Saudi Arabia has said it is prepared to do all it can to prop up Lebanon’s ailing economy, 24 hours after Qatar announced a $500 million aid package for Beirut.
Speaking to CNBC, Riyadh’s finance minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos yesterday that Saudi was “interested to see stability in Lebanon and [we will] support Lebanon all the way.”
“We are also determined to making sure that we play our role as a catalyst of stability in the region,” he added.
With Qatar announcing a $500 million aid package for Beirut analysts are wondering if the Saudi offer of assistance is a genuine gesture to help Lebanon or a politically motivated attempt to push back against Doha. Riyadh, along with the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain cut diplomatic ties with their Gulf neighbour since summer 2017. The rift within the Arab states has led to a cold war with rivals competing for power and influence.
Reginal observers mentioned by CNBC noted that the lack of detail in Al-Jadaan’s offer begged the question of what “strings attached” any financial support might entail, as is often the case with economic diplomacy.
Lebanon is said to be in the midst of economic turmoil. The tiny country is struggling under the weight of a looming banking crisis, the Syrian civil war next door, lower investment and tourism from traditionally supportive Gulf countries and crushing public debt.
Qatar decided to step in and invest in Lebanon’s struggling economy following the Emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani’s, first-ever visit to Beirut.
Saudi Arabia, has traditionally been an economic patron of Beirut and one of its top investors. However it withheld a $3 billion aid package to Lebanon in 2016 in response to the rising power of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shia political party. The Saudi’s also detained Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri during Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman’s 2017 corruption crackdown.
With Gulf rivals bidding for Beirut’s loyalty, regional observers have said that Lebanon, to its detriment, may become an arena for larger powers in the region to jockey for influence.