exile from the country.

Waiting for Hariri’s return to yield positive results, a high-ranking politician said, “it is better to talk to one man,” instead of talking to every person in every sector in the Future Movement.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Looks like there has been a typo here: To :confront extremism" or to "promote extremism." Nothing coming from Zionist Arabia is good.

It seems to me, an outside who regards Lebanon as the "canary in the coalmine" as a predictor of peace in the region, that Hariri should state his position on the power-sharing aspect of the Taef Accord whereby Christians are given half the seats in Parliament, regardless of their numbers, which I suggest are about thirty percent of the whole.
Hariri counts himself a Muslim. Why doesn't he define Lebanon's first priority as giving equal rights to Muslims? Why should seventy percent of the population share fifty percent of the Parliament?
I would think people in Lebanon would look at him with his royal Saudi money and see a representative of the anti-democratic movement. From there it's a direct link to Israel. Uri Avnery was just saying yesterday what a surprise it was to see Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the PA's Abbas and Israel agreeing on something ("an unlikely coalition" in the context of the Gaza conflict). I made a small joke about that representing a total of three persons' opinions since when you have, say, five Jewish Israelis in a political discussion, you have nine political opinions represented--an old joke--which means they have no opinion at all, so only the three autocrats get counted. Hariri seems to be the door-to-door salesman in Lebanon for this axis of autocracy and indecision: leaving Hezbullah to administer Lebanon without a legal mandate but with the actual support of the people.
Hariri's product is nostalgia: the good old days which were never really any good.

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