Beirut, Lebanon – LebanonFormer Prime Minister Saad Hariri said he is tracing a new political path within his party after a 2016 deal with President Michel Aoun that brought him to power in becoming "history".
"I am here, I am not going anywhere; I am in my country, in my home, among my family and in political work", Hariri he said on Friday, in his first public speech since his resignation on October 29, amid widespread protests against a dominant elite, accused of corruption and leading the country into an acute financial crisis.
Addressing a crowd of thousands of supporters outside his home in the capital, Beirut's top Sunni politician said he had received criticism from within his party in recent months and acknowledged "deficiencies" – but said "the decision now is to promote change ".
"The Future Movement will remain," he said, referring to his party.
His comments were made during a public event to mark the 15th anniversary of the murder of his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.
Rafik Hariri was killed along with 21 others when a massive bomb exploded when his convoy passed through the center of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on February 14, 2005.
Prosecutors at the Lebanese Special Court in The Hague, investigating the Hariri murder, said the Syrian government was at the center of the plot, carried out by members of the pro-Iranian Hezbollah group. Damascus and Hezbollah denied involvement. A decision in the case is expected this year.
In defense of & # 39; Haririism & # 39;
Members of the protest movement without leaders, as well as Hariri's political opponents, pointed to Hariri's father's policies – called "political haririism" and dating back to 1992 – as the source of Lebanon's great economic problems today.
The country is overwhelmed by the third largest debt burden in the world as a percentage of its gross domestic product and is facing the worst financial crisis in its history, which may soon lead to default on debt payments.
Much of Friday's event was dedicated to responding to these demands. A video shown at the beginning of the celebration blamed Lebanon's dire situation for a "series of obstructions" carried out by Lebanese parties allied with Syria over the years.
Hariri said that the parties continue to blame "haririism" today, in order to cover their own gaps in governance.
He said the obstruction his father faced at the hands of Syria's allies continued under his own accord with Aoun, ultimately leading to the revolt Lebanon was currently witnessing.
Hariri also attacked Gerban Bassil, Aoun's son-in-law and leader of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), describing him as the "shadow president" who sought to "eliminate" other parties and undermined Lebanon's relations with Arab countries along with Hezbollah.
Lebanon's success depended on good relations with the Arab countries, said Hariri, adding: "Iran's money can solve the problems of a party, not a country."
In the future, Hariri said he will continue to maintain ties with historic allies with whom relations have been strained in recent years due to his agreement with Aoun.
Making a comparison between his own relationships and his father's abilities to obtain international support for Lebanon through donor conferences, Hariri pointed to the 2018 CEDRE conference, where the international community pledged $ 11 billion in loans for Lebanon, conditional on reforms.
But instead of supporting these reforms, Hariri said that the FPM and its allies first obstructed the formation of a government after Lebanon's election in 2018, then blocked the government's work after its formation, leaving the conference unfulfilled.
He also targeted the FPM on the country's decrepit electricity sector, which has an annual deficit that, over the years, contributed about half of Lebanon's $ 87 billion public debt.
& # 39; here to stay & # 39;
After his resignation, which saw him continuing as a caretaker, Hariri sought to return as prime minister, but was eventually replaced by prime minister Hassan Diab, whose office recently won the trust of Parliament.
"Despite this recent setback, he remains a key figure on Lebanon's political scene," Maha Yahya, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, told Al Jazeera.
Yahya said that Hariri, during the big public event on Friday, was saying that he could have lost the battle, but it is far from over, while also seeking "to reaffirm his political gravity towards internal and external actors".
In fact, the heads of the parliamentary blocs of their two main allies, the Progressive Socialist Party and the Lebanese Forces, attended the meeting in central Beirut.
The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Walid al-Bukhari, was also present.
"In the past two months, we've heard and seen that 'oh my, the Future Movement is gone and Saad has traveled and never comes back, and Saudi Arabia doesn't want it and America doesn't want it & # 39; & # 39; "said Hariri. .
"Let them hear the truth that the Future Movement … is here to stay."
Before, while walking through the crowd taking selfies with supporters and greeting officials before his speech, Hariri was closely followed by Lebanese Grand Mufti, Abdel-Latif Derian, who then sat next to him.
The messages were clear: Hariri remains the leader of Lebanese Sunnis.