Hariri’s Unresignation is Saudi’s Latest Failure

The unresignation of Saad Hariri shows that Saudi Arabia’s recent meddling in Lebanon has only strengthened its rival Iran, says professor and journalist Rami Khouri

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Story Transcript

AARON MATÉ: It’s The Real News. I’m Aaron Maté. Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, is back in Lebanon after he went to Saudi Arabia last month and resigned. Well, now that he’s back, Hariri has un-resigned and said he’s staying on. Well, so what is going on here? To discuss, I spoke earlier to Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at American University of Beirut, also a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. Professor Khouri welcome. Tell us what is going on with Saad Hariri. He resigned from Saudi Arabia. Then he went back to Lebanon and now he’s rescinded his resignation.

RAMI KHOURI: Well what happened is he didn’t really resign. He was told to read a statement while he was more or less held captive in Saudi Arabia. He read the statement and then he was able to leave and he went back to Lebanon and the situation went back to normal in Lebanon where the differences among the government parties, including Hezbollah and Hariri’s people and other groups, they all basically got together and reaffirmed the common position they held for the last few years, that they would try to keep internal differences in Lebanon separate from external policies by Lebanese political groups. Hariri basically reached that agreement and said, well, his resignation is no longer valid and he took it back because it wasn’t really a sincere, genuine resignation in the first place.

AARON MATÉ: What position does this put both Saudi Arabia in and also Hezbollah, because Hezbollah did sign this agreement with Hariri about disassociation? Can you explain actually what Hezbollah agreed to and also then what, where this leaves Saudi Arabia?

RAMI KHOURI: Well, two things need to be taken into consideration discussion Lebanon and Saudi Arabia. First is the Saudi Arabian government right now, in its present form, doesn’t really know what it’s doing around the region. It’s reckless. It’s dangerous. It’s failed in most of its foreign policy initiatives. It’s allowed Iran to grow stronger and it is quite, I think, desperate almost, to get something right, and they don’t quite know what to do.

The second thing is internally in Lebanon, the Lebanese government reaches agreements through consensus. People negotiate. There’s about 18 different confessional political groups. They have to agree and they usually do, but when there’s a big disagreement, like for instance Hezbollah’s role in the Syrian war, Hezbollah’s role in helping other people around the Arab world in military terms or in political mobilization terms, which they’re very good at. When that gets controversial, then they have a problem. They get together. They discuss it for a while. They reach an agreement and the agreement doesn’t solve the underlying problem but papers it over so that there is a sense of returning to the status quo ante.

This is exactly what’s happened now. That they’ve gone back to the disassociation agreement that they had a year or two ago, which basically commits all the Lebanese groups to not go make trouble around the Arab world, so that the Arab world doesn’t come back and make trouble for Lebanon. And this is exactly what the Saudis were complaining about. They were complaining that the Hezbollah people in Lebanon were helping some of the Houthis in Yemen who fired missiles at Saudi Arabia. Hezbollah denies it. Who knows where the truth is, but they’ve papered it over. They have an agreement in Lebanon. This should probably satisfy the Saudis in the short run and things will go back to where they were a year ago and nothing will be resolved.

AARON MATÉ: So it sounds like, quickly, nothing has changed except for the fact that the Saudis have lost a lot of face because Hariri goes back to Lebanon and then un-resigns, which he was apparently forced to do in Saudi Arabia.

RAMI KHOURI: I think that’s one of the main outcomes. The Saudis have shown that they’re really not very good at statecraft, that they’re still learning on the job. They’re making a lot of mistakes. Hopefully they’ll get better at it because you want Saudi Arabia to be an effective, responsible player in the region because they’re very powerful. They have a lot of money. They have a lot of moral force with their religious role in the region and Islam. They have a lot of armaments. They made a huge war in Yemen which is a catastrophe. They can be very destructive if they do things badly.

They’re, in many ways, they’re leaders in different aspects of policy around the Arab-Islamic world, so we want them to succeed and to be better, but this is another example of they’re not succeeding. They’re making mistakes. They’re paying the price and they’re, yet again, allowing the Iranians to make new inroads into Arab countries. The irony is that the Saudis did this. They made the war in Yemen. They put the siege on Qatar. They threatened Lebanon because they think this will weaken Iran, but in every case, what they have done has only strengthened Iran. So they have to really rethink how they do policy in the region.

AARON MATÉ: Rami Khouri, senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at American University of Beirut, also a non-resident senior fellow at Harvard Kennedy School. Thank you.

RAMI KHOURI: Thanks for having me.

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