Search
Search

Elections

Why is Saad Hariri stoking suspense over his return to the political game?

The Sunni leader has yet to confirm his return to Beirut or his participation in the upcoming legislative elections

Why is Saad Hariri stoking suspense over his return to the political game?

Former Lebanese premier and Future Movement boss Saad Hariri. (Archive photo AFP)

Is he coming back, or not? This is the question on the minds of all political stakeholders on the local scene about the return of the Future Movement leader Saad Hariri.

Less than five months from the legislative elections, scheduled for May 15, Hariri is keeping mum over his return to Beirut and the political game. Will he run in the elections or allow other members of his party to do so? If yes, will there be any electoral alliances? In the Future Movement circles, silence reigns.

No party officials want to answer this question on behalf of the Sunni leader. All give the same reply: It will be necessary to wait for his return, or the day he decides to speak in public to find out more.

L’Orient-Le Jour learned, however, that Prime Minister Najib Mikati has recently been in contact with Hariri, who allegedly told him he would return to Beirut within 10 days — a statement that was cautiously validated by a source close to the Future Movement, who said that Hariri might be back within a week or more.

Former premier, Fouad Siniora, and former minister affiliated with Walid Joumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party, Wael Abu Faour, are said to have recently visited Hariri in the United Arab Emirates to get word.

“They couldn’t get anything out of him,” said an official who closely follows the issue.

The scenario that Hariri might not return to Lebanon at all seems increasingly plausible. In that case, he would announce his intentions regarding the election from his current residence.

Having withdrawn from the political arena, following his failure to form a government in July 2021, Hariri left Lebanon to settle in the UAE, where he has returned to the world of business.

According to a close associate, the former premier tells all those who ask that he is doing well and is not yet ready to return to politics. It is alleged that Hariri also believes that it would be better for Hezbollah to assume political responsibility for the next phase.

The same source added that the Sunni leader argues that the Future Movement won the 2009 elections but was not able to do anything to prevent the country’s collapse.

In conclusion: For Hariri, it is not the right time or appropriate context to return to the political arena.

Hariri had previously told his close associates on more than one occasion that he was seriously considering not running in elections. This decision might be driven by his decline in popularity, his financial problems, and the lack of support from the Gulf countries, notably Saudi Arabia.

‘Irreplaceable’

While refusing to confirm whether or not the former prime minister will toss his hat in the electoral ring, Abdel Salam Moussa, the Future Movement’s spokesman, preferred to talk about Hariri’s state of mind.

“He’s currently pondering the relevance of engaging in the electoral battle. If these elections only serve to reproduce the same political landscape with the same issues that led to the collapse, then why should he run?” Moussa said.

Hariri is closely following on the major regional changes that could transform that political landscape [a reference to the Vienna talks between Iran and the West, as well as on the ongoing discussions between Tehran and Riyadh], according to Moussa.

This is another factor that would prompt the former government head to reconsider his plans.

The plans of other Future Movement’s members are not evident either.

While some sources talk about the possibility of some individuals running under the Future Movement’s banner, other sources claim that if Hariri decides not to run, no one else would either. Any party member wishing to enter the fray would have to do so as independents.

But if things are clear in Hariri’s head, why is he keeping mum?

“It is simply to destabilize his direct or indirect competitors,” an informed analyst told L’Orient-Le Jour. “By prolonging the dead time, Saad Hariri would be reducing their room for maneuver as much as possible and continue to somewhat control the dynamics of alliances.”

This prompts the question of whether or not Siniora would be inclined to take over in the event Hariri decided to sit out this round.

Siniora, however, has been keeping a low profile since Hariri left the political scene, and does not seem to want to foment divisions within the Sunni community, according to a source close to the former premier.

He was poised to be a substitute candidate for Hariri in the Beirut II constituency. But for the Future Movement, Hariri – who, despite everything, continues to enjoy great popularity in the Sunni community, in Beirut among other areas – is “irreplaceable.”

“Can you name a single candidate who might have the same impact in Beirut?” Moussa asked.


This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghousoub


Is he coming back, or not? This is the question on the minds of all political stakeholders on the local scene about the return of the Future Movement leader Saad Hariri.Less than five months from the legislative elections, scheduled for May 15, Hariri is keeping mum over his return to Beirut and the political game. Will he run in the elections or allow other members of his party to do so? If...