After maintaining a neutral stance on the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, Lebanon’s position has edged towards the tiny Gulf State. The blockade has been in place since June 2017, but this is the first time that Beirut has taken a position one way or the other.
It seems that the government in Lebanon would not have determined its position without the attempts by the blockade countries — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt — and their supporters to sabotage the Arab economic summit that was held in Beirut yesterday. The presence of the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, was extremely significant.
As soon as the Emir announced his participation, which followed apologies sent by a number of Arab leaders, questions were asked about the message that his presence was intended to send. His attendance, it was said yesterday, “saved the summit from failure.”
Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil told a press conference in the presence of the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, after the closing session of the summit, “The Emir of Qatar broke the blockade imposed on his country when he arrived in Beirut after a five-hour trip, in a political initiative to break the blockade on the summit.”
— الخليج أونلاين (@AlkhaleejOnline) January 20, 2019
Video | Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil: Emir of Qatar broke the blockade on Qatar in an initiative to break the blockade on the summit
The boycott of the summit was apparent by the limited representation of some of the participating Arab countries, reflected through the absence of their leaders. Neither King Salman Bin Abdulaziz nor his son, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman took part in the Beirut programme. Nor was there any official representatives from the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Observers believe that this was an attempt to sabotage the event.
Bassil’s statement was described as “bold” and referred to the strained relations with the countries blockading Qatar, especially Saudi Arabia. The Saudi media have attacked the summit as a “failure”.
In his first official comment on the summit, the Emir of Qatar wrote on his official Twitter account that, “The decision to participate was natural and out of concern for the joint Arab action that the summit showed the urgent need to strengthen in the face of the crises and challenges facing us.”
Lebanese-Saudi relations have been strained since Riyadh’s detention of Prime Minister Saad Hariri in late 2017, when he was virtually forced to resign, an announcement that he has since rescinded. The relationship between Hariri and the Kingdom has been very tense more recently as a result of his alliance with President Michel Aoun, a close ally of Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon.