Hariri Returns to Lebanon for First Time Since Surprise Resignation

Two weeks after resigning from office on Saudi TV, Hariri said he would 'declare my political stance' back in Lebanon for its Independence Day

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C) arrives at Beirut International Airport on November 21, 2017.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri (C) arrives at Beirut International Airport on November 21, 2017. FADEL ITANI/AFP

Saad Hariri attended a military parade held in Beirut for Independence Day on Wednesday after returning to Lebanon for the first time since he resigned as prime minister in a broadcast from Saudi Arabia and plunged his country into political crisis.

After landing in Beirut on Tuesday evening, Hariri visited the grave of his father, the late Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. After praying at the grave, Hariri retired to his home in central Beirut.

Asked what he would like to tell the Lebanese as he was leaving the grave, the premier said "Thank you," in reference to the support and solidarity he had received from the Lebanese after his resignation, which has not yet been accepted by President Michel Aoun.

Hariri, 47, arrived alone in Beirut without his wife, who according to sources close to the premier, has gone back to Saudi Arabia to join her two children who go to school there.

As Hariri's arrival was announced in the capital, supporters of his Future movement drove around the streets waving pictures of him.
The premier is scheduled to attend an Independence Day ceremony in Beirut on Wednesday along with other Lebanese officials. After the ceremony his followers are to celebrate his return. 

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Hariri's sudden resignation on November 4 thrust Lebanon to the forefront of a regional power struggle between the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia and Shi'ite Islamist Iran, whose powerful ally Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government. 

Saad Hariri arrived in Cyprus earlier Tuesday for a meeting with its president ahead of his expected return to Beirut to take part in independence day celebrations on Wednesday. 

Just hours prior, Hariri visited Egypt for talks with the Egyptian president who, together with France's leader, is reportedly trying to mediate a way out of the crisis in Lebanon that would involve rolling back Hariri's resignation.

Hariri, who flew to Egypt from Paris, resigned in a televised message on November 4 from Saudi Arabia, a highly unusual move that raised suspicions that he may have been forced to step down by his Saudi patrons as part of Riyadh's escalation against Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. The Shiite militant group is a key member of Hariri's ruling coalition and Lebanon's single most dominant force.

Hariri was scheduled to meet at midday Saturday with French President Emmanuel Macron, who is trying to mediate in the region to avert a proxy conflict in Lebanon between Iranian-backed and Saudi-backed camps.

After meeting French President Emmanuel Macron, Hariri said he would return in time for Wednesday's celebrations to Lebanon, where he said he would "declare my political stance."

"As you know I have resigned and we will talk about this matter in Lebanon," Hariri said.

A dual Saudi-Lebanese national with vast business interests in the kingdom, Hariri was due to fly to Lebanon after his talks with Egypt's Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi to attend Wednesday's Independence Day celebration.

"Inshallah (God willing), tomorrow's Independence Day in Lebanon will be a feast for all Lebanese," he told reporters after talks and dinner with the Egyptian leader.

In Lebanon, the army chief called on troops to stand firm against any attempt to incite strife in the country amid the crisis triggered by Hariri's resignation. Gen. Joseph Aoun's comments came in a memorandum to the soldiers on the eve of Independence Day.

The military, he said, "should firmly confront any attempt to take advantage of the current circumstances with the aim of inciting strife." He also called on troops to be on high alert along the border with Israel, to face any "threats or violations by the Israeli enemy."