BEIRUT: Saudi Minister of State for Gulf Affairs Thamer Al-Sabhan arrived in Beirut on Friday and met with Lebanese political and religious figures including Saad Al-Hariri and Lebanese presidential candidate Michel Aoun. They discussed bilateral ties as well as regional developments, according to arab news.
Lebanese sources expect Al-Sabhan to attend the parliamentary session scheduled for Oct. 31 for the election of a Lebanese president, and to meet with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.
Im statements to the media, Al-Sabhan said that Saudi Arabia will support the president, which the Lebanese agree upon, adding “We always strive to build good relations with Arab countries. Lebanon means so much us, and the historical relations between the two countries cannot be shaken by any agendas.”
He stressed that Saudi Arabia refuses to interfere in the internal affairs of other countries.
“We will support whoever the Lebanese people select as President,” he said.
Observers believe the visit, which was not announced in advance, comes in support of the Kingdom’s backing of the position of the Future Movement leader Al-Hariri, who announced his support for Aoun’s candidacy for president some days back.
Al-Hariri had confirmed at the time of his announcement, which caught many by surprise, that the options are limited, but his support for Aoun, who is also supported by Hezbollah, is not without risk, and he would not hesitate to take such a risk “for the sake of Lebanon.”
He stressed the need to expedite the election of a Lebanese president, after 45 failed previous attempts of Parliament, to ensure peace in the country.
Al-Hariri’s stance was widely criticized within the parliamentary bloc of the Future Movement, as some expressed their rejection of Aoun’s candidacy for several political reasons, despite their support for Al-Hariri and remaining by his side.
Analysts believe the visit of Al-Sabhan will likely lead to the decline in the number of Future Movement deputies who oppose Al-Hariri’s support for Aoun, and is a sign of the Kingdom’s support for Al-Hariri’s position.
Others believe Al-Hariri’s support for Aoun came only after the latest approval of the Saudi requirement that the next Lebanese president be neutral and maintain the same distance from all parties, and that the president “govern Lebanon for the sake of Lebanon without any political bias.” This demand by the Kingdom is in support of the Sunni movements in the country in the face of Hezbollah’s quest for control of Lebanese politics.
Many tweets online suggest that Al-Sabhan was sent to Lebanon to play this sensitive role, and a precursor to his appointment as ambassador of the Kingdom to Lebanon, especially in light of Al-Sabhan’s known positions against Iranian interference in Arab countries and his ability to block such attempts and respond to them.
The visit comes in light of the Kingdom’s keenness to protect and respect the Taif Agreement, which was an agreement that was brokered by the Kingdom and that ended a 15-year Lebanese civil war. The agreement stipulates the stability and independence of Lebanon and its Arab identity, power sharing between Muslims and Christians, resolving of all militias, and strengthening internal security. However, these articles continue to be violated by Hezbollah.
Leaked information from Lebanese political circles claim Al-Hariri’s support for Aoun — leader of the largest Christian bloc — very likely means Al-Hariri may be granted the seat of prime minister for years to come, an arrangement that would achieve the Kingdom’s desire to maintain the Taif Agreement.
This was hinted at in Aoun’s remarks following the announcement of Al-Hariri’s support, when he confirmed his feelings that “Lebanon will be newly built again and will recover its national unity through a new era that brings together Muslims and Christians to coexist on the basis of equality.”