Lebanon’s former prime minister announces his withdrawal from politics

Saad Hariri urged Future Movement party not to run in May’s parliamentary elections

Lebanon's former prime minister Saad Hariri has announced his withdrawal from politics and urged his Future Movement party not to run in parliamentary elections scheduled for May.

"We will continue to serve our people, but our decision is to suspend any role in power, politics and parliament," Mr Hariri said, adding "there is no hope for any positive chance for Lebanon in light of Iranian influence, international disarray, national divisions, the aggravation of sectarianism and the state's decay".

It is unclear, however, whether other leading Future Movement figures, his aunt, Bahiya Hariri, and former prime minister Fouad Siniora, will agree to relegate the movement to the sidelines as it is Lebanon's only organised Sunni political entity.

The move would deprive Future of seats in the new parliament, ministries and the premiership, and the Sunni community of political leverage. According to Lebanese practice, the prime minister must be a Sunni, the president a Maronite Catholic and the assembly speaker a Shia.


‘A free hand’

Mr Hariri (51) served as prime minister three times after stepping into the shoes of his larger-than-life father, Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005. While in office, the younger Hariri claimed he had prevented the 2008 clashes in Beirut between Shia and Sunni gunmen from spiralling into civil war but admitted his failure to improve the lives of Lebanese now trapped in overlapping political, economic, and social crises that have plunged 75 per cent into poverty.

“What I cannot bear is that a number of Lebanese now consider me one of the members of ruling class that caused the disaster,” Mr Hariri said.

Online commentators applauded his decision. During his last premiership, hundreds of thousands of Lebanese took to the streets demanding the overthrow of the sectarian system and the ousting of the entire political class, which is blamed for massive mismanagement and corruption.

Prime minister Najib Mikati called Mr Hariri's withdrawal "a sad page for the country and for him personally", while senior Druze figure Walid Jumblatt said his absence "means a free hand for Hizbullah and the Iranians".

Mr Hariri resigned as prime minister-designate last July after failing for eight months to form a government capable of halting Lebanon’s economic decline and tackling the fallout from the devastating 2020 blast at Beirut port that killed 118 and wrecked nearby neighbourhoods, rendering 3,000 homeless.

He was deserted in 2017 by the Sunnis' traditional backer Saudi Arabia as he was unable to match the political clout of Hizbullah and Amal, the Shia duo regarded as Iran's allies, which have partnered with the Maronite Free Patriotic Movement of president Michel Aoun, who has assumed executive powers normally exercised by the prime minister.

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times