Beirut (GPA) – Saad Hariri’s own party is asking for his return to Lebanon, and even they’re beginning to suspect the Saudis won’t allow it.
On Thursday, representatives from Future Movement, the party of now ex-Prime Minister Saad Hariri began to question the Saudi story about Hariri’s current status in Riyadh following his failure to return on a private flight he was thought to be aboard on Wednesday.
Future Movement, which usually lines up closely with Saudi interests in Lebanon, called on Hariri to return. Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora read the statement which said “The return of the Lebanese prime minister, the national leader, Saad Hariri, and the head of the Future Movement, is necessary to restore the dignity and respect to Lebanon at home and abroad.”
Lebanese President Michel Aoun struck a similar tone during a meeting with Saudi charge d’affaires Walid Bukhari earlier today. According to reports by Lebanese media, Aoun told Bukhari that “The way in which Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned was unacceptable,” and for the resignation to be official Hariri must return to Lebanon to announce his decision.
Hassan Nasrallah also weighed in on these concerns in a speech Friday, saying “the resignation of Hariri illegal and invalid.” He went on to say that this illegality meant that “the prime minister of Lebanon has not resigned.”
Nasrallah also made another claim in his speech, which is a theory that’s growing among several circles of Lebanese politics that “Hariri is held prisoner and must be released.”
All of these statements make sense when you account for recent reports about the mystery of Hariri’s location and the Saudi’s silence on the issue. Even some Lebanese officials have spoken with US media claiming Hariri’s resignation was “encouraged” by the Saudis and that he is now captive in Riyadh.
The Saudis have denied that this is the case, even making a show of sending Hariri to UAE for a day trip. However, since his return to Riyadh, Hariri has again disappeared and continues not to make any public statements, leaving many observers suspicious.
Saudi Arabia’s story is also backed up by their allies such as the UK, EU, France and the US, both of which have sent delegations to meet the former PM.
French President Emmanuel Macron spoke briefly on the matter during an unscheduled trip to Riyadh, speaking much like the Saudis, saying “there’s no reason to say anything official about this,” and that France has “not had any requests” for asylum by Hariri. It’s likely the asylum issue came up due to the fact that before becoming PM, Hariri spent most of his time between Saudi Arabia and France.
Despite Macron’s statement, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian struck a slightly different, more nuanced tone, telling Europe Radio 1 that Hariri was both “was free of his movements,” while also saying it is “important he made his own choices.”
The US, for their part, remains fairly quiet about the whole affair. According to State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert though, Chris Henzel, the US charge d’affaires in Riyadh did meet Hariri.
Nauert said this meeting consisted of “sensitive, private, diplomatic conversations,” that she couldn’t speak on. She did attempt to comfort the press during a briefing on Thursday, saying “We have seen him. In terms of the conditions of him being held or the conversations between Saudi Arabia and Prime Minister Hariri, I would have to refer you to the government of Saudi Arabia and also to Mr. Hariri’s office.”