The Lebanese presidency said on Tuesday the Qatari foreign minister showed his country’s readiness to help Lebanon solve its issues.
Qatar’s Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani visited Lebanon on Tuesday, where he met with President Michel Aoun, PM-designate Saad Hariri and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
The Qatari official’s visit comes as part of the Gulf state’s efforts to help resolve the political crisis in Lebanon, which has exacerbated an already dire economic crisis.
According to Lebanese media, Sheikh Mohammed arrived in Beirut on Tuesday for a one day visit and held meetings with the Lebanese officials in the afternoon, including Lebanese military officer, Joseph Aoun.
While sources earlier said the visit carried humanitarian and military aid from Qatar to Lebanon, the Lebanese Republic Presidency Media Advisor Rafic Chlala told Doha News that talks ahead of the awaited visit did not discuss a certain “Qatari initiative” but described it as a “promising visit.”
وزير خارجية قطر الشيخ محمد بن عبدالرحمن آل ثاني نقل الى الرئيس عون تحيات أمير الدولة واستعداد بلاده للمساعدة على حل الأزمات التي يعاني منها لبنان على الصعد كافة pic.twitter.com/bu7LbPQA5u
— Lebanese Presidency (@LBpresidency) July 6, 2021
During the meeting, the Qatari official conveyed the amir’s greetings and expressed his country’s willingness to provide help and support for fellow Lebanese on all levels.
According to state news agency QNA, Doha committed to providing the Lebanese army with 70 tonnes of food per month for an entire year to help alleviate some burdens for authorities in Beirut.
Chlala told Doha News the Lebanese presidency welcomes Qatar’s support to Lebanon on all levels as well as “any Qatari step to help solve the current crisis.”
Authorities in Beirut “consider any visit by Qatari officials to be for the good of Lebanon,” Chlala said, highlighting Doha’s pivotal role in supporting the country since instability was first triggered two years ago.
In October 2019, Lebanon was faced with mass popular protests triggered by a proposed tax on internet-based calling services such as WhatsApp, with demonstrations leading to the resignation of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Soon after, the Covid-19 pandemic brought much of the world, including Lebanon, to a standstill before a massive explosion at Beirut port on 4 August last year almost wiped out the capital, destroying neighbourhoods, businesses, schools, and hospitals across the city.
Since then, Lebanon has struggled to cope with a brutal economic collapse which the World bank anticipates could rank among the world’s worst financial crises since the mid-19th century.
Lebanon’s free-falling currency continues to hit new lows against the US dollar. To date, it has lost around 85% of its value in the black market and dollar deposits are still locked up in banks. This has triggered an alarming spread of poverty amid a political deadlock.
“Qatar stood by our side in rebuilding the port and it was the first to initiate helping Lebanon after the explosion, building an aerial bridge between Qatar and the Beirut port,” he added.
Chlala said the Gulf state has not interfered with the internal Lebanese affairs but noted Qatar clearly has an “active” presence in the country.
Tuesday’s trip to Beirut marks the third such visit of its kind to Lebanon this year, which Chlala said is “a completion of previous meetings between the two countries.”
Sheikh Mohammed previously visited Lebanese officials in Baabda to assess the situation in the crisis-hit country and the kind of support needed to allow Lebanon to stand on its feet once again.
“Qatari officials followed up and worked on rescue plans with Lebanese officials during bilateral meetings,” Chlala confirmed.
Speaking to Doha News, Ali Bazzi, a member of the Lebanese parliament affiliated with the Amal movement, said that any Qatari initiative to support Lebanon won’t be of any surprise as the Gulf state has always stood by Beirut.
“We value Qatar’s genuine concern that stems from brotherly care towards achieving stability and peace in Lebanon.”
However, Bazzi said “the problem in Lebanon is internal and the Lebanese people should learn from previous experiences to overcome current challenges,” stressing that the only solution is to “form an emergency government that can lead the implementation of a reform programme.”
“The final word is for the Lebanese people to take.
“We believe that the necessary path to overcome what we’re currently facing is through forming a new government that carries a reformation program with the aim to solve the situation which is collapsing on the heads of the Lebanese.”
Bazzi pointed out that this is only achievable if those in power commit to serving this purpose.
Mustapha Alloush, a Lebanese politician and member of the Future movement, told Doha News in an interview ahead of the Qatari official’s meeting with Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri that Lebanon “welcomes any mediation that convinces the president to form a government without a blocking third to rescue the country from collapsing.”
The “blocking third” or veto power implies that a political faction obtains a third of the number of ministerial portfolios in the government, which allows it to control its decisions and disrupt its meetings.
Previously, Lebanon’s resigned Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab presented Qatar with a plan to help his country contain the damage seen from current crises.
The first part of the plan involved issuing ration cards for at least 750,000 Lebanese families living below the poverty line to create “a safety net” that would rationalise subsidies for food and commodities, Diab said in an interview with Qatar-based Al-Sharq.
“The goal since the October Revolution of 2019 has been to alleviate the burden on the Lebanese community across several aspects, such as food basket, medicine, gasoline prices for cars, diesel for heating and gas for domestic consumption,” he added.
The value of the proposed ration cards would be valued at $1.8 million a month, ranging between $80-to-$160 per month for each family for a year.
الرئيس عون التقى وزير الخارجية القطري في قصر بعبدا وأبلغه ترحيب لبنان بالدعم القطري الدائم وبأي خطوة قطرية للمساعدة على حل أزماته الراهنة pic.twitter.com/SUb94PGLT7
— Lebanese Presidency (@LBpresidency) July 6, 2021
“The cards are worth about $920 million at a rate of $75 million per month. With this card, people can better cope with the rationing of subsidies and high prices while reducing the sums spent by the Central Bank of Lebanon,” he said.
The Lebanese official said the second part of the plan includes the provision of fuel in five-year instalments to help the country with its current fuel crisis. The fuel shortage has led to power cuts in the capital Beirut and its surrounding suburbs, leaving residents without electricity for more than 15 hours per day.
“We seek to help Qatar in the field through in-kind assistance rather than financial. Lebanon will then pay it back after five years,” he said at the time.
Diab said that Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani ordered the revision of the proposed plan to lay down the appropriate mechanisms for providing assistance, however, no official announcement has yet been made.
“I have faith in Qatar’s role in helping the people of Lebanon to exit this crisis, and its decision in this holy month will be a historic one. I am confident that Qatar, which has stood by Lebanon in all historical milestones, will stand by its people in the darkest social and living conditions,” Diab said in April.