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Lebanese fiasco

Lebanese fiasco
Lebanon's Prime minister, Saad Hariri, was in for a rude shock on the second day of his recent visit to Saudi Arabia. He was abruptly summoned at 8:30 am to the Saudi royal offices — highly unusual, by the Kingdom's standards. Hariri, a long-time ally of the Saudis, was casually clad that morning thinking he was going camping in the desert with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, according to a fascinating report in the New York Times. The Lebanon premier was stripped of his cell phones, separated from all but one of his usual cluster of bodyguards, and pushed and slighted by Saudi security officers. Then came the shocker: He was handed a pre-written resignation speech which he was forced to read out on Saudi television. This, it seemed, was the ostensible reason Hariri had been brought to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a day earlier: to resign under duress. Before going on TV, he was not even allowed to go to the house he owns there; he had to ask the guards to bring him a suit. It was carefully scripted by Prince Mohammed, the ambitious young heir apparent determined to rejig the power structure not just of his own country but the entire Middle East. The Saudi leader has jailed hundreds of fellow princes and businessmen in what he projects as an anti-corruption drive. Abroad, he has waged war in Yemen and challenged Qatar. The day Hariri was ordered to report to Riyadh, he was just a pawn in the crown prince's larger game plan to checkmate the regional ambitions of Saudi Arabia's longtime rival, Iran. This is the inside story of Hariri's long, bizarre sojourn in Saudi Arabia last month, as revealed in behind-the-scenes accounts from a dozen Western, Lebanese and regional officials and associates of Hariri, the New York Times reported. After delivering his speech, as the Lebanon PM's shell-shocked aides tried in vain to reach him from Beirut, Hariri did, indeed, eventually spend the evening in the desert with the crown prince, one senior Lebanese official said. Hariri's month-long ordeal was another example of a brash new leader trying to set the cat among the pigeons in Saudi Arabia which carried unintended consequences, especially in such a sensitive region. Now, Hariri is firmly back in the saddle with new popularity, and Hezbollah is growing in strength. Saudi Arabia's strong-arm tactics did not go down well with staunch allies like the United States, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt and much of Hariri's Lebanese Sunni party. The officials who narrated the saga to the New York Times scribes were granted anonymity to speak freely about events that were cloaked in secrecy and, for Hariri, in profound humility.

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