Qatar's diplomatic role in Lebanon: Navigating the presidential stalemate

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2023-09-10 | 00:38
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Qatar's diplomatic role in Lebanon: Navigating the presidential stalemate
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5min
Qatar's diplomatic role in Lebanon: Navigating the presidential stalemate

Political conflicts and external interference are prolonging the current political crisis in Lebanon.

This article was originally published in and translated from the Lebanese newspaper Addiyar.
After the atmosphere was heading towards dialogue, as called for by Speaker Nabih Berri, pessimism has returned to dominate the situation, along with a change in the position of the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), as expressed by its leader, Deputy Gebran Bassil, during his speech at the Batroun Judges Association dinner.

This indicates that the Christian majority (including the Lebanese Forces, the FPM, and the Kataeb Party) will not participate in the dialogue, which removes the label of inclusivity that Berri had advocated and defended politically, where he had insisted on the participation of all parliamentary blocs in this dialogue to prevent its being stunted.

Therefore, it can be said that the dialogue has been put on hold pending external developments, with the upcoming visit of the French presidential envoy, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to Beirut on Monday being at the forefront.

Berri's initiative

Speaker Berri's initiative offered a glimmer of hope last week with the support of nearly eighty deputies, including the FPM, which initially responded positively to the initiative but later changed its position through Bassil's stance.

This angered Deputy Ali Hassan Khalil, who accused Bassil of obstructing the dialogue by imposing conditions for bargaining.

Specifically, observers suggested that Bassil's switch from supporting the initiative to opposing it may have two reasons:
First, it may be related to what Hassan Khalil described as the FPM's desire to exchange participation in the dialogue for several gains, especially since there are no direct gains for the movement due to this dialogue.

Second, Deputy Speaker Elias Bou Saab presided over the dialogue after Berri stepped down, and Bou Saab approved this mission, with Berri considering himself a party to the dialogue.

Regardless of the reason for the FPM's change of position, one thing is sure: the movement has not yet obtained what it wants from its negotiations with Hezbollah. 

External mediation

On the presidential level, Qatar enters the presidential arena in a significant way as a member of the Quintet on Lebanon, which includes the United States, France, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt.

French envoy Le Drian will visit Beirut on Monday in a tour expected not to lead to a breakthrough in the presidential file, given the negative response from the Opposition and the firm refusal to answer Le Drian's questions sent to parliamentary blocs.

Furthermore, sources following the external developments suggest that this visit will be Le Drian's last before taking up his duties in Saudi Arabia.

On the other hand, Qatari efforts have not ceased in parallel with the French initiative in the past phase, where there has been talk of dozens of envoys who came to Lebanon and met with political officials away from the spotlight. 

Thus, the Qatari mission in the coming phase, as they step into the official mediation role commissioned by the Quintet, will be to showcase the positions of the political forces and put forward possible scenarios with the aim of settling the game by the Quintet, led by the United States.

While press reports indicated the Quintet's inclination to endorse Army Commander Joseph Aoun as a candidate, the matter remains subject to American-Iranian agreement.

Here, Qatar comes into play, as it maintains good relations with Iran and can thus effectively communicate with it on the Lebanese presidential file, unlike the French, who have not succeeded in this mission.

On the contrary, French President Emmanuel Macron accused Iran of obstructing the presidential elections, which complicated the French mediation task.

Moreover, the rise in the prospects of the Army Commander has become tangible through international attention to him, and diplomatic participation in the announcement ceremony of the areas of Arsal and Ras Baalbek cleared of the remnants of war.
This development indicated an increased international interest in the Army Commander and his potential ascent to the presidency.

It is worth noting that Aoun strongly criticized some people's doubts about the Lebanese Army and called on them to visit the borders and witness firsthand the situation, which threatens to worsen soon and to stand behind the Army as it is Lebanon's safety valve.

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