Saad Hariri back in Lebanon amid rumours of political return

Influential former prime minister marks 19th anniversary of father's assassination in Beirut

Former Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri greets supporters after visiting the tomb of his father Rafic Hariri on Wednesday. EPA
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Lebanon's influential former prime minister Saad Hariri returned to the public eye in Beirut on Wednesday to mark the 19th anniversary of the assassination of his father Rafic.

It comes amid rumours that Mr Hariri, an important figure in Lebanon's Sunni Muslim community, is contemplating a return to politics two years after he withdrew.

Thousands of people went to Rafic Hariri's tomb in central Beirut to pay their respects, and to show support for Saad Hariri and his Future Movement. Security was high, with masked gunmen patrolling the area and snipers positioned on top of Lebanon's largest mosque, which overlooks the tomb.

The supporters crammed into the courtyard of the Mohammad Al Amin mosque, chanting Saad Hariri's name and waving the blue flags of the Future Movement. Rain poured as the former prime minister arrived at the tomb.

Saad Hariri's shock withdrawal from politics in January 2022 led to a political vacuum in Lebanon's Sunni community. He had also called on members of the Future Movement not to run in the May 2022 parliamentary elections, although some took part as independents.

Explaining his decision, he said there was “no room for any positive opportunities to Lebanon due to the Iranian influence, our indecisiveness with the international community, internal divisions and sectarian divisions”.

Iran is the main backer of Lebanon's powerful armed group and political party Hezbollah.

Rumours that Saad Hariri wants a return to political life have been fuelled by his supporters, particularly at the grass roots level. Almost nothing has been heard from him in the last two years. He spoke only briefly at his home on Wednesday and made no mention of a political return.

“I just heard what Saad Hariri said and apparently nothing has changed with regards to the reasons he stated two years ago concerning his retreat from political activity,” Mustafa Allouche, a former vice president of the Future Movement, told The National.

“Obviously he will not be back until he may carry a certain project for Lebanon which is fully supported by regional and international powers.”

Mr Allouche is a former member of parliament for Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli.

One politician referred to a campaign by supporters of Saad Hariri – now based in the UAE – to remain in Lebanon and return to politics.

“This is why you keep hearing this [the rumours],” the politician said. “Whether it will be echoed and will resonate near him or not, I think he will be the only one to announce it. If it would have been declared, we would have known.”

Rafic Hariri, the influential post-civil war prime minister, was assassinated after a bomb hit his convoy in 2005 in central Beirut. A UN-backed tribunal has previously issued arrest warrants for four alleged Hezbollah members over the killing.

During his visit to Beirut, Saad Hariri met with a number of senior officials including caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati and Suleiman Frangieh, one of the main candidates in Lebanon's presidential race.

Saad Hariri's return to Lebanon comes amid an unprecedented post-civil war governance vacuum. Parliament has failed to agree on a successor to former president Michel Aoun, whose term ended in October 2022.

Meanwhile Mr Mikati's cabinet, which would normally take on head of state powers in the event of a presidential vacuum, is severely deprived of its strength because of its caretaker status.

Updated: February 14, 2024, 2:58 PM