Why Lebanese PM visited Paris not Beirut after 2-week detention in Saudi Arabia?

Alwaght– The resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri from the Saudi capital Riyadh since the beginning was suspicious for both Lebanese nation and the international community, with all sides stressing that he should return to Beirut and announce quitting the post from his country in case he wanted to do so.

Despite the fact that he during his stay in Saudi Arabia, now more than a fortnight long, made Twitter posts in which he denied that he was under detention in the kingdom, his decline to hold a press conference after the November 4 resignation and also more importantly his decline to establish connection to the Lebanese officials during his Riyadh stay all push to the notion that he lived in controlled conditions.

However, his trip to France set up some conditions through which the Saudis denied reasoning and evidences presented to support the idea that the Saudi rulers have pressed Hariri to resign and prevented him from leaving Saudi Arabia. By the way, can Hariri’s Paris visit be taken as evidence that his resignation and stay in Saudi Arabia have taken place with his free will?

By putting some points beside each other, the real reason behind Hariri’s Paris visit can be made clear.

1. Changing the destination from Beirut to Paris

The idea about shift of destination from Lebanon to France is in its place catching attention. Hariri travelled to Paris after 15 days in Riyadh while before that the demands and evidences showed that he will return to Beirut.

Even his Twitter reaction to the return demands focused on his return to his homeland, with no words coming out from him that he intended to visit France. Hariri announced his resignation on November 4 and on November 12 told the Lebanese Future TV in an interview that he will leave for Lebanon in the coming days. He, furthermore, on November 14 declared intention to return in two days. And even in a November 15 Twitter post he said “I will return to Lebanon tomorrow.”

Despite Hariri’s back-to-back announcements about plans for getting back home, the trip to Saudi Arabia of the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has redrew the plan, making Hariri leave Riyadh for Paris, instead of Beirut.

These developments made it clear that Hariri failed to leave the kingdom despite his will to do so as he announced dates for return. In fact, he was only allowed to get out on November 18 when France mediated and guaranteed that he will travel to Paris not Beirut.

Even before French FM’s visit to Riyadh four days ago, the French officials stressed the need for Hariri to fly back to Lebanon, with them releasing no idea about his Paris visit. Additionally, the French President Emmanuel Macron in his surprise visit of Saudi Arabia on November 10 emphasized the need for Hariri’s return home, showing no sign that he wanted to invite him to France.

But it was only a day before French FM’s Riyadh visit that the French news outlets talked about Paris invitation of the resigned PM. It was clear enough that the invitation came on the heels of an agreement between Paris and Riyadh. Very likely, the French offered enough assurances to the Saudis about the period of after Hariri release. So his shift of destination from Beirut to Paris apparently exhibits his conditional and controlled freedom.

Although Hariri while in Paris talked on the phone to the Lebanese President Michel Aoun and told him he will return to Beirut for the country’s Independence Day, it was clear that his Paris visit instead of Beirut was a Saudi demand to get the assurances about the arrangements after his exit from the kingdom and not a personal choice.

2. Paris visit without children

On the other side, what brings close to reality the theory of detention of Hariri by Saudi Arabia is that he travelled to France after two weeks of resignation, leaving his children behind in the Arab monarchy. The pro-Hariri Future news website has said that his wife Lara Bashir accompanied him to Paris, but the Lebanese affairs analysts argue that his children’s stay in Saudi Arabia is aimed to be used as a pressure tool against him.

This comes while the Lebanese president before Hariri trip to France had asked him to exit from Saudi Arabia along with his full family to make sure that after events of the past two weeks he can make his own decisions freely. In fact, worried about possible Hariri revelations abroad, the Saudis took his children as hostages to steer clear from likely consequences.

3. Hariri gets official reception in Paris

Another issue that strengthens the possibility of a behind-the-scene agreement between Riyadh and Paris about Hariri’s conditional and controlled visit of France is an official reception the resigned PM was given at the Elysee Palace. In fact, such an official ceremony in honor of Hariri gives the signal that Paris has not recognized his resignation and even insists that he stays in the post. This French behavior only in one condition looks logical: Hariri has not resigned freely and without intervention of Saudi Arabia.

With these evidences in mind, the question could be why the Saudi leaders who are afraid of Hariri’s disclosures have allowed him to go out. The answer to this question is linked to the reactions taken by the Western allies of Saudi Arabia to Riyadh’s intention to destabilize Lebanon.

Several days after the suspicious resignation, the French president, who was in an official visit to UAE to take part in opening ceremony of Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, in his return paid a surprise visit to Riyadh, calling on Hariri to return home and announce quitting from home. The French president’s demand a week after was followed by his FM’s negotiations with the Saudis over the fate of the Lebanese PM and highlighting the need for him to get out of Saudi Arabia.

It needs to be noted that Hariri beside his Lebanese and Saudi citizenship is a French citizen. If this detention, or even hostage taking, situation continues, the French judiciary could step in and sue the Saudi officials.

But French officials  did not reacted strong enough, rather the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, commenting on the Lebanese situation, called the Saudi behavior in dealing with Hariri as irrational, beside blasting the kingdom’s regional foreign policy.

Moreover, on November 14, Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs, in a meeting of EU foreign ministers warned that the bloc will never approve of foreign meddling in Lebanon’s domestic affairs and it wanted to see Hariri back to home. Clearly, in case of continuation of Hariri detention, the EU could impose sanctions on Riyadh, as it has announced arms embargo on the kingdom for the massacring of the civilians in Yemen during the three years of military aggression.

With all these in mind, the conclusion could be that Hariri’s exit from Saudi Arabia and trip to Paris was an outcome of an undercover deal between the two as Lebanese and regional public opinion, along with the kingdom’s Western allies, put pressures on Riyadh.