Will Saudi Support Lebanon After Qatar's Pledge?

Published January 24th, 2019 - 11:13 GMT
Lebanon is traditionally an arena for Saudi and Iranian influence and rivalry, but this has had a detrimental effect on the country's delicate politics, with both regional powerhouses seen as divisive. (Shutterstock)
Lebanon is traditionally an arena for Saudi and Iranian influence and rivalry, but this has had a detrimental effect on the country's delicate politics, with both regional powerhouses seen as divisive. (Shutterstock)

Saudi Arabia is rushing to voice support for Lebanon after its rival Qatar pledged to invest $500 million to support the small country's ailing economy.

Responding to a question if Riyadh was prepared to make a similar commitment, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan told CNBC: "Saudi Arabia has been, and continues to be, a very important catalyst of stability in Lebanon."

"We are interested to see stability in Lebanon and we will support Lebanon all, all the way," he said in the interview published on Wednesday.

Lebanon's economy has been struggling from massive debt, little growth and high-unemployment.

Earlier this month, Lebanon's Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil was quoted by a local newspaper as saying that the country may restructure its debt, leading to sell-off in Lebanese bonds.

He later clarified that Lebanon is committed to paying back all maturing debt.

Lebanon is traditionally an arena for Saudi and Iranian influence and rivalry, but this has had a detrimental effect on the country's delicate politics, with both regional powerhouses seen as divisive.

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Saudi Arabia traditionally supports Lebanon's Sunni politicians, led by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, while Iran backs powerful Shia militant group Hizballah. 

Middle East analysts say Qatar's move mark a bid to regain some of its soft power in the region dented by the counter-revolutionary frustration of the Arab Spring that Doha supported, and a Saudi-led blockade of the small emirate since June 2017. 

Unlike Riyadh and Tehran, Doha's legacy in Lebanon is more neutral, having helped broker a landmark political accord that ended a long power vacuum in 2008. And in the wake of the 2006 Israeli war on Lebanon, Qatar was the leading donor for reconstruction efforts.

Relations between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have also been strained by Riyadh's brief detention of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri in November 2017.

Regarding Qatar's recent moves, Dr. Ali Bakeer, a political analyst, told The New Arab: "I think it was a good opportunity to show support for the Lebanese state as most Arab Gulf countries were absent."

"It is certainly a move that will increase Qatar's influence and soft power again in Lebanon after it went down during the regional divergence with the Saudi and Iranian positions from the Arab revolutions."

A Saudi-led bloc imposed a blockade on Qatar in June 2017, seeking to coerce Doha into adopting their foreign policy line.


Copyright @ 2019 The New Arab.

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