Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri visited Paris over the weekend, as planned, but then announced he would stop in Cairo before returning to Lebanon, at last, to formally tender his resignation.
Various parties have demanded Hariri’s swift return to Lebanon ever since he resigned suddenly during a trip to Saudi Arabia on November 4, plunging Lebanese politics into even more chaos than usual. Accusations were leveled that Saudi Arabia had kidnapped him and forced him to resign. His public statements to the contrary were said to have been given under duress.
Hariri’s visit to Paris at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron was meant to refute these accusations. His arrival was greeted with fury by French employees laid off from Hariri’s construction firm Saudi Oger, who demanded millions of dollars in unpaid salary from the billionaire Lebanese politician.
“I find it crazy that the red carpet be [sic] rolled out for Saad Hariri without first requiring that he immediately pay the millions that he owes to French employees, considering that he and his family are sitting on colossal personal fortunes,” a representative of the workers declared.
France24 notes that Hariri’s company, which was founded almost 40 years ago by his murdered father Rafik Hariri, profited handsomely through good relations with the Saudi monarchy, but then fell into debt when crashing oil prices rocked the Saudi economy and the government froze many large state contracts.
Both Hariri and the Saudi monarchy have promised to help resolve the problem with unpaid French salaries, which in some cases saw French workers become effectively trapped in Saudi Arabia, as they were obliged to borrow money from Saudi institutions to cover their living expenses. Some of the many conspiracy theories about Hariri’s resignation floating around Lebanon claim that Saudi Oger’s dire finances are being used against Hariri as leverage by the Saudi monarchy, or that his company was involved in the corruption that Crown Prince bin Salman is cracking down upon.
President Macron spoke with U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders after meeting with Hariri at the Elysee Palace on Saturday. Egyptian President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were among those Macron spoke to. The White House said that Trump and Macron “agreed on the need to work with allies to counter Hezbollah’s and Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.”
On Sunday, Hariri announced he would visit Cairo on Tuesday, while still planning to be back in Lebanon on schedule for Lebanese Independence Day on Wednesday. The Arab League held an emergency meeting in Cairo on Sunday at Saudi Arabia’s request to discuss the influence of Iran and Hezbollah.
Hariri said that after he arrives in Lebanon and meets with President Michel Aoun, he will “make known his position” on subjects such as Hezbollah, Iranian influence, and his full reason for resigning.
Voice of America quotes analysts who believe Hariri may still end up effectively living in exile in France, despite the Macron administration’s insistence that such an offer has not been made. Macron is depicted as walking a tightrope between France’s desire for stability in Lebanon, its interest in maintaining good relations with the Saudis and their allies, and the huge amount of money French businesses are planning to invest in post-sanctions Iran.