BEIRUT – In a bombshell announcement, Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri said on Monday he was suspending his role in political life and would not run in a forthcoming parliamentary election.
The news comes as the country is tackling a dire financial crisis that has seen the country depend into social and political turmoil, with everyday Lebanese struggling amid fuel and power shortages and currency collapse.
The vast majority of Sunni lawmakers are part of Hariri’s Future Movement party. In Lebanon’s sectarian system, parliamentary seats are allocated based on a sectarian quota. The Hariri family has dominated Lebanon’s Sunni political landscape for more than three decades since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990.
Reuters reported that Hariri, three times prime minister, also called on his party not to run any candidates in the election, indicating several factors were behind his decision, including Iranian influence – a reference to heavily armed Shi’a group Hezbollah. His most recent appointment as prime minister was in October 2020, though he resigned from that position the following July after political deadlock and continuing disputes with President Michel Aoun.
“I’m convinced there is no room for any positive opportunities to Lebanon due to the Iranian influence, our indecisiveness with the international community, internal divisions, and sectarian divisions, I’m suspending work in political life and so is the Future Movement,” Hariri said in a televised address on Monday. “And I’m not running in the elections, nor will the Future Movement,”
“We are staying in service of our people and nation, but our decision is to suspend any direct role or responsibility in ruling, representation, or politics in the traditional sense,” Hariri added, his voice breaking with emotion as he spoke in front of a portrait of his father.
Lebanon has recently seen a rise in sectarian tensions, echoing bitter memories of the country’s decades long Civil War. Hariri said that to prevent such a war and to improve the wellbeing of Lebanese, he’s had to make compromises with political adversaries, which has weakened his ability to improve the economy. According to Al Jazeera, he also cited loss of personal wealth, local and regional allies.
Hariri inherited the political mantle of his father, Rafik al-Hariri, after his assassination in 2005. But while he remains the leading Sunni, his political fortunes have waned in recent years, with his position weakened by the loss of Saudi support.
Hariri’s announcement comes as Lebanon suffers an economic meltdown which the World Bank has described as one of the sharpest ever globally. The sectarian elite has failed to take steps to address the crisis, even as the bulk of the population has fallen into poverty.
Lebanese will head to the polls to vote in the parliamentary elections on May 15. They will be voting for the first time since a countrywide popular uprising in late 2019, and the Beirut Port blast in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people and destroyed dense neighborhoods in the capital.
– Wire and staff