French president Emmanuel Macron invited Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to France in the midst of current turmoil in Lebanon regarding Iranian and Saudi plays for influence. Macron's invitation was extended partly in an attempt to maintain good relations with its former protectorate and to protect French trade interests in the Middle East, and was deemed not to be an offer of political exile for Hariri.
The Prime Minister's recent attempt to resign was broadcast on Saudi television and added to fears that he was being held against his will in Riyadh. Hariri dispelled those fears, writing on Twitter that he was in the Saudi Capital "for consultations about the future situation in Lebanon and its relations with its surroundings". Hariri justified his resignation by citing threats on his life and a fear of Iran's growing influence in his country, as evidenced by how he claimed the Iran-backed Shia party Hezbollah was taking over Lebanon.
These recent developments are stemming from Lebanon's crisis of national identity, as stated by Education Minister Marwan Hamade, who fears the way Lebanon may be caught in the middle of a battle between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia. The country is divided not only by the religious affiliations that justify power-sharing in its government, but by factions that are loyal either to Saudi Arabia or to Iran. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim who has dual citizenship in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, is a leader of the first faction, while President Aoun is a leader of the second and a close ally of Hezbollah.
Hariri has been prime minister more than once, first starting in 2009 until he was ousted in 2011 after Hezbollah and its allies withdrew from the cabinet. After three years of self-imposed exile in France and Saudi Arabia, he returned to Lebanon in 2014 and was named prime minister once again in 2016. Prior to Hariri's visit to France, the French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with him and Saudi Officials, and Macron himself made a trip to the kingdom in early November.
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