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Lebanon’s Hariri withdraws from politics, leaving sectarian vacuum behind

<i>Mohamed Azakir/Reuters</i><br/>Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pulled out of politics
Mohamed Azakir/Reuters
Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pulled out of politics

By Tamara Qiblawi, CNN

Lebanon’s former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has pulled out of politics, ending a turbulent 17-year career and throwing the crisis-ridden country into further uncertainty.

In a televised speech on Monday afternoon, Hariri — a three-time prime minister and the country’s most prominent Sunni politician — announced he was withdrawing from political life. He called on all members of his Future Movement party, which make up the country’s largest Sunni parliamentary bloc, to do the same.

Hariri said that neither he nor any members of his party would run for parliamentary elections, scheduled for May 2022.

Hariri leaves a vacuum in Sunni leadership, in a country with a delicate confessional power-sharing system that hangs in the balance. Multiple local media outlets have reported that Hariri’s allies and foes have tried to talk him out of the move.

Lebanon is in the throes of a financial tailspin, exacerbated by a series of political stalemates centered on corruption, confessional power-sharing disputes and the the question of Iran-backed Hezbollah’s arms.

“I’m convinced that there is no room in Lebanon for opportunity in light of Iranian influence, international confusion, national division, sectarianism and state weariness,” the 50-year-old Hariri, who is a Lebanese-Saudi dual national, said in his speech.

Hariri was thrust into Lebanon’s volatile political scene in the immediate aftermath of the February 2005 assassination of his father, the late prime minister and business tycoon Rafik Hariri. With little political experience, he took on the mantle of Sunni leadership. What followed was a period rife with violence, including a war with Israel and a string of political assassinations — as well as economic crises.

Hariri was backed by Saudi Arabia for most of his political career. His political allegiances pitted him against the militant and political group Hezbollah, in a rivalry that shaped Lebanon’s political scene for nearly two decades. In 2017, Riyadh unofficially withdrew support for Hariri.

In November 2017, Saudi Arabia temporarily detained the prime minister and had him resign under duress, according to multiple sources,

Hariri since returned to the premiership but, without Riyadh’s patronage, saw a steady decline in his political power. In October 2019, a popular uprising against Lebanon’s political establishment toppled his third government.

At the close of his speech on Monday, a visibly emotional Hariri cited his father’s resignation speech just before his assassination.

“Finally, the best words for this moment are what Rafik Hariri said in his statement of absention 17 years ago. ‘I entrust to God the Almighty this beloved country Lebanon and its kind people,” said Hariri, choking on tears. “And I express my heartfelt thanks to all of those who cooperated with me during this last period.'”

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