Saad Hariri is back.
The prime minister of Lebanon, who unexpectedly resigned from his post in November under mysterious circumstances in Saudi Arabia, returned to Beirut last week, and this morning announced that he was revoking his resignation. The announcement came following a consensus deal reached with rival political parties in the course of coalition talks, widely seen as move to isolate Hezbollah from the current government. For this, he has made clear, he has one person to thank: Emmanuel Macron, the president of France.
This morning’s announcement was yet another strange moment in an eventful month for Lebanon. The saga’s cast of characters alone would make for great television: The new Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, who allegedly orchestrated Hariri’s resignation from Riyadh, and proceeded to arrest some 500 people on corruption charges; the Lebanese president, Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian and a domestic ally of the Iranian-sponsored Hezbollah, who claimed that Hariri had been kidnapped by the Saudis; Hariri himself, a dual Saudi-Lebanese citizen who went to Riyadh without notifying his own advisers and has extensive business holdings in, and personal ties to, the Gulf kingdom; and, finally, Macron, who convinced Mohammed bin Salman to let Hariri come to France (where he stayed in the official presidential residence for three days) and, last week, to go back to Lebanon, ending a three-week-long standoff between the Saudis, the Lebanese, and the Iranians.
Macron's decision to insert himself into this crisis surprised many. France, after all, is no longer the great power of the region, as it once was. But his motivations for doing so were rooted in a shared history, one based on mutual economic and strategic interests. Lebanon was a French protectorate from 1920 to 1944 and retains strong economic, cultural, and political ties with its former colonial power (French is Lebanon’s second language, after Arabic). Lebanon hosts a French military base and 900 French soldiers under UN mandate. France is one of Lebanon’s largest trading partners, and Lebanon is the biggest beneficiary of French foreign aid in the region. Lebanon is also a crucial partner in the refugee crisis and the fight against the Islamic State. There are good reasons that Macron is deeply invested in Lebanon’s stability.