By Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN
Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati is due to visit Saudi Arabia within the next two weeks, the first trip by a Lebanese prime minister to the Arab powerhouse in nearly four years following an unprecedented severance in relations.
The last visit was in 2018 by then-Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who resigned in 2021 nearly nine months after being tasked with forming the country’s government.
One of Lebanon’s biggest benefactors, Saudi Arabia’s ties with Beirut have steadily deteriorated over the past decade, a split fueled by the growing influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the country. It happened in 2017 when Hariri, once Saudi Arabia’s main ally in Lebanon, quit in a statement televised from Riyadh. Lebanese politicians said he was forced to make the decision after being detained in the kingdom. Hariri and Saudi Arabia have denied these allegations.
Tensions peaked with a breakdown in relations in October following Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi’s open criticism of the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen. The comments were made before Kordahi took office, but Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states withdrew their envoys from Beirut after recordings of the critics surfaced. The minister subsequently resigned.
Lebanon has been suffering for more than two years from a financial crisis which, according to the World Bank, is one of the worst in the world since the 19th century. The Levantine country’s woes were further exacerbated by political wrangling, corruption, and disputes over a delicate system of power-sharing.
Ties with Riyadh, however, seem to be recovering. Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies Kuwait and Yemen have announced that they will restore their ambassadors to Beirut. The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon also hosted a Ramadan iftar banquet, which was attended by Lebanese leaders and former officials.
Do the Saudi and Arab overtures to Lebanon indicate a turnaround? And why now?
Michael Young, editor of the Malcolm H. Kerr Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told CNN what this means for Saudi-Lebanese relations and for the region as a whole.
How have Lebanon’s relations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states deteriorated since 2017, and particularly over the past year?
The relationship for a number of years was problematic because the Saudis reasonably believed Hezbollah to be the dominant political force in the country. This has also been exacerbated in part by the fact that Hezbollah has sided with the Houthis in Yemen and is of course a close ally of Iran. This generated Saudi ill will towards Lebanon. This situation has also been aggravated by the fact that relations between Saudi Arabia and Hariri have not really been very good in recent years.
At the same time, I think Saudi interests had shifted elsewhere. The eye of the Saudis is of course on Iran, but relations with the United States and the war in Yemen have been a major concern.
What do you think of the recent openings of the Gulf States? Are ties on the mend?
There is a new way in which Arab countries in general deal with both Syria and Lebanon… The openness towards Lebanon is something along the lines of the openness towards Bashar al-Assad’s regime. These two are not completely separate.
The Arab attitude today is that they need to engage more with Syria and Lebanon. If they want to contain Iran in the region, they must reopen ties, [and] rebuild their stakes in countries like Syria and Lebanon. And so it makes sense to them right now, especially if the JCPOA [the collapsed 2015 Iran nuclear agreement currently in renegotiation] is going to be signed, to take a new position, no longer a policy of isolation, but a policy of strengthening their holdings in both countries.
How is Lebanon benefiting from improved relations with Saudi Arabia? Could they help him out of the economic turmoil?
I don’t think anyone wants to give money to Lebanon until there are economic reforms in the country. Nobody wants to lose money in Lebanon like before. If in the future Lebanon is to benefit from economic aid, this must obviously come mainly from the Arab world, in particular from the Arab countries of the Gulf. Any Sunni Prime Minister in Lebanon, and in particular the current Sunni Prime Minister Mikati, has an interest and is very keen to maintain good relations with the Gulf countries. And they don’t want to allow Hezbollah to undermine those relationships.
I don’t see any money coming from the Gulf States until reforms are introduced… The Gulf will watch things like the progress of Lebanon’s deal with the IMF (International Monetary Fund). If Lebanon introduces reforms and the agreement with the IMF is concluded, there is a good chance that it will help Lebanon. But until then, all they are willing to do is help Lebanon for humanitarian reasons, which basically means that they will not go through the Lebanese state.
Transcript has been edited for length and clarity
Other news from the Middle East
Iranian president says he will target Israel’s heart with ‘the slightest gesture’ against the country
Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said in a military parade on Monday that Iran would target the heart of Israel at the “slightest move” against the Islamic Republic.
- Background: Israel and Iran are longtime enemies, and Tehran still refuses to recognize the State of Israel. When talks between Iran and Western powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact appeared to be winding down, progress stalled on a number of final sticking points, including Iran’s demand that states United removes its elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from a list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Israel is among a number of regional states – mostly Gulf monarchies – that have expressed concern over Iran’s growing influence if sanctions are lifted following a nuclear pact.
- why is it important: Israel has previously said it is not bound by any agreement and may eventually take unilateral action against Iran’s nuclear sites. As both states continue to pursue each other’s interests in the region, the United States continues to reassure Israel and its Gulf allies that it will prevent a nuclear-armed Iran and its attacks will be braked.
Putin, Saudi Crown Prince discuss OPEC+ and Ukraine over phone – Kremlin
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed on Saturday “joint work within OPEC+” aimed at “ensuring stability in the oil market”, the Kremlin said in a statement. The leaders also exchanged thoughts on “the situation around the settlement in Ukraine and Yemen”.
- Background: OPEC+, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, including Russia, have so far refused to heed US calls to increase oil production after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sparking a severe supply shortage and rising crude prices. In March, OPEC+ also decided to drop data from the International Energy Agency when assessing the state of the oil market.
- why is it important: Saudi Arabia and Russia have enjoyed stronger ties over the past two years, which has manifested itself in increased investment and increased bilateral trade. Amid fears of a weakening US military presence in the Middle East, US-Saudi relations have been further strained by Gulf concerns over a renegotiated nuclear deal with Iran, as well as the US president’s refusal Joe Biden to deal directly with the Crown Prince, the realm of de facto ruler.
Libyan oil company warns of shutdowns as operations halt
Libya’s national oil company on Monday declared a case of force majeure at the port of Zueitina and the Al-Sharara oilfield and warned of a “painful wave of closures”.
- BackgroundLibya halted oil production from its El Feel field on Sunday after protesters calling for the resignation of Tripoli-based Prime Minister Abdulhamid al-Dbeibah seized control of the oil fields. Libya has had two competing governments since March, when the east-based parliament appointed Fathi Bashagha to replace Dbeibah, renewing a deadlock between the east and west of the country.
- why is it important: Halting operations at El Feel and Zueitina would cripple Libyan oil production which averaged 1.21 million barrels per day before the latest blackouts.
What to watch
As tensions between Israel and the Palestinians rose in Jerusalem over the weekend, Palestinian politician Dr. Mustafa Barghouti told CNN’s Becky Anderson that the Palestinians are angry at the international community’s “double standards” in regarding Israel.
“Russia receives more than 6,000 punitive acts and sanctions, [whereas there is] not a single sanction against the Israeli occupation,” he said.
Watch the interview here.
Around the region
‘Suits Arabia’, the Arabic adaptation of the hit American series ‘Suits’, is being sued by an Egypt-based fashion brand, which claims the show’s producers failed to pay for the costumes worn in the show. episode.
“Suits Arabia” was a highly anticipated show this Ramadan with top performers such as Saba Mubarak and Asser Yasin in the legal drama.
The OSN originals almost show the sequence of events of its American counterpart. The main cast received Arabic names such as Zain Thabet for Harvey, Adam Mansour for Mike, and Laila Radwan for Rachel.
The story follows a lawyer with a photographic memory but no law degree who is taken under the wing of a skilled, well-dressed lawyer with a penchant for winning cases. It was the American show that introduced the current Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, to viewers and the world.
True to the original series, the characters in “Suits Arabia” are decked out in couture costumes supplied by fashion label Orange Square. The fashion house, which is suing the show’s production company TVision Media for about $145,000 for the price of the clothes and more than $540,000 for damages, told CNN the show didn’t pay the clothes provided for the show and demanded that the series be taken off the air until the money was paid.
In a statement to CNN, Orange Square claims to be entitled to damages “as a result of the exploitation of its products and the non-payment of its price”.
TVision expressed shock at the claims in a statement posted to its Facebook page, saying it has a 20-year reputation in the industry for meeting all financial commitments. The production house has since filed a countersuit for civil reimbursement of more than $1 million for damages, according to the statement.
“It is important for the company to ensure that it owes nothing to anyone,” the statement read.
Orange Square told CNN a court date has been set for May 7 in Egypt and a motion has been filed to stop the show from airing until the full amount has been paid.
By Mohamed Abdelbary
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