Analysis: Lebanon after the Godfather

Analysis: Lebanon after the Godfather

Just four months to a parliamentary election decisive to Lebanon's future, the most influential and prominent political figure in the country over the past two decades, Saad Hariri, suspended his political activities last week, giving a big shock to the national politics. This comes as one can say the Hariris have led a large part of the Sunni sect in the country thanks to their powerful and influential financial and political network.

AhlulBayt News Agency (ABNA): Just four months to a parliamentary election decisive to Lebanon's future, the most influential and prominent political figure in the country over the past two decades, Saad Hariri, suspended his political activities last week, giving a big shock to the national politics. This comes as one can say the Hariris have led a large part of the Sunni sect in the country thanks to their powerful and influential financial and political network.

But with Saad's quitting of the direct political role, the political scene is not left empty of the Hariris. Beside Saad's behind-the-scenes role, a new actor is emerging in the competition from the house of Hariri. Once we focus on the new figure, we can decide why Saad has made such a substitution of roles.

Bahaa Hariri, a businessman naive in politics with a serious mission

Bahaa, the 56-year-old brother of Saad Hariri, is a lesser-known figure in politics and, according to his website, is a businessman whose interests include investing in real estate in Lebanon and Jordan. Despite his inexperience in politics, he has been given a serious task, namely to continue the journey of his late father and ambitions of his brother in maintaining the Hariris' position in power by rebuilding the lost trust to his family at home, mainly among the Sunnis, and abroad, mainly with Saudi rulers.

Bahaa, who like his brother also carries Saudi nationality, tried to emphasize on both aspects of this goal in his speech announcing his entry into the world of politics. Insisting on pretending through media propaganda that he was completely opposed to his brother's policy of an expedient alliance with the rival Hezbollah and its allies, he said he would fight in the battle to "take back the country" and continue his father Rafik Hariri's pathway. The speech and stated agenda were primarily meant to please the Saudis, who want to undermine the powerful Hezbollah and Iran's influence in Lebanon.

Glaringly apparent, the relations between the Hariris and the Saudis have not been as warm as they have been in past years, and this has raised concerns among the Hariri family about the shift of Saudi support to other figures among Lebanese politicians especially from the Sunni sect.

With Riyadh leadership dissatisfied with Saad Hariri's performance in recent years, which became apparent to all when in 2017 he and his family were put under arrest in Saudi Arabia while he was prime minister and on a visit to the kingdom, it becomes increasingly clear that Samir Geagea, the head of Lebanese Forces, is eyeing inheriting the position of the Hariris and Future Movement, led by Saad.

However, the fact is that the chances of leading the Sunni sect through a cross-sectarian discourse are slim. The Hariris are actually not quitting their position and seek to bridge the gaps with Saudi Arabia through bringing to surface a new member of them. However, it is so difficult to fill Saad's place, unless there is a bigger regional support and funding behind Bahaa. In 2017, Nohad Machnouk said of allegiance to Bahaa "we are not a flock of sheep that its ownership is transferred to someone else. Things in Lebanon happen through elections not allegiance."

To the elections

The date of the Lebanese elections is very close, and in addition to local groups, even foreign actors interested in the developments in Lebanon are preparing for this event. In these circumstances, Hariri's withdrawal from politics, which naturally leads to a split in the  March 14 Alliance ranks, is only a misleading move, and in fact this quitting represents an electoral arrangement and strategy to beat the rivals.

First of all, all the evidence shows the readiness of the Future Movement and its foreign backers to hold the elections on time. In fact, it seems that Hariri's removal from the election competition as a burnt piece whose internal popularity has greatly diminished is an electoral move to put pressure on rivals first, and second, by creating an emotional atmosphere in society, especially among the Sunnis, pave the way for mobilization of the votes in favor of the future movement.

Some pieces of evidence support this analysis:

On the one hand, while Hariri's faction has representatives in parliament and chairs the three parliamentary committees, there is no sign of the end of work in parliament by these representatives, and even Mohammad al-Hajjar, Future Movement's representative, told Al-Quds Al-Araby newspaper that they received no instruction from Saad to suspend work or resign from committees and parliament.

On the other hand, despite Jerry Maher, Bahaa's media adviser, announcing that Bahaa will not run in the May 15 parliamentary elections, he also confirmed that Saad's brother is to support election lists presented by "Together for Lebanon", a movement founded and funded by Bahaa.

The activities of the Together for Lebanon movement used to be limited to social work in some areas, especially in Sidon, but the movement is now preparing to run in the elections. The movement, funded by Bahaa, is entering Lebanese politics with the support of the media and propaganda it has received from some local media outlets, as well as through a large number of banners covering roads and highways. Saad, who entered the media field about a year and a half ago through Radio Sawt (Voice) Beirut International, quickly expanded his media coverage inside and opened new offices recently in the eastern district of Mansourah.

Another reason that this Saad's withdrawal is tactical is the insistence of his Western supporters, mainly the US and France, on the need for the election to be on time. This comes as inter-Sunni disunity and the pro-election boycott sentiments have narrowed the chance of victory of anti-Hezbollah camp. Last week, the American ambassador to Beirut sent a delegation to Akar where it met with Future Movement's representatives in an effort to motivate the Sunnis to vote in the upcoming elections.

In general, Hariri's reasons for suspension of political role and his and his brother's anti-Hezbollah criticism, along with Persian Gulf Arab states' severing of ties with Lebanon, are meant to create a dilemma among the Lebanese to choose between Hezbollah and  friendly ties with Arab states. Hariri's anniversary is coming on February 14 and it would provide Bahaa with an opportunity to push forward his political project.



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