Canada must add its voice to calls for re­turn of Le­banon’s PM

Saudi Ara­bia is clearly med­dling in af­fairs of its sov­er­eign neigh­bour, writes Joe Hak.

Edmonton Journal - - EDITORIAL - Joe Hak is an Al­berta no­tary pub­lic, global busi­ness ad­viser and fre­quent vis­i­tor to the Mid­dle East.

Le­banon is in the vor­tex of the Mid­dle East’s per­pet­ual po­lit­i­cal storm, again.

The Mid­dle East is like en­ter­ing a house of mir­rors — easy to get in, hard to come out. Ev­ery oc­cur­rence in the re­gion is in­ter­twined within a per­plex­ing his­tory of trib­al­ism, re­li­gion, pol­i­tics, wars and vi­o­lence, re­plete with pe­ri­ods of un­end­ing hor­rors.

Fast-for­ward. On Nov. 4. Le­banon’s Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri, who is also a Saudi ci­ti­zen, was asked to visit Saudi Ara­bia to meet with King Sal­man and his son, the Crown Prince, Mo­hamed Bin Sal­man (MBS.)

Prior to his trip, Hariri spoke with pride about “achieve­ments by all Le­banese.” Within one year as prime min­is­ter, Hariri made ex­cel­lent progress: peace and sta­bil­ity, de­feat­ing ISIS and erad­i­cat­ing them from the East Moun­tains of Le­banon, cre­at­ing and sign­ing a new elec­tion law.

The day he left to Saudi, he signed sev­eral doc­u­ments in­clud­ing the ap­point­ment of a Le­banese am­bas­sador to Syria. Then he was called to meet King Sal­man and Crown Prince MBS.

Shortly af­ter his ar­rival in Riyadh, Hariri held a news con­fer­ence to an­nounce his res­ig­na­tion from his post as Le­banon’s prime min­is­ter, leav­ing every­one shocked, in­clud­ing Le­banon’s pres­i­dent, po­lit­i­cal lead­ers, the Fu­ture Party he leads and Hariri’s own fam­ily.

Con­cur­rently, more than 200 princes, min­is­ters and ty­coons have been de­tained and their monies with­held over al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, among them the “War­ren Buf­fett of Ara­bia” Bil­lion­aire Prince Al­waleed bin Talal.

Hariri is not charged or sus­pected of any wrong­do­ing. Yet, he is not al­lowed to leave Saudi Ara­bia. Hariri’s mys­te­ri­ous predica­ment has sent pun­dits and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts to is­sue a wide spec­trum of opin­ions as var­ied as Le­banon’s 117 po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Hariri’s sud­den tele­vised res­ig­na­tion, in Saudi’s cap­i­tal, Riyadh, and the ap­par­ent re­stric­tions on his mo­bil­ity by Crown Prince MBS has gal­va­nized all Le­banese, sup­port­ers and po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents alike, in a uni­fied and strong stance: Let our Prime Min­is­ter Come Home!

Le­banese strongly be­lieve Hariri sym­bol­izes their na­tional dig­nity. Re­sign­ing from Riyadh is not be­com­ing of an oth­er­wise coura­geous, prag­matic and rec­on­cil­ia­tory leader. Like his late fa­ther, he is al­ways a mod­er­ate fig­ure, ve­he­mently ded­i­cated to last­ing peace among his peo­ple and to friendly and strong re­la­tions with Arab coun­tries.

Most Le­banese peo­ple be­lieve that be­cause of Hariri’s char­ac­ter­is­tics as a mod­er­ate and na­tion-build­ing fig­ure, he was forced by MBS to re­sign and his brother Ba­haa is al­ready anointed as his re­place­ment. Even the staunch­est of Saudi Ara­bia’s sup­port­ers are now declar­ing Hariri is now in a Saudi-im­posed de­ten­tion.

The peo­ple of Le­banon have dif­fer­ent and strong opin­ions about Saudi Ara­bia’s pol­i­tics. How­ever, Le­banese have a pos­i­tive opin­ion when it comes to the Saudi peo­ple them­selves. Thou­sands of Le­banese en­gi­neers, doc­tors, teach­ers and work­ers earn their liv­ing and sup­port their fam­i­lies from the kingdom.

Many Saudis own homes, spend time with their fam­i­lies and have in­vest­ments in Le­banon. They are wel­comed by the Le­banese with re­spect and ap­pre­ci­a­tion. Al­waleed bin Talal’s char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion has over the years sup­ported many or­phan­ages, hos­pi­tals, com­mu­nity cen­tres, se­niors’ homes and schools. Clearly, both peo­ples have al­ways held one an­other in po­si­tions of re­spect and kin­ship.

Un­for­tu­nately, pol­i­tics in the Mid­dle East is not driven by peo­ple. Rather, pol­i­tics are dic­tated by po­lit­i­cal and fi­nan­cial oli­garchs in a per­pet­ual self­serv­ing dem­a­gogy — a pow­er­ful group, re­lent­lessly ex­pand­ing their hege­mony over the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal out­comes in the Mid­dle East.

What mat­ters now is that Le­banese are co­he­sively united in a gen­uine, solid and strong voice call­ing on the Saudis to give Hariri his free­dom and al­low him to come home.

Our Cana­dian prime min­is­ter, who has strong re­la­tions with Saudi Ara­bia, must add his voice to the many world lead­ers who have called on the Saudis to free Hariri and let him re­turn to Le­banon where his peo­ple are wait­ing, with signs all over the coun­try which read: We’re all Saad! Let Him Come Home!

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