Beirut (AsiaNews) - Early yesterday morning, Paula Yacoubian, a Future TV journalist, received a phone call from Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Al Hariri, her direct boss as the owner of the TV network. “You’ve been seeking an interview for some time now. You can come now," he told her.
The interview was scheduled for 8.30 pm Beirut time, and the journalist went on her own since "there was not enough time to put together a crew with cameramen and director". She was going to use a local crew.
In the afternoon, Ms Yacoubian posted a picture of her on a Saudi private plane on its way to Riyadh. At the airport, she was met by a Saudi man who helped her with visa and entry procedures before she was taken by car to the "Hariri home", whilst she referred to him as the “head of the Government".
Lebanese President Michel Aoun and National Assembly Speaker Nabih Berry spoke even before the surprise interview, which comes after a week of silence following Hariri’s resignation in Saudi Arabia, which was announced on Saudi TV. The two leaders warned against giving too much weight to any statement or action by the prime minister since they would be the result of an ambiguous and mysterious situation. In fact, unlike Saudi TV, almost all Lebanese TV stations refused to broadcast the interview live.
The long-awaited interview that came after international pressure has increased rather dispelled any doubts. In it, the prime minister appeared extremely relaxed, slow in his reactions as if it had just woken up. In fact, a Lebanese journalist wondered if he "did not drink 100 cups of chamomile". The smile he usually sports at interviews and the energy he usually shows were missing. Several times he gave the impression that he was unaware of what had happened in Lebanon since his resignation. This seems to confirm claims that he is isolated from the outside world.
The journalist told him that the Lebanese people were united, "even your enemies, and not just those of your movement. Everyone is with you and want your return." This brought some tears to his eyes and a lump in his throat, and the journalist stopped the interview for a break.
"Saad Hariri will not leave Lebanon," Hariri told her. "I am free; I can leave the country when I want to,” he said. “So why aren’t you coming back? When will you come back?" Yacoubian said. "Very soon; in three to four days," which is what he said last week to the president. On why he had not contacted any friends, relatives, family, or been on social media as he used to, he said "I'm in a phase of meditation and detachment."
The journalist often reiterated that the interview was taking in the "Hariri home". She told the prime minister, "People accuse me of being part of this farce. Honestly, I have not seen anything strange, but I cannot say that something hasn’t been arranged." When she asked him where his children were, he replied, "At home. They are following this interview live on tv." But in Beirut people wonder: what house, the Hariri home in Riyadh?
His postures and tones seem far calmer than when he announced his resignation. So do the statements about Lebanon by Saudi minister of state for Gulf affairs, Thamer al-Sabhan, following a visit to Washington, a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron and a statement by the British Foreign Office that “Lebanon should not be used as a tool for proxy conflicts”.
Hariri explained his decision by the "obligation to have relations with Damascus, which he refuses, and the unacceptability of the role played by a Lebanese party at the expense of Arab countries." But he also mentioned other reasons. "I have to think about my family, too," he said. "You know what I went through when my father died." If this is the case, is he afraid about his family? From whom? From Lebanese or others since his wife and three children live in Saudi Arabia?
In the most important part of the interview, Hariri said, "There are other reasons for my resignation, which I cannot mention now" but which "I will reveal once I return to Beirut."
During the interview, he denied he was threatened "by Ali Akbar Velayati” (an Iranian politician). Then who is threatening him? If people are united behind him in Lebanon, why is he still afraid? Lebanon’s security services have denied reports by Saudi Al Arabiya TV that "according to sources in Lebanese intelligence a plot was underway against the life of Prime Minister Hariri."
Instead of dispelling doubts, the interview has made them worse. Viewers saw a man behind the journalist with pages in his hands in the Hariri home. Yet Yacoubian’s crew had been left behind in Lebanon. Hariri nervously looked at that man. On Lebanese social media, posting a clip of the interview, many asked who was that man.
Hariri insisted that Lebanon’s political parties should not get involved in foreign wars, especially in Yemen. The journalist contradicted him saying that he did the same by helping the anti-Assad opposition in Syria. In his response, he said that "I consider my intervention for the Syrian people a great source of price.”
The prime minister warned that Saudi Arabia could impose economic sanctions on Lebanon if Beirut does not return to neutrality. "So they want to starve us," the journalist said, "by asking for conditions that Lebanon cannot meet." "Saudi Arabia loves Beirut," Hariri replied, "but it cannot love it more than it loves Riyadh."
Taking a step back, he noted "I shall return to Lebanon and deal with the parties" and "I could withdraw my resignation if Lebanon becomes neutral".
Meanwhile, people in Lebanon are expecting to see Card al-Rahi in Saudi Arabia today and hope to see Hariri's sons and wife with the prime minister and the prelate.