BEIRUT: Political and religious figures in Lebanon welcomed former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s surprise return Friday, expressing hope that the move would bestow new momentum to a country mired in political and security crises.
Speaker Nabih Berri congratulated the former prime minister in a telephone call for safely returning to Lebanon.
Prime Minister Tammam Salam hailed Hariri’s decision. “It is a great step which reflects a high sense of patriotism amid the delicate circumstances the country is witnessing,” he said while chairing a security meeting at the Grand Serail attended by Hariri.
Salam added that he hoped the move would help bring the Lebanese together and protect the country.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt described the news as “excellent.”
Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea also hailed Hariri’s unexpected reappearance in Lebanon, saying it would boost moderation in Lebanon and improve the performance of the Future-dominated March 14 coalition.
“Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s return will give momentum to the work of March 14 ... things will not remain the way they were before his return,” he told a local television station. “Hariri’s return enhances centrist politics and moderation.”
Over three years after he left the country for security reasons, Hariri’s surprise decision to come back to Lebanon prompted Future Movement supporters across Lebanon to celebrate by cruising around cities in their cars with the party’s blue flags trailing.
Hariri moved to Saudi Arabia after his national unity government was toppled by the March 8 coalition in 2011 due to disputes over the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, the court set up to investigate the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik.
Health Minister Wael Abu Faour said the “auspicious and courageous return of Hariri is a big and positive step,” stressing that it served to “safeguard the logic of moderation in the country.”
Abu Faour said the development “opens dialogue channels that could not only lead to the election of a new president, but also give a greater motive for political communication lines that could result in a comprehensive national compromise.”
Telecommunications Minister Boutros Harb echoed Abu Faour, welcoming Hariri’s “initiative to come in these specific circumstances,” saying the move could directly influence efforts to end the presidential vacuum.
“It is a normal reaction by a person highly responsible for protecting Lebanon, its political system and the common life between all its sects,” he said.
“It surely means the rejection of terrorism and extremism,” he added, “especially given that Hariri is a pioneer of moderation in Lebanon.”
The U.S. and Saudi ambassadors to Lebanon, David Hale and Ali Awad Asiri, paid Hariri a visit at the former premier’s residence in Downtown Beirut to welcome him back. Hariri also received a phone call from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel, head of the General Maronite Council, former Minister Wadih Khazen, and visits from State Minister Nabil de Freij and Information Minister Ramzi Joreige.
Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai rang the Future leader to congratulate him, saying he hoped “it will be a motivation to the good efforts pushing to overcome of Lebanon’s political and social crisis.”
Syrian Ambassador to Lebanon Ali Abdel-Karim Ali welcomed Hariri’s move, expressing hope “that the return would be in the framework of fighting terrorism.”
Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi also hailed Hariri’s decision to return, calling his reappearance in Lebanon a turning point.
“They say that what would come after [the battle of] Arsal is different from what was before it. Now we say that what will come after Hariri’s return is not the same as what was before it,” Rifi posted on his Twitter account.
The March 14 General Secretariat’s coordinator, Fares Soueid, described his homecoming as “courageous and of great significance,” congratulating “Lebanese of all sects,” and stressing that the act proved wrong everyone that had said Hariri would stay away forever.
The Druze spiritual leader Sheikh Naim Hassan praised Hariri’s arrival, and said he hoped that “it would be an introduction to more positivity in the national arena.”
Lebanese Democratic Party head Talal Arslan said the former premier was “able to add a positive environment to the political life in Lebanon, by refecting terrorism and standing by the Army.”
Hariri also received phone calls from a host of other Lebanese politicians and religious figures, including former President Michel Sleiman, former Prime Minister Salim Hoss, Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Fares, former Deputy Prime Minister Issam Abu Jamra, Vice President of the Higher Shiite Council Sheikh Abdel Amir Qabalan, Mufti of Tripoli and the North Sheikh Malek al-Shaar, Syriac Orthodox Archbishop of Beirut Daniel Kourie, Director of General Security Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim and commander of the police General Elias Saade.