Lebanon was hoping that the Arab economic summit that would be held in Beirut at the weekend would offer relief to the country’s ailing economy, that has taken a hit due to many months of governmental void.
Recently the Arab states wanted to invite Syria as well as Libya to the Summit and when Lebanon disagreed about their invitation many countries downgraded their representation to mere ministerial or ambassadorial level. The only head of states who agreed to attend were the Qatar’s emir and Mauritania’s president.
Qatar has strengthened their bond with Lebanon with the recent announcement that the state had purchased $500 million of government bonds in debt-ridden Lebanon. Doha also tried to defend and rehabilitate the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar Assad, when the international community tried but failed to sanction his regime and hold it responsible for the assassination of the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
Qatar’s purchase have triggered wider political implications, mostly cause Qatar is at the center of a bitter dispute with Arab states such as UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as they accused it of supporting terrorism and seeking closer relations with Iran.
Saudi Arabia is traditionally a backer of Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri. Since then, Qatar has sided with the Lebanese political umbrella group the March 8 Alliance, which is close to Tehran and Damascus, and serves as a political bloc that advances Hezbollah’s agenda in Lebanon, as dictated by Syria and Iran at the expense of its national interests and fragile democracy. Qatar has since then been seen as an agent promoting groupings affiliated with political Islam, namely the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and even Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups like Al-Nusra Front in Syria.
Though Lebanon is the weakest link in this Middle East conflict, the desperate Lebanese people seem to be keen to welcome this Qatari assistance to their economy, especially after the finance minister spooked Lebanese markets earlier this month with comments about the country’s public debt, which is among the worst in the world.
But, like everything in the region and Beirut especially, the step by Qatar risks pulling Lebanon further into its sphere of influence and alienating core supporters like Saudi Arabia and the UAE, who have paid billions of dollars over the years to ensure Lebanon enjoyed financial stability and national cohesion despite the divisive rhetoric promoted by groups supported by Qatar, Iran and Syria.
The Qatari bond purchase, as helpful as it may appear from the outside, might have serious implications and push core Gulf supporters like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE into shying away from supporting Lebanon in the future. Beirut must quickly clarify its position and allay its traditional allies’ fears that it will not be pulled into the Syrian-Iranian-Qatari political sphere.
Source: Arab News