Lebanon’s former prime minister has promised to return to his country in the next two days after shocking the world by resigning on Saturday.
Saad al-Hariri said yesterday he was fine and would be in Lebanon very soon.
Top Lebanese government officials and senior politicians close to Hariri believe Saudi Arabia coerced him into quitting and has been holding him against his will ever since, though Hariri and Riyadh have denied this.
Writing on Twitter, Hariri urged Lebanese to remain calm and said his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, calling it ‘their country’.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri shakes hands with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday
Hitting back: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri said that he is free to leave Saudi Arabia whenever he likes, and is set to return to Lebanon in two days
Hariri resigned as prime minister on Saturday in a shock declaration read from Saudi Arabia, sending Lebanon into a deep political crisis and pushing the country back to the forefront of a regional struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
At the time, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of taking over his country and destabilising the broader region.
Hariri cited fear of assassination and accused Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah of sowing strife in the Arab world during his resignation speech.
He gave his first public remarks on Sunday, saying in a televised interview in Riyadh he planned to return to Lebanon within days to affirm his resignation.
In the interview with his party’s own TV channel, Hariri, 47, repeated accusations that that Iran and Hezbollah are interfering in Lebanon.
‘We cannot continue in Lebanon in a situation where Iran interferes in all Arab countries, and that there’s a political faction that interferes alongside it.
‘Maybe there’s a regional conflict between Arab countries and Iran. We’re a small country. Why put ourselves in the middle?’
Hariri, who also holds Saudi citizenship, said that he wrote his resignation himself and wanted to submit it in Lebanon, ‘but there was danger’.
Explaining himself: Lebanese watch an interview with resigned prime minister Saad Hariri at a coffee shop in Beirut
He also appeared to lay down an exit strategy, saying he would be willing to ‘rescind the resignation’ if intervention in regional conflicts stopped.
‘We need to respect the disassociation policy,’ Hariri said, referring to an agreement among Lebanese political factions that they would not interfere in Syria’s six-year war.
He appeared to be alluding to Hezbollah’s military intervention on behalf of the Syrian government, to which Hariri is opposed.
Harari, a two-time premier, cited fears for his life when he resigned from his post last week, less than a year after his unity government was formed with Hezbollah.
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who has stated that he believes Riyadh is restricting Hariri’s freedom, has refused to accept his resignation until his return from Saudi Arabia.
The political crisis has thrust Lebanon to the forefront of the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which is being played out on battlefields from Syria to Yemen.
A poster of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri hangs beside a roundabout in the northern Lebanese port city of Tripoli
The Arab League said it would hold an extraordinary meeting next Sunday at the request of Saudi Arabia to discuss ‘violations’ by Iran in the region.
In his interview on Sunday, Hariri said he has ‘excellent’ ties with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in an apparent effort to put to rest rumours that the Saudi crown prince had pressured him to step down.
‘Really, I consider him a brother and he considers me a brother. It’s an excellent and special relationship,’ he said.
But he refused to comment on the internal political turmoil in Saudi Arabia, where dozens of high-profile politicians and businessmen have been arrested in what authorities say is an anti-graft drive.
Harari’s father Rafik made his fortune in Saudi Arabia and also served as premier for years before he was assassinated in 2005.