Turbulent career in Lebanon Hariri politics

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BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri said on Monday he would not stand as a candidate in an upcoming parliamentary election and would suspend his role in political life, urging his political party to do the same.

Hariri has been prime minister three times, but his political fortune has waned in recent years and his position has been weakened by the loss of Saudi support.

* Hariri, 51, inherited his father Rafik’s political mantle after his assassination in 2005 and became the leading Sunni Muslim in Lebanon‘s sectarian politics. In 2020, a United Nations-backed tribunal convicted a member of the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah of conspiring to assassinate Rafik al-Hariri. Hezbollah denies any involvement.

* His early years in politics were marked by his close alliance with Saudi Arabia and confrontation with Lebanese allies of Syria and Iran, most notably Hezbollah. He led a Western-backed Lebanese alliance called the 14th March”. Tensions led to a brief armed conflict in 2008, during which Hezbollah took over Beirut.

* He formed and led his first coalition government in 2009 after winning a parliamentary majority on March 14.

* This cabinet was overthrown in 2011 when Hezbollah and its allies resigned over tensions surrounding the United Nations-backed tribunal. For security reasons, he stayed outside of Lebanon for several years. He sharply criticized Hezbollah’s role in the fight in support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

* After years of leading opposition to Hezbollah’s arsenal, Hariri was widely seen as putting the issue aside as he began making political deals with Hezbollah and some of its allies. This led to a deal in 2016 that made Hezbollah-allied Christian politician Michel Aoun president, while Hariri became prime minister for a second time.

* While continuing to oppose Hezbollah’s arms ownership, Hariri described the arsenal as a regional matter, larger than Lebanon, where the focus should be on tackling economic problems. Anti-Hezbollah hawks accused him of compromising and abandoning the March 14 principles.

* His political network in Lebanon, including the media, fell into a financial crisis around 2015. This marked the collapse of Hariri’s Saudi Arabia-based construction company Saudi Oger, the source of the wealth that helped make Rafik al-Hariri Lebanon’s leading Sunni leader after the 1975-90 civil war.

* Tensions in Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, which analysts believe was angered by his compromises in Lebanon, surfaced in 2017 when he was detained during a visit to the kingdom and forced to announce his resignation. Although Riyadh and Hariri deny this, the incident was widely reported. French President Emmanuel Macron, who brokered an end to the crisis, said Hariri was being held. Hariri returned to Beirut and withdrew his resignation.

* Financially weakened, Hariri’s Future Movement lost more than a third of its seats in a 2018 general election. But he remained the largest Sunni player and headed another coalition cabinet.

* His last term as prime minister ended in 2019, when Hariri resigned in response to mass protests against the ruling elite that erupted as Lebanon plunged into a financial crisis. Hariri’s relations with Aoun deteriorated sharply, and Hariri wanted Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil and other leading politicians deposed and replaced by technocrats in a government reshuffle. Hariri and Bassil accused each other of obstructing reforms that could have prevented the financial crisis.

(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

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