RIYADH: Lebanon’s resigned prime minister Saad Hariri meets Lebanon’s Christian Maronite patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi yesterday. – AFP
BEIRUT/RIYADH: Kuwait’s ambassador to Lebanon told President Michel Aoun his country supports his efforts to overcome the “delicate situation” and stands by Lebanese sovereignty, Aoun said in a tweet yesterday. Lebanon’s Saudi-allied Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri declared his resignation on Nov 4 in a broadcast from Riyadh, throwing Lebanon into political crisis. Saudi Arabia, an ally of Kuwait, has accused Lebanon of declaring war on it because of the influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah, and has advised Saudi citizens to leave Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite church, in a historic visit to Saudi Arabia, voiced support yesterday for Hariri over his resignation. Beshara Rai arrived in Riyadh on Monday in the first trip to the kingdom by a senior Lebanese figure since Hariri quit. Hariri had cited fears for his life and accused Hezbollah of controlling Lebanon. “I am convinced by the reasons for his resignation,” Rai said. “He will return to Lebanon as soon as possible.”
Many observers suspected Riyadh had ordered him to resign, and senior Lebanese politicians have alleged he is under de facto house arrest in the capital. But in his first tweet in several days yesterday, Hariri brushed aside those allegations. “Everybody, I’m totally fine. God willing, I’ll be back in these two days. Let’s calm down,” he wrote. He added that his family would stay in Saudi Arabia, calling it “their country”.
Hariri’s resignation came against the backdrop of mounting tensions between Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran, which back opposing sides in conflicts and power struggles from Syria to Yemen. Rai’s trip to Saudi Arabia, though overshadowed by Hariri’s resignation, is significant as it symbolizes a rare inter-religious exchange in the ultraconservative Sunni kingdom, home to the holiest sites in Islam. Rai is the top cleric in Lebanon’s powerful Maronite community, and is regularly consulted by both Christian and non-Christian political figures as well as receiving foreign dignitaries when they visit the country.
During his visit to Saudi Arabia, he met King Salman and powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman yesterday. The patriarch and the king “reviewed fraternal relations between the kingdom and Lebanon and confirmed the importance of the role of different religions and cultures in promoting tolerance, renouncing violence, extremism and terrorism,” the state-run Saudi Press Agency said. Separately, Saudi Gulf affairs minister Thamer Al-Sabhan said the Maronite patriarch’s visit “stresses the kingdom’s approach for peaceful coexistence, closeness and openness for all sections of Arabic people.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said France was “worried by the situation in Lebanon” and wanted to see the government there “stabilise as quickly as possible”. Le Drian is set to visit Riyadh tomorrow. France joined Germany on Monday in calling for an end to external interference in Lebanon – buffeted for decades by conflicts between bigger players in the region such as Iran and Syria. Last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also warned other countries against using Lebanon for “proxy conflicts”, adding that he had no evidence that Hariri was being held against his will in the oil-rich kingdom. – Agencies