Lebanon‘s Prime Minister Saad Hariri arrived in the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh expecting to spend the day with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but instead found himself manhandled by Saudi security forces and forced to resign his position, according to a report by the New York Times.
The report citing unnamed Lebanese and Western officials, said the Lebanese leader, who also holds a Saudi passport, was only freed after lobbying by foreign diplomats.
Hariri had his mobile phone taken off him and was separated from most of his bodyguards except one, before being handed a pre-written resignation speech, the report said.
The televised speech in early November railed against the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah and Iranian interference in Lebanon, and in it Hariri claimed his life was in danger.
According to the Western diplomats and Lebanese officials cited in the piece, the Saudis thought the resignation would spark anti-Hezbollah protests, which turned out not to materialise.
Senior Lebanese officials, including President Michel Aoun, were immediately suspicious about the prime minister’s reasons for stepping down, and set about warning Western diplomats.
Hariri eventually left Saudi Arabia after a visit by the French President Emmanuel Macron, and later made his way back to Lebanon.
According to the report, Saudis were reprimanded by senior US state department official, David M Satterfield, for “destabilising Lebanon” .
In his public comments since the episode is purported to have taken place, Hariri denied that he was kept in Saudi Arabia against his will but has said he will not disclose the details of what took place while in the kingdom.
Hariri, who rescinded the resignation on his return, told the French channel CNews that there was no pressure on him to resign and that he had taken the decision to step down to bring about a “positive shock”.
The leader of Lebanon’s Future Movement and the country’s most powerful Sunni politician has warned that he may resign again if Hezbollah does not change the status quo in the country.
Lebanon is governed by a unity cabinet, in which Hezbollah holds several ministerial portfolios.
Hezbollah has insisted Hariri’s resignation was part of a Saudi plan to stoke sectarian tensions in the country, which is home to large Sunni and Shia communities, as well as Christian denominations.