The Arab world is in a flux, at any rate when viewed through the political prism. And the uncertainty, post the shockwave in Saudi Arabia, has deepened with the unexpected, even abrupt, resignation of Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad Hariri.
In terms of geopolitics, his resignation address is a pregnant presentation. Chiefly, he has mentioned Iranian influence across the region. No less intriguing is his fear that he might be doomed to the same fate as his assassinated father if he continued as leader of a tormented part of the Middle East.
The other element that has caused not a little surprise in the region must be that Hariri announced his resignation from the Saudi capital of Riyadh last Saturday, indeed a few hours before the purge in the palace. The timing and venue of his resignation have been greeted with consternation both within the Arab world and the comity of nations.
It also coincides with Saudi claims that Iran has launched what it calls “direct military aggression” againt Riyadh. There is little doubt that Hariri has been a patron of Saudi Arabia, and the palace is ever so anxious to challenge Iran, now striving to secure unprecedented influence in the region. It is a forbidding cocktail of domestic compulsions and geopolitics that has led to Hariri’s resignation. Clearly, he has accorded short shrift to his government in Beirut as he brought to an end his eleven-month-old dispensation, a Parliament that has been split on regional lines, and an economy that is stuttering on account of debt and corruption.
Markedly, he has brought the curtains down on his government not in Beirut ~ his seat of authority ~ but on alien land. Hariri’s exit follows heightened anti-Iran rhetoric in the US, and the recent release of a cache of documents seized from Osama bin Laden’s hideout in 2011. These documents reportedly suggest that the Al Qaida received support from Iranian officials. He has made a critical observation as he takes the bow ~ “Iran has a desire to destroy the Arab world and has boasted of its control of the decisions in all the Arab capitals.”
It is hard not to wonder if Saudi Arabia has ensured his resignation. Storm clouds were gathering before he stepped down. Indeed, on the eve of his resignation, several senior officials from Barack Obama’s administration had said, on the basis of coordinated messages, that Riyadh was building up a case for military confrontation with Iran.
Saturday’s announcement is likely to add to those concerns and increase fears of a confrontation between Hezbollah and Israel, which fought a devastating war in 2006. Declassification of the documents is a step towards winding back the nuclear deal, which was the centrepiece of Obama’s foreign policy. President Trump’s design is unlikely to attain fruition given the opposition of the West, however.