It has been a turbulent few days in the Middle East and events have given rise to quite a number of conspiracy theories.
One of the most persistent is that former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri is being held hostage in Saudi Arabia.
That was the story according to al-Akhbar, which has been described by the New York Times as “wholeheartedly supporting Hezbollah.”
On Sunday the daily published a full-page image of Hariri on its front cover accompanied by the headline “hostage.”
Front page of @AlakhbarNews today: “The Hostage”— Nour Samaha (@Nour_Samaha) November 6, 2017
While this hashtag has been doing the rounds for the last two days:#الحرية_لسعد_الحريري pic.twitter.com/gUMZIBbzbh
Al-Akhbar also published a story claiming that Egypt’s President Sisi had speculated Hariri was under house arrest.
Hariri had resigned from Riyadh on Saturday, accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilizing the Arab world.
He also cited a threat to his life, saying that the atmosphere was reminiscent of prior to the assassination of his father Rafic in 2005.
The former PM, who was born in Saudi Arabia, has not yet returned to Lebanon.
On Monday he met with the Saudi King Salman, which was hailed by Lebanese Interior Minister Nohad Machnouk as proof that “rumors” of his detention were untrue.
- Saudi King Meets with Hariri to Tackle Lebanese Developments
- 'Saudi Madness': Hezbollah Chief Reacts to Hariri's Resignation
Meanwhile, the hashtag “free Saad Hariri” has been circulating as some in Lebanon suggest that the politician is being held against his will.
Pictures are starting to emerge of Saad Hariri with his kidnappers...#الحرية_لسعد_الحريري #FreeSaadHariri pic.twitter.com/sgFC6Bh1lF— Nour Samaha (@Nour_Samaha) November 6, 2017
There were even claims he was inside Riyadh’s Ritz Carlton, where rumors have suggested Saudi princes detained over alleged corruption on Saturday are being held.
#سعد_الحريري غرد من فندق Ritz Carlton— عباس محمد الأطرش (@abbes_alatrash) November 5, 2017
في الرياض المحتجز به الامراء ؟؟
لاحظو الديكور في صورته وصور الفندق.
Posts using the tag seem largely to be tongue-in cheek, however.
#الحرية_لسعد_الحريري pic.twitter.com/OWNou1VCzG— عباس زهري (@zahriabbass3) November 6, 2017
Situation in #Lebanon today#سعد_الحريري #لبنان #استقالة_الحريري pic.twitter.com/JnjpxrS7xN— Myriam ✝ (@mimilt11) November 5, 2017
A new website “http://freesaadhariri.com” has even been launched, hoping to “free Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri from the Saudi Arabia jails!" It has a counter showing how long he is supposed to have been held captive down to the second.
... the clock is ticking ... #الحرية_لسعد_الحريري pic.twitter.com/I3ZfmhqUHW— Dominic | دومينيك (@domihol) November 5, 2017
Journalist with largely pro-Saudi al-Hayat, Joyce Karam, slammed reports of Hariri’s arrest in a series of tweets.
Fake docs circulating online of Hariri Fake house arrest in #Saudi are bunch of . Circulated 1 year ago by Iran... https://t.co/pYrkJLGrtT— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) November 5, 2017
Randa, sorry, this is utter bullshit. Fake and distributed a year ago by Iranian media.Hariri NOT under house arrest https://t.co/pYrkJLGrtT https://t.co/G2PgTlHA9Q— Joyce Karam (@Joyce_Karam) November 5, 2017
While there is no serious suggestion that he has been kidnapped, it is not just in the press and on social media that speculation about Saudi intervention in the Hariri’s resignation has been rife.
On Sunday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said: "It is clear that the resignation was a Saudi decision that was imposed on Prime Minister Hariri.”
“It was not his intention, not his wish, and not his decision."
Iran’s foreign ministry has also called it a “plot jointly designed by Saudi Arabia and Israel.”
Lebanese Justice Minister Salim Jreissati indicated on Monday that President Michel Aoun would await Hariri’s return before accepting his resignation.
“The resignation must be voluntary,” he said pointedly
Hariri’s resignation effectively brought an end to the coalition government he had led since December 2016, which had included Hezbollah. His shock departure is likely to see in a period of increased instability in Lebanon, one of several sites where Iran and Saudi Arabia vie for influence in the region.
saudi arabia and iran hate eachother... and we lebanese pay the price for their stupid game... go figure???? #سعد_الحريري— Rudy Hage (@RudyHage) November 4, 2017