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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

Lebanon's premier takes children's unconventional questions

Wide-ranging interview takes on topics Saad Hariri does not often discuss

Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri speaks during a joint press conference with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson (not pictured) at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 15, 2018. Nabil Mounzer / EPA
Lebanon's prime minister Saad Hariri speaks during a joint press conference with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson (not pictured) at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon, on February 15, 2018. Nabil Mounzer / EPA

Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri took time to answer questions from school students over the weekend, at times taking on personal topics he often avoids.

The interview took place on local TV station MTV’s “Ring the Bell” programme. Though the prime minister took questions from students 10 to 14 years old, many of the questions could have come from any professional journalist.

That included Mr Hariri’s surprise resignation late last year. He told the students he delivered the announcement from Saudi Arabia instead of Lebanon to be more “dramatic".

Mr Hariri withdrew his resignation after a month, explaining to the students that when he left, the political situation was like “a ball court and everyone was shouting as he wanted".

“I saw that there was a big problem for Lebanon so I decided to take the ball and whistle and get out of the court,” Mr Hariri said. “I was afraid for the country and I had to make a positive shock to unite it.”

Students also asked Mr Hariri if he knew who had assassinated his father, former prime minister Rafik Hariri, in 2005. Mr Hariri said he would wait for the results of a United Nations-backed tribunal that has been investigating the case since 2009.

"I want justice, not revenge,” Mr Hariri said. “There is a difference between taking justice by hand or by law, and we have chosen to have an international tribunal, so I await judgment. "

A post shared by Saad Hariri (@saadhariri) on

There were lighter moments as well: Mr Hariri rarely speaks about his mother but told the students that she is married again, lives in Jordan, and still refers to him by a nickname: “Saadi.”

Regarding his own three children, he said they are living outside of Lebanon so that they can have a normal life without a security entourage.

Though the students are too young to vote, Mr Hariri was also asked about Lebanon’s upcoming parliamentary elections, saying he hoped the country would not vote for candidates — including himself — based on their family lineage but on their ability to serve the people.

"In 2005 people voted for [Rafik] Hariri and the votes came to me," he said. "In 2018, people will vote for Saad Hariri."

Other topics the students asked Mr Hariri about included Hezbollah’s weapons, Lebanon’s ongoing dispute over territory along the border with Israel, and sectarianism.

"The difference between Sunnis and Shiites is not religious, but political, and we, as Lebanese, should not fall into it," he responded.

According to MTV, the students presented Mr Hariri with a cigar box after the interview, but advised him not to smoke because he would be hurting his health.

Mr Hariri posted a picture to Instagram and Twitter later in the evening, thanking students for the “fun” interview.