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Will Qatar mediation end Lebanon political deadlock?

September 28, 2023 at 3:41 pm

Lebanese protesters carry banners during a demonstration against monetary policies called by the bank depositors’ committee at Lebanese parliament building in Beirut, Lebanon on August 17, 2023 [Houssam Shbaro – Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon has been unable to elect a new president since President Michel Aoun left office in October 2022, Anadolu News Agency reports.

France has sought to mediate between Lebanese political forces, sending its envoy, Jean Yves Le Drian, twice to the country in a bid to end the deadlock. The efforts, however, did not yield any results.

As the political vacuum persisted, Qatar stepped in to help strike a deal between Lebanon’s political groups.

Qatari envoy, Jassim bin Fahad Al-Thani, arrived in Lebanon last week in an effort to strike an understanding between the country’s political rivals for electing a new president.

According to the local Al-Jadeed TV channel, Qatari Minister of State, Mohammed Al-Khulaifi, will visit Lebanon in October to pursue efforts to end the Lebanese political impasse.

Lebanon’s Parliament had held 12 sessions to elect a new president, but political rivals failed to agree on a candidate.

READ: Lebanon Grand Mufti says there will be no change in government system

Two main candidates are vying for the post: Jihad Azour, who is backed by Christian groups, and Suleiman Frangieh, who is supported by Hezbollah group and its allied Amal movement.

Lebanon has also been without a fully functioning government since May 2022, with Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his Cabinet having limited powers in their current caretaker status.

Since 2019, the country has been facing a crippling economic crisis that, according to the World Bank, is one of the worst the world has seen in modern times.

French failure

Riad Kahwaji, a Middle East defence and security analyst, said Lebanese opposition groups considered France “too tolerant” towards Hezbollah.

“They only saw France trying to persuade the opposition to back Hezbollah candidate, Suleiman Franjieh,” he told Anadolu.

The French envoy “also failed to convince the opposition to support Parliament Speaker, Nabih Berri’s initiative for dialogue to agree on a consensual candidate,” he added.

George Al-Aqouri, a political analyst, said the French mediation was “originally flawed”.

“The French initiative was based on bargaining by proposing Frangieh, who is close to Hezbollah, for president and Nawaf Salam, who is close to Saudi Arabia, for premiership,” he said.

“This was a wrong approach to deal with the presidential vacuum in Lebanon by France,” he added.

Aqouri said he believes the French initiative “has become clinically dead”.

“The French, however, did not announce the death of their initiative yet, in an effort to save the face of French diplomacy,” he added.

Qatari initiative

Kahwaji believes that Qatar is dealing with Lebanon’s political deadlock with a “new approach”.

“The Qataris aim to put forward three independent candidates for the presidency,” he said. “These candidates are acceptable to all parties.”

READ: Lebanon risks being ‘ostracised’ if presidential vacuum lingers – France envoy

Kahwaji said that Qatar is trying to convince all Lebanese parties to hold a new parliament session to elect one of the candidates for president.

The Qataris have good relations with all parties inside Lebanon. They also have good relations with Iran, which can influence Hezbollah

he added.

Qataris “have a history of successful initiatives in Lebanon, such as the Doha Agreement in 2008, which ended an internal conflict that prevented the holding of presidential elections at that time,” he added.

The Doha Agreement in May 2008 marked the end of a political crisis between the loyalists, backed by the Gulf States and the West, and the opposition, supported by Iran and the Syrian regime, that lasted 18 months, and almost destroyed Lebanese civil peace.

“The Qatari mediation is not replacing the French initiative,” Aqouri said, adding that Doha has activated its efforts to mediate between Lebanese groups after the failure of the French mediation.

Arif Al-Abd, a political analyst, said he believes the Qatari mediation “will benefit from the mistakes of the French initiative.”

“The French initiative adopted one of the candidates backed by Iran and the Syrian regime, which triggered opposition from many groups,” Al-Abd said.

“This is a mistake that Qatar will not commit,” he added.

Al-Abd said he thinks that the Qatari initiative “will be a new starting point for most parties to get out of the impasse, despite the difficult conditions and differences in Lebanon.”

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