Lebanese Run a Marathon to 'Free' Hariri from Saudi

Published November 12th, 2017 - 12:31 GMT
Supporters of Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri hold up placards demanding his return from Saudi Arabia on the starting line of Beirut's annual marathon on November 12, 2017 (Anwar Amro/AFP)
Supporters of Lebanon's resigned prime minister Saad Hariri hold up placards demanding his return from Saudi Arabia on the starting line of Beirut's annual marathon on November 12, 2017 (Anwar Amro/AFP)
  • Lebanese President Michel Aoun has called for people to run the Beirut Marathon in solidarity with former PM Saad Hariri
  • Top Lebanese officials have claimed that he is being detained in Saudi Arabia following his resignation
  • Banners and hats have been emblazoned with "we want our PM back"
  • The hashtag #FreeHariri has been trending, as the Lebanese demand his return 

 

by Rosie Alfatlawi

More than a week after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned from Riyadh, rumors about Saudi restrictions on his movement continue to circulate.

According to an unnamed senior Lebanese official speaking to Reuters, President Michel Aoun told a group of foreign ambassadors he thought that Hariri had been “kidnapped.”

On Thursday, two senior government officials in Lebanon said that Hariri was being held captive by Saudi Arabia.

Even the French Foreign Ministry has implied that Hariri does not have “all his freedom of movement.”

For over a week the Lebanese have been calling via Twitter and a specially created website to “free Saad Hariri”.

 

 

Some of the Lebanese attempts to guarantee Hariri’s freedom are a little less orthodox, however.

For instance Sunday’s Beirut Marathon, which has been turned into an appeal for the return of the former PM.

President Aoun told a delegation of the Beirut Marathon Association on Saturday that the long-distance run should be a “patriotic protest of sports in solidarity with our Prime Minister Hariri and his return to his country.”

It is not clear effect he expects marathon runners to have on regional politics.

Still, the Lebanese seem to have responded to the call, naming the event the “We Want Our PM back” Marathon.

Billboards have even been erected with the slogan, and it has been waved on banners by spectators.

And some runners are even sporting hats with the phrase "running for you."

Writing for the Sports Press Association, Rayane Moussallem compared the circumstances of this race to that in 2016.

 

A year ago the marathon took place only three weeks after the election of a Lebanese president following two years of political deadlock, she described. 

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 a return to instability in Lebanon, one of several sites where Iran and Saudi Arabia vie for influence in the region.

Moussallem also noted that LBCI TV, which had held the rights to broadcast the marathon for the last 15 years since its launch, had allowed any Lebanese channel to air it following Aoun’s announcement.

The slogan of “return our prime minister,” she said, had “united the Lebanese people.”

It is not only sports events that are getting behind the cause - Twitter has been filled with expressions of support for Hariri in weird places.

Even the well-known parties of Beirut have been taken over by appeals for his return.

The hashtag #FreeHariri has also seen an influx of memes on the subject.

 

 

Riyadh has denied detaining Hariri, saying that he is remaining in Saudi Arabia over security concerns. The Lebanese politician has not made any public statement since his resignation, or indicated when he might return to Lebanon.


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