They smile as if they are the best of friends, but Saad Hariri, MBS, and Mohammed VI’s personal relationships are far more complicated
“No comment”: was the caption on the selfie, posted on Twitter by the Lebanese prime minister on Monday evening. Nonetheless, thousands of social media users had plenty to say about the picture.
And for good reason: the photograph shows all smiles, Saad Hariri (taking the shot), Moroccan King Mohammed VI, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman - widely known as MBS.
The three leaders seem in all likelihood to be posing in a fancy Parisian restaurant, as MBS is on an official state visit to the French capital, the Moroccan royal is recovering from heart surgery in France, and Hariri - who regularly visits Paris - was attending the CEDRE conference in support of the Lebanese economy.
“Hypocritical”, “unbelievable”, “spectacular”: between taunts, enthusiasm, and parodies, the selfie has spread far and wide on social media.
MBS : Saad tu nous prends en photo ?
Hariri : Pourquoi moi ?
MBS : Tu veux que je te séquestre...
M6 : À Tazmamart ?
Hariri : Ok, cheese ! pic.twitter.com/oRmrot3MSa
— el manchar (@el_manchar) April 10, 2018
Translation: MBS: Saad, will you take a photo of us?
Hariri: Why me?
MBS: Do you want me to sequester you...
Mohammed VI: In Tazmamart? (Notorious Moroccan secret prison)
Hariri: Okay, say cheese!
But why did this selfie provoke so many reactions?
Because these three leaders posing like buddies are supposed to have complicated relations.
Even though Saudi Arabia is one of the main backers of Morocco on the issue of the Western Sahara, and actively supports Rabat’s lobbying to regain control of this region, last August, MBS’s father King Salman bin Abdulaziz nearly cancelled his vacation in Tangiers, his usual holiday destination, because his son had not appreciated Morocco's neutral stance during the crisis with Qatar.
More recently, Rabat took umbrage with tweets by King Salman’s adviser, Turki al-Sheikh. The latter, who is also the president of the General Sports Authority and of the Union of Arab Football Associations, had declared: “No country has sought Saudi Arabia’s support to organise the 2026 World Cup, in which case we will pursue our interests first and foremost” - implying that Riyadh would not back Rabat’s candidacy to host the football competition.
“It’s true that Saudi Arabia has held a grudge against Morocco due to its position during the Qatar crisis,” Moncef El Yazghi, a Moroccan analyst of sports politics, told Middle East Eye's French edition at the time.
‘They slapped him repeatedly’
And the relations between Hariri and MBS are not much warmer, especially since the Lebanese prime minister announced his resignation on television from Saudi Arabia last November.
“When Hariri was summoned to meet MBS, he expected a warm reception from the royal family. Saad was thinking that all his problems with MBS would be solved,’” an aide to Hariri told the New Yorker magazine.
“Instead, in Riyadh, he was confronted by police, who took him into custody," the article went on.
He then resigned, before officially withdrawing the resignation days later, upon returning to Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Mohammed VI’s presence in Paris has worried Moroccans, who discovered on social media that the king has undergone surgery for a cardiac disorder at the Ambroise Pare clinic. Since then, selfies of the king in Paris posing with French celebrities or anonymous civilians have circulated on the web, leading some to believe that Mohammed VI has not been particularly present back home since February.
Translation: I should have brushed my hair, but he replied: Who cares! Natural and spontaneous Mohammed VI
It must be said that the three leaders have in common a passion for selfies.
سيلفي سعد الحريري ملفتة جداً، واعتقد هذا التصرف عفوياً لا يخضع لآراء مستشاريه.
وبمثل هذا التصرف يمكنه ان يصنع الفرق. pic.twitter.com/MtGQmIm7D5
— Yumna Fawaz (@yumnafawaz) March 4, 2016
Translation: Saad Hariri’s selfie is very interesting. I think it’s a natural behaviour that doesn’t obey the advice of his counselors. It’s the kind of behaviour that makes a difference.
Saad Hariri had even struck a pose with MBS and his brother Khaled, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, in Riyadh on 3 March.
— Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) March 2, 2018
Translation: With Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Prince Khaled Bin Salman in Riyadh.
In this domain, MBS, who is very much in control of his public image, is not left out, as can be seen by this selfie taken in December 2017 and posted on Instagram, with young Saudis in the desert. According to Al Arabiya, the crown prince had taken the photograph with them while excusing himself for the din caused by his loud vehicles passing by in the area.
MBS poses with young Saudis in the desert (Screenshot)
For some Arabic media such as Arabi21, Hariri’s selfie is seen as proof of rapprochement between Beirut and Riyadh. During the CEDRE conference that started on Friday in Paris, Saudi Arabia announced it was granting Lebanon a billion-euro credit line.
Furthermore, an event took place in the Lebanese capital in early April that undoubtedly pleased the Saudi monarchy: Hariri inaugurated with great fanfare a new maritime road linking Zaitounay Bay to the Biel area, named after Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in the presence of heavyweights of the anti-Syrian regime “14 March” movement, Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea.
— Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) April 3, 2018
Translation: Inauguration ceremony for the King Salman bin Abdulaziz Avenue
The original version of this piece ran on MEE's French website