Lebanon

Hariri Back to Try Bringing Together the Opposition

The Future Movement, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces will have to join forces, but is an opposition coalition from the traditional political class credible after the October 17 popular uprising?

Hariri arrived at Beirut International Airport on April 17.The former prime minister was tested negative for coronavirus. Photo from Mustaqbal Web website

The former prime minister and current leader of the Future Movement (FM), Saad Hariri, who last Friday evening returned home from Paris where he had been since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, seems determined to intensify opposition to the government of his successor, Hassan Diab, and to work toward a joint front with several political forces, in particular the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP) and the Lebanese Forces (LF). But will an opposition made up of traditional parties, if they manage to overcome their differences, be effective and above all credible, while the whole traditional political class, whether in power or not, seems to have lost the confidence of many Lebanese nationals?

Hariri who, according to FM sources, will remain under self-quarantine for 14 days although he tested negative for coronavirus on his arrival in Beirut aboard a private jet, immediately contacted PSP leader Walid Jumblatt. An FM source told L’Orient-Le Jour that there is “full coordination” between the two men, who have recently stepped up their attacks on Diab’s government.

According to this source, the “grace period” granted by Hariri to the Diab government is now over, especially since the government has not been able to pursue a coherent policy to steer the country out of its crisis. Hariri, who initially refarined from strongly criticizing the Diab government, decided to speak up after the cabinet’s draft economic reform plan was published. He accused it of wanting to implement “an economic suicide plan based on confiscating the money of the Lebanese deposited in the banks.”

For his part, Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who had also initially indicated that he wanted to give the government a chance, has recently intensified his criticisms, going as far as accusing Diab 10 days ago of preparing a “political-financial coup.” He was referring to fears of imposing a “haircut” on certain bank deposits.

Jumblatt's advisor, Rami Rayyes, confirmed to L' Orient Le Jour that the PSP is engaged in an ongoing dialogue and coordinating with the Future Movement and other parties against government policies. Rayyes noted that coordination between the PSP and the FM began well before the coronavirus crisis and included meetings between officials of the two parties in various regions.

According to political sources, Hariri, Jumblatt and LF leader Samir Geagea would work towards closing their ranks in an attempt to create a unified front to pressure the government.

It is from this perspective that we should interpret the April 17 meeting between Geagea and two of Jumblatt's emissaries, Akram Chehayeb and Nehmé Tohmé, who are members of the Druze leader’s parliamentary bloc. According to an LF source, the meeting was "part of the coordination" between the two parties. “Each party explained its view about the health and financial crises, the political situation and the government’s performance,” the source said, adding that there was "a convergence of views.”

Geagea, too, has not spared the government of his criticism, saying that “as long as the sinister trio controls power in Lebanon, there is no hope for genuine reforms or rescue plan.” He was apparently referring to the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Shiite duo (Hezbollah and Amal Movement).

The LF source said the Lebanese Forces and the Progressive Socialist Party decided to beef up their coordination, saying that a revitalisation of the March 14 Coalition is not being considered for the time being.

A source close to the PSP explained that the Druze leader does not want to antagonize Parliament Speaker and head of the Amal Movement Nabih Berri or Suleiman Frangieh, the leader of the Marada Movement, believing that it is better to keep allies inside the government at a time both parties do not spare the prime minister of their criticism.

Rayyes also believes that the creation of a united opposition front is still “premature.” Hariri and Geagea must first normalize their relations, which have been tense since the LF refrained from nominating the FM leader for the post of Prime Minister during the parliamentary consultations last December. Hariri resigned on October 29, a few days after the popular uprising broke out.


“Those who destroyed the country will not be able to rebuild it”

On the internal front, Hariri must also work on consolidating his popular base, which was shaken, like that of several traditional parties, by the popular uprising. He must also deal with a new element: the ambition of his elder brother Bahaa Hariri to get into politics. The latter “is preparing to open offices in all Lebanese regions,” said Nabil Halabi, a lawyer who presented himself as being close to Bahaa Hariri. Halabi told the OLJ that Bahaa Hariri “supports the young people who rose up” against the political class, but has no ambition to become prime minister.

Since his resignation, Saad Hariri has also tried to listen to those among his supporters who criticized him for having made concessions as part of the presidential compromise that allowed Michel Aoun to become President of the Republic in 2016. The former prime minister also came under fire for having been complacent about Hezbollah, asserting since the Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) started its proceedings in 2014 that the country’s internal stability was his priority. The main defendants in the 2005 murder of his father, former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri, are alleged members of the pro-Iranian party and are being tried in absentia before the STL.

Is it in this context that he wanted upon his return to the country on April 17 to send a message of firmness, attacking lawmaker Jamil Sayyed, who, according to his critics, played an influential role in the formation of the Diab government and is one of its grey eminences? It should be recalled that Sayyed and three other former intelligence and security officials were arrested in 2005 as part of the investigation into Rafic Hariri’s assassination, before being released four years later, for lack of evidence. In principle, the STL is due to deliver its verdict in the case of Hariri's murder in mid-May.

In a press release issued by his press office upon his arrival, Hariri asked the legal representative of the victims (killed along with his father) to the STL to inform the tribunal of a tweet published by the pro-Syrian lawmaker on April 11. In the tweet, Sayyed “acknowledges indirectly that he had received $27 million for the murder” of Rafic Hariri, said Saad Hariri, who requested lifting the deputy’s parliamentary immunity to prosecute him “by a competent court.” Sayyed was quick in publishing another tweet, accusing Hariri of lying and affirming that he outstripped him by preparing a file for the STL claiming that the former prime minister has falsified documents.

But all of these political calculations do not take into account the political earthquake caused by the October 17 popular uprising, which showed that a large part of the Lebanese no longer identify themselves with the traditional political class.

An opposition front formed by the traditional parties has zero credibility, according to Pierre Issa, secretary-general of the National Block party which is engaged in the popular movement. “There is a lack of confidence in the traditional political class and there is the failure of the political parties,” Issa told the OLJ. “For us, the six major confessional parties and the small parties that revolve around them are finished,” he said.“It is impossible for them to get us out of the crisis because those who destroyed the country will not be able to rebuild it.”


(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 21rst of April)



The former prime minister and current leader of the Future Movement (FM), Saad Hariri, who last Friday evening returned home from Paris where he had been since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, seems determined to intensify opposition to the government of his successor, Hassan Diab, and to work toward a joint front with several political forces, in particular the Progressive Socialist Party...

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