By Jonathan Lahdo
Jonathan Lahdo is a sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying business and international studies.
Just over a year ago, Michel Aoun was elected president of the Republic of Lebanon, ending a 29-month presidential vacuum in the Middle Eastern nation. Under Lebanon’s complicated sectarian system of government, the presidential position is reserved for a Maronite Christian, and it can take much deliberation in parliament before a consensus is reached as to who shall assume the post. Nevertheless, Aoun’s election marked the first time since the end of the country’s civil war that a Maronite Christian leader with a popular support base was elected president. 
Since then, Lebanon has seen a period of relative stability. Aoun’s close ties to Hezbollah have served well in the fight against ISIS, though they were not viewed favourably by Saad Hariri, the Prime Minister. The position of Prime Minister is reserved for a Sunni Muslim, and the appointment of Hariri, a vocal opponent of the Shiite Hezbollah, represented not only a concession on his part, but also a reduced role in Lebanese affairs played by one of his greatest supporters in the region, Saudi Arabia. 
This stability, however, has suddenly come into serious question after Hariri announced his resignation on November 4th.
The primary reason that he cited for his decision was the increasing influence of Iran in Lebanese politics and affairs. Through Hezbollah, Hariri claimed that Iran has “created a state within a state” in Lebanon, and went on to accuse Iran of sowing “sedition, devastation and destruction in any place it settles in.” “I want to tell Iran and its followers that they are losing in their interferences in the affairs of Arab nations. Our nation will rise just as it did before, and the hands that will harm it will be cut,” he added. 
Hariri’s critics in Lebanon were quick to highlight the irony in the fact that he made this announcement from Saudi Arabia, as he was condemning external influence on his country while speaking on a foreign state-owned channel.  Hassan Nasrallah, chief of Hezbollah, believed that Hariri did not decide to resign of his own accord, but rather due to pressure from Saudi Arabia, claiming “It was not his intention, not his wish and not his decision to quit.” Saudi officials denied these claims .
Analysts both in Lebanon and the broader region, both supporters and opponents of Hezbollah, shared the belief of Nasrallah that Saudi Arabia pressured Hariri to resign. From a Saudi standpoint, this follows recent efforts coordinated with the United States to defame and condemn Iran and Hezbollah. By removing Hariri, the Saudis denied Hezbollah a credible Sunni governing partner, in addition to removing what they concluded was more of a veil to cover Iran’s influence than to counter it. 
The impact of Hariri’s resignation remains to be seen. As of now, Aoun must accept his decision, though he has still called for Hariri to present his reasons in Lebanon. Some have viewed this as a way for Aoun to delay political consultations on a new prime minister , which makes sense given the lack of an obvious candidate to replace Hariri as Prime Minister.
In general, Hariri’s resignation has been viewed with much controversy, given its suddenness and broader context and circumstances. The general opinion points to significant Saudi Arabian pressure being the main cause for Hariri’s decision. Many have also noted Hariri’s dual Lebanese-Saudi Arabian citizenship as an indicator of the influence of the Gulf kingdom over him.
Despite Western criticism of Hezbollah and Iranian influence in the Arab world, many recognise the benefits it has brought to Lebanon. At the front lines in the war against ISIS, Hezbollah is supplementing a far weaker Lebanese army that would not be capable of handling the threat on its own, allowing the Lebanese state to maintain its independence and sovereignty to a certain extent.
 Samia Nakhoul, Tom Perry. “Lebanon's Aoun wins presidency to end two year political vacuum”. Reuters. 31st October, 2016. Accessed 5th November, 2017.
 Suzan Haidmous. “The resignation of Lebanon’s prime minister raises risks in the Middle East”. Washington Post. 4th November, 2017. Accessed 5th November, 2017.
 Nabih Bulos. “Lebanese prime minister resigns amid tensions with Iran-backed Hezbollah”. Los Angeles Times. 4th November, 2017. Accessed 5th November, 2017.
 “Lebanon PM forced by Saudis to resign, says Hezbollah”. BBC. 5th November, 2017. Accessed 5th November, 2017.
 Anne Barnard. “Saad Hariri Quits as Lebanon Prime Minister, Blaming Iran”. New York Times. 4th November, 2017. Accessed 5th November, 2017.
 “Lebanese President Will Not Accept PM Hariri's Resignation, Sources Say”. Haaretz. 5th November, 2017. Accessed 5th November, 2017.
Photo Credit: Flickr User Abdallah Kheir
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