- French President Macron has invited Hariri to stay in France for a short time
- Hariri has reportedley accepted the invitation
- The move sends a signal that Macron is distancing France away from Saudi
- The invitation begins Macron's strategy to establish France as a major regional player in the Middle East
France’s President Emmanuel Macron appears to be taking sides in the political spat between Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, formally offering Lebanon’s Prime Minister to come to France with his family.
The offer, which has reportedly been accepted by Hariri, sends a signal that Macron is willing to take major steps to rebuff Saudi and offset its regional influence.
Hariri staying in France would give him a base to renegotiate his political position in Lebanon without the direct influence of Saudi--a major political shift that would limit Saudi’s ability to control elements of Lebanon’s government.
In other words, Macron is pushing a new strategy in the Middle East that could establish France’s position as a major player in the region, endangering Saudi’s power and potentially bolstering Iran’s influence if an Iran-France partnership is built.
On Nov. 4, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned, citing fears that there was an assassination attempt against him and that Iran and Hezbollah are creating conflicts in the Middle East.
Hariri holds dual Lebanese and Saudi citizenship, and made much of his wealth in Saudi’s construction industry.
The resignation sent shockwaves through Lebanon and the rest of the world.
Lebanon’s President, Michel Aoun, rejected the resignation.
Hezbollah’s leader in the country, Hassan Nasrallah, has stated that Hariri is "detained" in Saudi and that the circumstances surrounding the resignation is “illegal.”
Even members of Hariri's own inner political circle were surprised to witness his resignation, which appeared to take place under duress.
Hariri offered his resignation while in Saudi Arabia over official Saudi-state channels. And while he has denied that he has been detained by Saudi, it is widely reported that the resignation came as a direct result of Saudi pressure on Hariri, and even that the speech was written by officials in Saudi and given to Hariri to read.
Protesters call for Hariri’s return to Lebanon, Anwar Amro/AFP
Macron denied that the offer to stay in France amounts a kind of political asylum for Hariri. “I hope that Lebanon will be stable, and that political choices should be in accordance with institutional rule,” Macron told the BBC.
The move is a major step for France.
When Macron first visited Saudi to discuss the political conflict with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, he “reiterated the importance France attaches to Lebanon's stability, security, sovereignty and integrity,” according to his official spokesperson.
Macron is also looking for closer ties to Iran, teasing a visit to the country in 2018, the first time a French leader would visit the country since 1971.
Before Macron was President, France maintained close political and economic ties to Saudi Arabia. At the beginning of Saudi’s ongoing military intervention in Yemen, France reportedly negotiated a total of $18 billion (USD) in arms sales to Saudi.
Despite Macron’s background as an economist, he seems to be taking a gamble that can have wide-ranging economic repercussions as he moves away from Saudi and towards Iran.
Hariri’s reported acceptance of the offer to stay in France could spell trouble for Saudi’s ability to pressure Hariri and influence Lebanon’s politics.
If Hariri is backed not just by his political party and rivals in Lebanon, but also France, he may be empowered to return to the country as Prime Minister, only without the same shackles that ties him directly to Saudi.
If this were to indeed happen, not only would France gain a regional foothold by which it could exert its influence and negotiate a partnership with Iran, but it would also spell long-term trouble for Saudi, who is currently engaged in proxy wars with Iran in Yemen and Syria to determine the regional hegemon.
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