Saad Hariri has returned to Beirut where he has been greeting as the country’s Prime Minister. He has held a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun during which he was persuaded not to officially resign as Prime Minister. Aoun has never accepted the legitimacy of Hariri’s forced resignation from Saudi soil and while Hariri was prepared to formally resign in Beirut, he will now look to preserve the existing coalition made up of parties from the broadly pro-Syrian March 8 Alliance as well as members of the broadly pro-western/pro-Saudi March 14 alliance which is led by Hariri’s Future Movement. Due to Lebanon’s fractious history, the country’s Premier must be a Sunni Muslim, its President a Christian (usually a Maronite) while the Parliamentary speaker must be a Shi’a Muslim.
The fact that a political process has triumphed over clear attempts at blackmail from Riyadh, represents a pan-Lebanese victory over forces which have tried to leverage extreme wealth and a de-facto close relationship with the Israeli regime, in attempts to foment another major crisis in Lebanon, though exploiting Lebanon’s sectarian composition. This time it didn’t work as countries ranging from Iran to many EU powers, all called for the peaceful return of Saad Hariri.
While Hariri has lost some credibility due to being bamboozled by Saudi Arabia, while still not publicly confessing to the true nature of events in public, he has also became an accidental symbol of Lebanese resilience, insofar as politicians from parties who oppose Hariri’s policies rallied around the constitutional order which demanded the return of an effectively kidnapped head of government.
If Hariri continues to utter statements made from Saudi soil that he will not accept a coalition which includes Hezbollah, chances are he may eventually be replaced as Prime Minister. However, there remains an equal possibility that he may simply step back into his old role with the existing and stills table coalition. As his children remain on Saudi soil, it is not clear how freely he feels he is able to speak at this point.
Throughout the Hariri ordeal, the clear political winners have been President Michel Aoun of the Maronite Christian Future Movement, as well as Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri of the Shi’a Amal Movement and Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. All three men rallied around a united front during the crisis, vowing to continue the work of the coalition government.
For today, Hariri is sitting beside Aoun celebrating Lebanon’s Independence Day from France, a country which ironically appears to have secured Hariri’s own independence from his detention in Saudi Arabia.
Multi-party talks are expected to resume soon which will ultimately clarify whether Hariri still intends to continue as Prime Minister. In the immediate term though, Lebanon has pulled together at a time when Saudi Arabia and Israel sought to pull it apart. This says a great deal about the maturity of contemporary Lebanon and about the immaturity of its enemies.