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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Lebanon president seeks Qatari assistance amid economic, political crises 


Lebanon is eyeing Qatari investment to alleviate a severe economic crisis.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun arrived in Qatar on Monday where he met several Qatari officials, including the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani to discuss economic and political affairs. 

The visit was as per an invitation from Sheikh Tamim on the occasion of the first ever FIFA Arab Cup 2021, scheduled for kick off in Doha from 30 November to 18 December.

Aoun, along with several Arab leaders were invited to attend the opening ceremony of the sports tournament on Tuesday in the Qatari capital.

A day earlier, the Lebanese president met Sheikh Tamim in the Amiri Diwan office on Monday, where the two discussed bilateral relations on the sidelines of the tournament. 

“It is natural that we wish Qatar success in this event, as in every major event it hosts, such as the FIFA World Cup next year. However, when Lebanon attends meetings, we must address the problems the country is suffering from, which have become many and more difficult,” Aoun’s media advisor, Rafeeq Chelala, told Doha News. 

“Qatar is no stranger when it comes to Lebanese affairs, it has always stood by Lebanon on several levels and provided constant support through many initiatives aimed at alleviating the country’s suffering on more than one occasion,” Chelala added. 

The official said the strengthening of Lebanese-Qatari relations was high on the agenda for Aoun during his two-day trip to the Gulf state.

“Lebanon highly appreciates the permanent Qatari support, and when we meet with His Highness the amir, we do not leave room for expectations, because we realise that work will be taken seriously and effectively implemented by both parties with the aim to achieve the interests of the two sides, especially since consultation is a good and required feature between brotherly countries,” Chelala said in a statement ahead of the opening ceremony on Tuesday. 

“Accordingly, we are sure that Qatar will do everything in its power to help Lebanon, particularly in these difficult circumstances that it is going through, and this is what I sensed during my meeting with His Highness, who has a special and notable appreciation for Lebanon and the Lebanese people.”

The latest meeting with Qatar’s amir and other officials comes as the Lebanese Republic sinks deeper into a financial and economic crisis – the worst in its modern history. 

The multifaceted crises has left the average Lebanese struggling to secure basic human needs, with three-quarters of the population already plunged into poverty. The Lebanese pound has lost almost 90 percent of its value.

“Qatar can contribute to the advancement of Lebanon and invest in it in many areas,” the Lebanese official noted.

He added that the Lebanese government is seeking to utilise natural resources to generate more money into the cash-strapped country.  

“It is also important to activate the work of the Lebanese-Qatari joint higher committee, which is able to restore activity to the joint economic movement between the two countries.”

Earlier, Aoun told Qatar’s Al-Raya daily newspaper that he will call on Sheikh Tamim to further invest in the reconstruction of Beirut’s port that was destroyed last year in a horrific blast. 

He is also seeking investment in different infrastructure projects, including electricity, which is cut for much of the day in Lebanon.

The Gulf state hosts one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world and has been a major investor in Lebanon in previous years.

Qatar mediation role

The crises-hit country recently has faced a diplomatic rift with some Gulf states over comments made by now Minister of Information George Kordahi. Ahead of his appointment as a government official, Kordahi criticised the Saudi-led coalition’s military intervention in Yemen, describing the war as “futile” and saying it is “about time for it to end.”

Read also: Lebanon’s PM meets Qatar’s amir in Glasgow amid GCC crisis

Despite sharing his opinions as a civilian at the time, the later-resurfaced remarks triggered fury across the Gulf Cooperation Council that quickly transformed into a diplomatic crisis between the bloc and Beirut.

Last month, Saudi Arabia along with Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait took joint action in expelling their Lebanon envoys and withdrawing their ambassadors from Beirut.

Riyadh has even imposed a ban on trade with Lebanon, while the UAE banned its citizens from traveling to the country.

Qatar has promised to play a mediating role between the bloc and Lebanon to calm down tensions in the region. 

“Lebanon sincerely seeks to overcome all the obstacles that stand in the way of healthy and solid relations with the Arab countries, specifically the Gulf countries,” the Lebanese President’s advisor said in a statement to Doha News. 

“We also welcome any assistance that would work to restore relations between Lebanon, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and all the Gulf states. 

“My visit to Qatar is only evidence of this desire, to establish this goal with the rest of the countries in the region,” he added. 

Chelala confirmed that a visit by the Qatari foreign minister to Beirut is expected soon “to follow up on what was discussed between me and His Highness the amir, and to see what Qatar can offer to help Lebanon as well as discuss the latest developments.”

The Lebanese official stressed that Qatar continues to support Lebanon in resolving all political issues while maintaining stability in the country, adding that the Gulf state is keen on showing respect to the will of the Lebanese, which he says has been apparent by the lack of conditions imposed by Doha to provide support. 

In September, Lebanese political parties finally agreed on forming a new government,  paving the way for the country to restart talks with the International Monetary Fund to unlock aid.

Lebanon’s finance ministry said earlier that his country will receive $1.135 billion in reserve assets, known as Special Drawing Rights, from the IMF.

The allocation includes $860 million approved this year and $275 million from 2009. Qatar later pledged to help Lebanon in transferring its shares of SDRs to cash. 

Chelala said that during the latest meeting at the Amiri Diwan, the two sides did not delve into details but rather left such matters for authorities to discuss in future talks.

“But it must be noted that Lebanon is working hard to get out of its crisis, and it is continuing its negotiations with the IMF to put in place a practical mechanism that contributes to setting the correct frameworks for sustainable solutions, and it has also started conducting a forensic audit through the company ‘Alvarez and Marsal’ to find out who was behind wasting the country’s money,” he added. 

“The amir reiterated Qatar’s readiness to provide a hand of assistance to Lebanon, and therefore all areas are open to achieve this goal, and we have full confidence that His Highness the amir and Qatari officials will make every effort to help the Lebanese people overcome their difficult crisis.”

The Lebanese official also highlighted that the government is still seeking to explore its oil and gas reserves, noting that the future plan is to invest properly and prevent previous practices that proved to be costly for the country. 

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