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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Without Hariri, Lebanese Sunni leader ahead of vote

Lebanon’s Sunni Muslim community is gearing up for Sunday’s parliamentary elections without a strong leadership for the first time in decades after former prime minister Saad Hariri withdrew from political life.

In a country where government posts and parliamentary seats are distributed on sectarian lines, Lebanon’s Sunni community has long served as a major political force.

A few months before the May 15 vote, Hariri announced his withdrawal from political life, leaving his constituents without a prominent Sunni figure while the country grapples with an unprecedented financial crisis.

In March his Future Movement party said it would boycott the election, a move that experts believe could empower political rivals, mainly the Iran-backed Shiite Hezbollah movement.

“Traditional Sunni leaders, including former prime ministers, have rallied to prevent Hezbollah from taking advantage of the political vacuum”, said Karim Bitter, an international relations professor at Saint Joseph’s University in Lebanon.

The Future Movement, Lebanon’s largest Sunni-led party, currently has 18 legislators in its 128-member parliament, making it one of the largest blocs.

Its decision to boycott the elections has created an internal rift. A former deputy, Mustafa Aloush, gave up his party membership so that he could challenge Hezbollah in elections.

“When we withdraw from the scene, we give our opponents a chance,” he told AFP, advocating for a unified front to thwart Hezbollah’s growing dominance.

Saudi Rift

Hariri came into political limelight after the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik, who was also a former prime minister.

In the wake of the tragedy, Hariri played a major role in the mass demonstrations that ended a 30-year Syrian military presence in Lebanon.

He was at the helm of the pro-Western “March 14” bloc, which won a parliamentary majority in 2009 but settled not long after.

During the last vote, in 2018, Hariri’s block lost almost a third of its parliamentary seats.

Many attributed the three-time prime minister’s declining popularity to his reconciliatory approach to Hezbollah, which angered allies including Saudi Arabia.

The kingdom has long insisted on a more aggressive policy towards the Iran-backed group that is Lebanon’s main political and military power.

“There is no doubt that I had to compromise to avoid civil war,” Hariri said in January.

“This worry guided all my steps, causing me to lose my personal fortune, as well as some friends and many colleagues overseas.”

In November 2017, Hariri stepped down as prime minister in Riyadh, alleging that the state was holding him against his will.

French President Emmanuel Macron had to intervene to ensure Hariri’s return to Lebanon, from where the Sunni leader canceled his resignation.

Sunni Division

The Hariri family has been a mainstay of the Lebanese political scene since the end of the 1975–90 civil war and has rarely been absent from elections.

He is not the only prominent Sunni figure missing from this year’s campaign. Former prime ministers Fouad Siniora and Tammam Salam have also pulled out of the election race amid calls for a boycott.

However, Dar al-Fatwa, the country’s top Sunni religious authority, warned of the dangers of abstinence.

The current prime minister, Najib Mikati, whose post is a Sunni post under a longstanding convention, encouraged his fellow Sunnis to vote.

Bitter sees the “re-emergence of many Sunni Poles” and said that various actors will “try to fill the void while awaiting Saudi influence and the possible return of Saad Hariri.”

In Beirut’s Tariq al-Jadideh neighborhood, a Future Movement stronghold, towering paintings of Hariri line the street corner.

Banners called on residents to boycott the election, but not all obeyed.

A 60-year-old man who named himself as Ahmed, referring to Hezbollah, said, “We are going to vote because we do not accept that other parties take advantage of the situation.”

Another resident, Anwar Ali Berouti, said “the division of the Sunni camp serves the interests of Hezbollah,” adding that the Shia party “will benefit only one.”

This article is republished from – Voa News – Read the – original article.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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