While analysts cited Doha’s successful mediation in Beirut in 2008, they say the current issues are more complicated.
A top Qatari minister met with several Lebanese officials in Beirut on Monday, with reports suggesting a bid to break the ongoing political deadlock brought on by the inability to appoint a president as the key agenda for the visit.
Qatar’s Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Dr. Mohammed Al Khulaifi met with Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and Caretaker Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib.
Dr. Al Khulaifi also met with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Latif Derian and Maronite Patriarch of Antioch and All the East Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi.
The Qatari foreign ministry said the meetings dealt with bilateral relations and the “general situation” in Beirut and Dr. Al Khulaifi stressed “the importance of Lebanon’s stability and unity”.
The meetings come just days after Lebanese media reported that a Qatari delegate was travelling to the country this week, though the reports made no mention of Dr. Al Khulaifi.
Sources privy to the matter hinted to Nidaa Al Watan the possibility of a meeting with Hezbollah leadership in an effort to bring together various Lebanese parties, in line with Lebanon’s “rescue roadmap”.
While the meetings on Monday did involve a range of Lebanese sides, there has yet to be a reported meeting with Hezbollah.
Lebanon is currently facing its worst economic crisis in decades.
Since 2019, the currency has lost more than 90% of its value to the US dollar, leaving many families living in poverty and unable to access their savings.
The Covid-19 outbreak and the Beirut blast have exacerbated Lebanon’s situation, and Lebanese across the country continue to call on the ruling elite to step down.
The population believes Lebanon’s crises have exacerbated due to politicians as well as prevalent sectarianism in the government that has left a presidential vacuum.
In February, representatives of various countries – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United States, Egypt, France -met in Paris to discuss a possible roadmap for the country and officials in attendance warned that an absence of presidential elections may drive them to reconsider ties with Beirut.
An uphill task
Qatar has played its own strategic role in bridging gaps between Lebanese sides, most notably in 2008.
At the time, Qatar succeeded at holding talks that resulted in an agreement between the Lebanese government and Hezbollah following an 18-month political crisis.
However, analysts said that while Qatar’s role is “welcome and appreciated”, they believe the situation in Lebanon is more complicated than it was at the time of its previous mediation.
“This time around, unfortunately, issues are more complicated than even in 2008. The question has always been about the degree of cooperation between Lebanon’s politicians. This is not plentiful this time around and the polarisation is extreme,” Dr. Imad Harb, Director of Research and Analysis at the Arab Center Washington, DC, told Doha News.
General Joseph Aoun, who is not related to the former president, has emerged as a possible candidate for the presidency. Reports have cited his percieved capability to bring together different Lebanese sides.
On the other hand, the powerful Hezbollah movement has vocally expressed its support for pro-Syria’s Bashar Al Assad regime candidate Sleiman Frangieh.
“More than half the country does not want a president friendly with Hezbollah. But the party has a dominant military role that translates into political power,” Dr. Harb explained.
In 1975, various Lebanese sides engaged in a bloody civil war that lasted for 15 years, ending with the help of the 1989 Taif Agreement, negotiated in Saudi Arabia at the time.
However, the remnants of the war have appeared to remain in Lebanon, a country with long and deep political divide.
“It is hoped that Qatar will be able to use its good offices to influence the parties, and this will be welcome. But I doubt that the politicians will be listening to reason,” Dr. Harb noted.