Lebanon's top cardinal says Hariri return from Saudi essential

Lebanon's top cardinal calls for Hariri return ahead of Saudi visit
2 min read
13 November, 2017
The return of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia is essential for Lebanon's stability, the head of the country's Maronite Catholic community said on Monday.
Bechara el-Rai's visit to Saudi Arabia is the first ever by a Maronite patriarch. [Getty]

The return of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia is essential for Lebanon's stability, the head of the country's Maronite Catholic community said on Monday.

Cardinal Bechara el-Rai told reporters before departing to Saudi Arabia that the Lebanese people have been "unsettled" since Hariri's resignation earlier this month, adding that he will raise the matter with the Saudi king and crown prince.

Rai had planned his two-day visit before Hariri announced his 4 November shock resignation in a pre-recorded statement broadcast from Riyadh, plunging Lebanon into crisis and leading to speculation that he was being held against his will.

El-Rai is head of the Maronite sect, Lebanon's largest Christian community and the Middle East's largest Catholic Church, which enjoys wide influence in the country.

His visit to Saudi Arabia is the first ever by a Maronite patriarch.

"The Lebanese people have been waiting for him [Hariri] to return because the situation has come to a stop and the Lebanese people have been unsettled", Rai said.

"They [the Lebanese] will not rest until he returns so that life returns to normal."

"We will carry these concerns to the king and crown prince and wish well," he said.

Hariri said on Sunday he'll return to Lebanon "within days" to resolve issues with the militant group Hizballah, his rivals in the coalition government.

The comments came in Hariri's first TV interview since announcing his resignation. He denied he was being held against his will in the kingdom.

A political crisis has gripped Lebanon since Hariri read his televised resignation from Saudi Arabia in which he accused Iran of meddling in his country in a vicious tirade that was uncharacteristic of the usually soft-spoken 47-year old premier.

In Lebanon, there is a widespread belief he is being held captive in Riyadh, where a broad consolidation of power and a purge led by the Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman against dissidents and rival princes is taking place.