Sunday, November 12, 2017

Saad Hariri’s return at the heart of Beirut Marathon, amid rising tensions between Baadba and Riyadh

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Yesterday, as he received the Beirut Marathon Association at the Baabda presidential palace, President Michel Aoun wished that this year's marathon happened in solidarity with Prime Minister Saad Hariri and called for his return.

Earlier, according to Reuters, "Lebanon’s president has told foreign ambassadors that the country’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned suddenly last week in Saudi Arabia, has been “kidnapped” and must have immunity."

For the past week, calls for the return of the Lebanese Prime minister have been swamping social media. Except for a few rogue politicians, all political parties and personalities stood by President Aoun in his refusal to accept Hariri's resignation until the latter returns to Beirut.

Even the Future Movement, Hariri's own political party, traditionally a strong Saudi ally, said in a televised statement that “the return of Prime Minister Saad Hariri is necessary in order to restore the internal and external balance of Lebanon with full respect to Lebanese legitimacy."

While Saudi Arabia's man in Lebanon, Ashraf Rifi, has allegedly declared that Saad Hariri will never come back to Lebanon...

This morning, answering Aoun's wish, "a bright red billboard welcomed runners to the marathon's starting line in downtown Beirut with a picture of a sprinting Hariri and the Arabic caption: We are all waiting for you, news website Naharnet reported. "Young men and women distributed water bottles labeled with the same slogan, as well as caps and t-shirts that read Running for you. (…) Online, supporters tweeted pictures from the event with the Arabic hashtags Run for Saad and Saad's coming back."

At the same time, in the northern city of Tripoli, the Interior minister Nohad Machnouk - a member of Hariri's Fture Mouvement - ordered the security forces to take down posters and billboards praising the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad Ben Salman.

On the eve of the marathon, the Lebanese president met with the Saudi chargé d’affaire Walid al-Bukhari and, according to the Lebanese daily Al-Joumhouria, gave him a ultimatum: Saudi Arabia has one week to let Hariri go before Lebanon files an official complaint at the UN Security Council.

Tomorrow, Maronite Patriarch Bechara el-Rahi is supposed to go on an official visit to the Wahhabi kingdom, despite calls to postpone the visit until Saad Hariri has returned. To be able to meet his own Prime Minister, the head of the Maronite church had to submit a request at the Saudi embassy in Beirut!

Meanwhile, talk show hostess Paula Yacoubian confirmed the rumor that Hariri is set to appear in a TV interview in the coming hours. "I will carry out an exclusive interview with the premier on Future TV and it seems that all television networks will broadcast it, she said to An-Nahar newspaper, “I cannot confirm whether it will be aired tonight or not, but I will head to Riyadh today with the show’s crew to conduct it."

But Al-Jadeed TV reported that "Saudi authorities have not allowed Future TV’s crew to accompany Yacoubian", and MTV-Lebanon said that "Hariri will not appear on Future TV on Sunday but rather in the next two days."

Knowing that during his unscheduled visit to Riyadh, French president Emmanuel Macron’s request to meet with Saad Hariri was allegedly denied by the Saudi authorities because his convoy’s jamming system could have stopped the Saudis from eavesdropping, one can wonder how "truthful" Yacoubian's interview is going to be.

Will it be broadcasted live or will it be edited in Riyadh before we're allowed see it, like the resignation speech on Al-Arabiya?

After the rumors of the interview were confirmed, prominent French journalist Michael Darmon wrote on Twitter: "Saudi authorities want Saad Hariri to take a pro-Riyadh stance otherwise his family will be place on house arrest and Hariri put on the black list of corrupted princes".

It's difficult to imagine that Hariri will speak freely. He's expected to repeat what he read out loud during his resignation speech and blame Iran and Hezbollah.

As President Aoun said: "the obscurity surrounding the condition of Prime Minister Saad Hariri since his resignation a week ago means that all positions and actions declared by him or attributed to him do not reflect the truth."

© Claude El Khal, 2017