BEIRUT — Saudi Arabia on Thursday ordered its citizens out of Lebanon in its first concrete action against the Mediterranean country, while officials in Beirut demanded the immediate return of, who abruptly announced his resignation last week in a television appearance from the kingdom, where he has been holed up since.
The developments were the latest twist in the saga of Hariri, whose fate increasingly resembled a bizarre mystery-thriller that has gripped his nation and sent tensions soaring with Saudi Arabia.
With the Lebanese government in limbo, officials in Beirut said they haven’t heard from Hariri since he departed for Saudi Arabia last week. Hariri’s own Future Movement party called Thursday for his immediate return home for the “dignity of the nation.”
In his pre-recorded resignation speech on Saturday, Hariri accused Iran and its Lebanese proxy, the Shiite militant Hezbollah, of meddling in regional affairs and holding Lebanon hostage. The move shattered his year-old coalition government and stunned the Lebanese, including some of Hariri’s aides who had no advance warning that he intended to resign.
Beyond a phone call on Saturday informing President Michael Aoun of his resignation, Hariri has not made contact with Lebanese officials. Aoun has said he would not accept the resignation until Hariri returns to the country and explains the circumstances of his decision to step down.
Late Wednesday night, Hariri’s private plane took off from Riyadh and flew back to Beirut — and Lebanese breathlessly awaited his arrival, only to discover he wasn’t on board.
The intrigue has thrown the tiny nation in turmoil. It also seemed, ironically, to have united the Lebanese in their resentment of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive stance, which many see as an affront.
“How can they hold a prime minister,” asked a Hariri supporter in Beirut who gave only his first name, Abed, saying he feared retaliation for his comments. He said he was at a loss…