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  November 6, 2017

Did the Saudis Force Lebanese PM to Resign?

Scholar Rania Masri says it's clear from a number of factors--from the dialect of his resignation speech to the location where delivered it--that Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was forced by the Saudi Arabian government to resign
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Rania Masri is an academic, environmental science professor and social-justice activist, and has been living in Lebanon since 2005. Rania Masri was Associate Director of the Asfari Institute for Civil Society and Citizenship at AUB (2014-2017), after nine years as professor and Chair of the Department of Environmental Sciences at the University of Balamand (2005-2014). Before that, she served as the Environment and Energy Policy Specialist at the UNDP-Regional Office in Cairo (2012-2013). Prior to her move to Lebanon in 2005, she was the Director of the Southern Peace Research and Education Center at the Institute for Southern Studies in North Carolina, USA (2002-2005).

Her writings and activism have centered on the occupation of Palestine, and the struggle against apartheid and racism. She has also written and organized extensively against the sanctions on Iraq, and for civil and environmental rights.

She can be reached on Facebook

A partial listing of her writings and talks can be found on her personal website


AARON MATÉ: It's the Real News, I'm Aaron Maté. Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has resigned his post, citing an alleged assassination plot on his life and Iranian influence in his country. But ironically, Hariri made the statement not from his own country, Lebanon, but from Saudi Arabia, raising questions about whether or not it's Saudi Arabia that is really interfering right now in Lebanon. We'll discuss this. I spoke earlier to Lebanese scholar and writer, Rania Masri. I began by asking her reaction to Hariri's resignation.

RANIA MASRI: I was surprised, and the entire country was surprised. His own movement, the Future Movement, his own political party was surprised. Many of us argue Saad al-Hariri himself was surprised to learn that he is being pushed into this resignation.

AARON MATÉ: Well, can you explain that? When you say that he's learning that he's being pushed into this, you're referring, I assume, to Saudi Arabia. But can you explain why you think that?

RANIA MASRI: Yes. I mean, okay, a resignation of a prime minister in Lebanon is nothing new. It happens a lot. The government changes, the government resigns. The last time, actually, the government resigned was when Saad al-Hariri also was prime minister but he was visiting outside and then the government resigned in his absence. But this is the first time in Lebanese history that a prime minister has submitted his resignation while not being in Lebanon, so this is unheard of. I mean, it would've made sense had he resigned in Lebanon and then it wouldn't have been really surprising. Okay? He could've submitted his resignation while in the country, having a press conference, making a statement from the Presidential Palace. That would have been expected. That would have been natural. That would have been the sovereign, respectful thing to do.

Rather, he got on a plane, was told actually, by the Saudis, that he had to go to Saudi Arabia very quickly. He canceled his appointments in Lebanon, got on a plane, went to Saudi Arabia, had a taped statement ... It was videotaped, not live. It was taped, broadcast on the Saudi TV station, Al Arabia, not on any Lebanese TV station, broadcast ... We know that it was broadcast tape because the way that Al Arabia introduced it was by saying, "Now we will listen to Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's resignation." He went to Saudi Arabia, he was told to go to Saudi Arabia. He canceled all his appointments and went to Saudi Arabia. He had his resignation aired on Saudi television in a taped broadcast, not in a live broadcast.

We also know that Saad al-Hariri never writes his own statements in Arabic. Arabic is a weak language for him. He himself has said it numerous times, that his brother, Nader al-Hariri, is the one that writes his statements. Nader al-Hariri was in Lebanon. He wasn't in Saudi Arabia, so who wrote the statement? We also know that there were numerous terms, numerous linguistic terms, that were used in the statement that don't abide by the way that we in Lebanon would write Arabic. It would be akin to hearing a British statement rather than an American statement, and there's ways that we can distinguish. I mean, they're both English but you understand the different dialect. This statement that he read also had heavy Saudi linguistic terms and not Lebanese linguistic terms.

Furthermore, it came as a complete surprise because just days earlier ... I mean, this was the second time he was compelled to go to Saudi Arabia in a very short time period. After his first visit to Saudi Arabia, he returned to Lebanon and he said, "The Saudi government supports the stability of the Lebanese government. The Saudi government welcomes and has no problem with Hezbollah being within the Lebanese government. The Saudi government is even considering financial support for the Lebanese Army." Okay? All of a sudden, his statement says something very, very different, which is that the hand, using this expression, that Hezbollah is an Iranian operative within Lebanon and that the Iranian hands need to be cut off wherever they may be, which is a 180-degree switch.

So just by looking at the facts on the ground, it would lead us to say, "Okay. This is clearly a Saudi statement that he was forced to read." The man has been locked up in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Saudi Arabia. He has not responded to phone calls. He has not been available for any interview. He has not returned to Lebanon although the President has asked him to return to Lebanon. Again, the realistic expectation or the realistic conclusion would be, is our prime minister held hostage by the Saudis? Why can't he come home?

AARON MATÉ: Right. Can you explain just how it is that the Saudis have been able to exert such a huge influence over Hariri, and what do you think then is actually going in if it's true that there is no actual, real assassination plot on his life?

RANIA MASRI: Yes, I'm glad you brought that up. Al Arabia is the only TV station, which is, again, the Saudi TV station, is the only TV station to make the accusation that there was an assassination attempt on Saad al-Hariri's life. The statement that he read while in Saudi also made that allegation that there was an assassination attempt of his life. Ironically, the Lebanese Army, the Lebanese intelligence, and the Lebanese police force all states that they have no evidence of an assassination attempt neither on his life, neither on anybody else's life. Okay? These are different intelligence agencies in Lebanon that have particularly different politics, and they're all reaching the same conclusion. So I'm glad you brought up this lie about an assassination attempt.

Now as to how Saudi Arabia has such an influence on Saad al-Hariri, two things. One, the man does have a Saudi passport, which, by the way, is at the very least problematic legally within the Arab world, to carry two Arab citizenships, but he does carry the Saudi passport. Furthermore, him and his father, the late Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, came from Saudi Arabia to Lebanon. They have very close financial ties with Saudi Arabia, and they continue to clearly represent Saudi interests in Lebanon.

There is that influence that has been historic and that unfortunately has continued to increase rather than decrease, which makes it all the more ironic for the statement to be condemning Iranian intervention in Lebanon, given that he was making the statement from Saudi Arabia, given that we've had a Saudi representative stand up on a talk show on Sunday, declaring, in the name of ending foreign intervention in Lebanon, that the Saudis demand that Hezbollah be cleansed from the Lebanese government--keep in mind, Hezbollah is a legitimate political party--that Hezbollah relinquish all their weapons, which is in violation of the decrees from the ministries. Okay? And on and on and on, threatening to boycott and to have numerous financial restrictions imposed on Lebanon were we not to abide by Saudi dictate in the name of protecting Lebanese sovereignty. The level of irony here is just ... I mean, they're taking chutzpah to a whole new level by what the Saudis are doing. So again-

AARON MATÉ: One more-

RANIA MASRI: -we've got layers and layers of influence here.

AARON MATÉ: One more small irony, didn't Hariri ... Just before he went to Saudi Arabia, didn't he meet with the top advisor to the Supreme Leader of Iran in Beirut?

RANIA MASRI: I mean, he met with an Iranian delegation in Lebanon, yes. Saad al-Hariri had been meeting ... he actually had been fulfilling his role as prime minister because he does have that role to be prime minister in Lebanon. That role should encourage him to meet with all political parties and all political agencies, and he had been doing just that, by meeting with the Iranian delegation, by meeting with the Qataris, by meeting with all the different political parties in Lebanon as is his responsibility as prime minister. So he was fulfilling that role, and it was after the meeting with the Iranian delegation that he was ordered to go to Saudi and he canceled his appointments in Lebanon, disappeared for a day because he went on Thursday to Saudi Arabia, disappeared all Friday, we didn't hear anything from him. On Saturday, we were all surprised to get this taped resignation aired on Saudi television.

AARON MATÉ: Let's talk about Hezbollah. The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, gave a speech on Sunday in response to the resignation, didn't ever really address Hariri. He sort of suggested that Hariri's being held hostage. He said that, "We have to deal directly with Saudi Arabia about this." Your sense of what Nasrallah said, and how has it been received so far in Lebanon?

RANIA MASRI: Well, I mean, Sayyed Nasrallah spoke very calmly and he refused to respond to the accusations and the very violent language that was in the statement that Saad al-Hariri read. Rather, he responded to the clarity of the situation, which is clearly this is at the very least a Saudi-pressured resignation at the very least, if we're not gonna make any other assumptions. Sayyed Nasrallah did not state that Saad al-Hariri was held hostage. He questioned whether or not he was held hostage. He raised that as a question, is our prime minister held in detention? Is he held involuntarily in Egypt? Ironically, by the way, the Egyptian president, Sisi, also made a similar declaration, I believe this morning, when he also asked the question, "Is Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri held involuntarily in Saudi Arabia?" So Nasrallah's not the only person and the only leader to raise this as a question.

More importantly, Nasrallah's statement yesterday did something very important, which is he deescalated the level of political escalation that had been rising in the country since we heard about his resignation. Many of us were truly terrified as to what this means. People started to be worried about an Israeli attack or a Saudi attack. We started to worry about assassination attempt and car bombs and a number of things. We worried very much about whether this resignation would inflame the created and artificial Sunni-Shia tension within the country. And then here comes the statement by Nasrallah and he deescalates everything and he tells us all, "Let's just be calm. Let's just pay attention to the facts," and he will come and speak to us again on Friday at his scheduled talk because he is to speak Friday regardless of the resignation. Friday is when Nasrallah promised the country that he will then speak as to the content of the letter. But what he kept asserting was we should not make conclusions before we understand the reason behind the resignation.

What is also very critical is Nasrallah pointed to the fact that we're well aware, of those of us who follow Lebanese politics, that this resignation had nothing to do with internal Lebanese politics, because there was no discord within Lebanese politics days before that resignation. So Nasrallah raised the question, "Does this resignation have to do with Saudi internal politics?" If we look at what's happening in Saudi Arabia with the number of princes and leading financial figures in Saudi Arabia that have been arrested ... two have died, one was killed, another died in a helicopter crash. Clearly, there's something massive happening within the Saudi ruling family, something massive happening within Saudi Arabia. How can we examine Saad al-Hariri's resignation without looking at the internal dynamics in Saudi Arabia?

AARON MATÉ: Right, Rania. One more thing on that point. I mean, they've also effectively lost to Iran and Hezbollah inside Syria. So if they're looking for a way to go after them, taking out Hariri and trying to force some kind of domestic crisis in Lebanon, I imagine, for them, would be another attractive option?

RANIA MASRI: We have to remember who the Saudis are. I mean the Saudi Arabian regime specifically, not the Saudis, forgive me. The Saudi regime is the regime that has compelled and has had a war against the poorest Arab country, which is Yemen, the poorest Arab country. They've basically ... Saudi Arabia has led a genocidal war against Yemen, a genocidal war that has not only weekly, on a weekly basis, had massacres against large numbers of civilians but a war that has also led to the resurgence of cholera in Yemen. By the way, this is a war that is very well supported by the U.S. government. So we see what Saudi Arabia has done in Yemen.

We know for a fact, as has been proven, that Saudi Arabia supported ISIS in Syria, that Saudi Arabia was working openly, as we know from leaked documents, that Saudi Arabia was working to "light Damascus on fire" with their own funded, so to speak, rebels, ISIS. So we know the level of evil that this regime can do, both in Yemen and in Syria. So when we in Lebanon feel threatened by the Saudi regime, it leads us to wonder, are we going to be facing assassination attempt? Are we going to be facing a similar funded, created terrorist organization in Lebanon such as was created in Syria under the name of ISIS? What could happen to Lebanon? The Saudi regime does have the ability to cause a great deal of violence within the country if they so wanted. So we are worried on that aspect, and we need to recognize the history of this particular Saudi regime and the fact, as you well stated, that they have failed militarily in Yemen and that they have failed militarily in Syria.

AARON MATÉ: Rania, very quickly, where do you see things going from here?

RANIA MASRI: We don't know. I don't see things going well. I don't see this forced resignation of Saad al-Hariri to be a step in the right direction in Lebanon or for the region. I don't know. I know it could go from bad to very, very bad. But I have to say, as a secular leftist Lebanese, that I remain grateful to the very calm response by Hezbollah and the fact that they are deescalating what could become quite problematic. That is at least what I'm grateful for. But what could happen, I don't know, but we're not expecting anything good.

AARON MATÉ: Rania Masri, thank you.

RANIA MASRI: You're very welcome.

AARON MATÉ: And thank you for joining us on the Real News.


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