Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri has announced that he will suspend his involvement in political activities and will not run in upcoming parliamentary elections.
The Hariri family has dominated Lebanon’s Sunni political landscape for more than three decades since the end of the country’s civil war in 1990. In Lebanon’s sectarian system, where parliamentary seats are allocated based on a sectarian quota, the vast majority of Sunni lawmakers are part of Hariri’s Future Movement party.
“I’m convinced there is no room for any positive opportunities to Lebanon due to the Iranian influence, our indecisiveness with the international community, internal divisions, and sectarian divisions, I’m suspending work in political life and so is the Future Movement. And I’m not running in the elections, nor will the Future Movement,” Hariri said in a televised address on Monday.
“We are staying in service of our people and nation, but our decision is to suspend any direct role or responsibility in ruling, representation, or politics in the traditional sense,” he added.
Parliamentary elections are slated for May 15, 2022. Lebanese will head to the polls for the first time since a countrywide popular uprising in late 2019, and the Beirut Port blast in August 2020 that killed more than 200 people and flattened several neighbourhoods in the capital.
Lebanon is also reeling from a continuing economic crisis that has slipped more than three-quarters of the population into poverty in a little more than two years.
Hariri said on Monday that his goal was to prevent another Lebanese civil war amid growing tensions and to improve the wellbeing of Lebanese, and said compromises he has made with political adversaries to prevent war has weakened his ability to improve the economy.
“These agreements came at my expense, and could be the reason of my inability to make life better for the Lebanese. History will be the judge of that,” he said, citing loss of personal wealth, local and regional allies.
Hariri last week held a meeting with his party about his decision to abstain from taking part in the upcoming general elections, but did not issue a statement to the press. His spokesperson that day declined to comment on what went on during the meeting.
He was appointed as prime minister-elect in late October 2020 for a third stint as the country’s prime minister. However, he resigned the following July after political deadlock and continuing disputes with President Michel Aoun.
Saad Hariri has been the leader of the Sunni-majority Future Movement party for more than 15 years, following the assassination of his father, business magnate and former prime minister Rafic Hariri in February 2005.
Senior Future Movement official and former parliamentarian Mustafa Allouch told Al Jazeera that a significant factor behind Hariri’s decision is Iran-backed Hezbollah’s growing influence and political power in Lebanon, and that Future Movement officials are now divided about whether they should run for parliamentary elections on their own or not.
“I will run only if in agreement with him [Hariri] and as part of a movement at a national level opposing Hezbollah,” Allouch said.
In recent years, most of Saad Hariri’s local allies saw him as far too diplomatic with Hezbollah and their allies in government. They did not reciprocate his compromises and only weakened Hariri and the Future Movement’s political prowess over time, experts said.
“In many ways, Hariri has kind of lost domestic ground and [is] unable to win the elections in Lebanon to due to his fragmented alliances and weak backing from any domestic group,” Imad Salamey, associate professor of Middle East affairs at the Lebanese American University, told Al Jazeera.
“He is running against a very strong Syrian-Iranian alliance in the country and therefore given up.”
Hariri was closely allied with Gulf countries, especially Saudi Arabia.
However, Lebanon’s ties with the kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Kuwait have deteriorated in recent months. These GCC states cite Iran-backed Hezbollah’s involvement in regional conflicts, especially in Yemen against a Saudi-led coalition, as a key reason.