Qatari Mediation in Lebanon: Unraveling Political Complexities and Maneuvering for Presidential Succession

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2023-10-07 | 00:02
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Qatari Mediation in Lebanon: Unraveling Political Complexities and Maneuvering for Presidential Succession
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8min
Qatari Mediation in Lebanon: Unraveling Political Complexities and Maneuvering for Presidential Succession

The Qatari envoy, Jassim bin Fahad Al Thani, continues his second round of diplomatic efforts in Beirut, despite receiving impressions that the political horizon he aimed to open, as desired by French envoy Jean-Yves Le Drian, was tightly closed. 
 
Not long after he met with political figures, "Abu Fahd" himself spoke of the complexities facing his mission. The new mediator's assumptions clashed with reality, as enticements proved ineffective. The answer that has taken shape so far affirms that Qatar's sole objective in the mission is to "remove Sleiman Frangieh, not to search for a third option."
Lebanon is not immune to the influence of regional events. Qatar's role is confined to maneuvering angles rather than relying on Paris. There is a common conviction among the forces that met with the Qatari side that the only clear signal for the involvement of the presidential file is direct engagement by the US and Saudi Arabian administrations. Otherwise, any current movement does not aim at electing a president.
However, Qatar, the party tasked with the file, not only armed itself with the documents of the Quint Committee and the failure of the French endeavor but also "allowed" itself to use the weapon of financial incentives to soften positions. It's a card that the Qataris excel at using.
The figures surrounding it are not fixed either; they are prone to increase as obstacles arise in the mission to topple Frangieh. While Qataris previously spoke of a readiness to spend around two billion dollars on infrastructure projects and bolster the central bank's dollar reserves, the first round of Qatari efforts revealed that the figure had risen to four billion dollars. Qataris offered to reach an agreement with key forces on the allocation of part of this money if Frangieh were withdrawn first, and a candidate acceptable to Saudi Arabia and the US was chosen.
While the Qatari officer heard diplomatic, yet firm, refusals to these temptations, he did not cease to use the numbers game. He relied on an experience suggesting that Lebanese political forces salivate whenever financial figures are mentioned, and the collapse of the state in Lebanon would force them to concede in exchange for a financial injection to help the country recover. However, a shrewd interlocutor suggested to him, "Why not publicly state that you are willing to spend this amount on this project or that, and turn the support card into a pressure tool on political forces not responsive to your proposal?"

Of course, the Qatari envoy has no answers to the questions posed to him. When he feels cornered, he hastens to say, "I am just a mediator, and I have no involvement in declaring a clear or decisive stance on this or that issue."
The political forces that met with the Qatari officer realized that his first round was aimed at gauging public opinion on the principle of abandoning the declared candidates: Sleiman Frangieh and Jihad Azour, and opting for a third choice. While Jassim bin Fahd initially presented names like Army Commander General Joseph Aoun, Acting General Director of General Security Brigadier General Elias Bayssari, former minister Ziad Baroud, and MP Neemat Frem, he later removed the last two names from circulation.

During the meetings, Bin Jassim emphasized multiple times that Qatar and the "Quint" countries are not insisting on the Army Commander as an option. Instead, he focused on extracting a word or signal from the duo of Hezbollah and Amal movement regarding the possibility of retracting the nomination of the Marada Movement leader and moving towards the third candidate. 
The decisive and final answer was that "the decision belongs to Frangieh himself, and his support is continuous, not retractable as long as he is a candidate." In one of the sessions where the Qatari was asked about the reason for some people's rejection of the Army Commander, he heard a question-formulated answer: "Why do you oppose the arrival of Sleiman Frangieh?". The man did not respond after understanding that if there was insistence on the Army Commander, his opponents in Lebanon were no less than those opposed to Frangieh!

This ceiling was not only heard by the Qatari envoy in Bnachai but Frangieh was more determined in his candidacy, affirming that he will not withdraw and there is no possibility of bargaining or settlement with anyone. At the same time, this team did not have answers to several questions, the most prominent being: Why is the Qatari mediator focusing on the name of Bayssari, despite the good relationship he has with most political forces? Still, no one could find a reason to present and market him to this extent. Here, suspicions began to grow about the possibility that Bayssari’s nomination might be a maneuver to push Frangieh and his supporting team to withdraw.
These suspicions were reinforced by information about the Qatari officer's meetings with opposition forces and the Free Patriotic Movement, revealing that former MP Walid Jumblatt is the only one who confirmed that he will go with any name agreed upon. 
Meanwhile, Lebanese Forces leader Samir Geagea and other parties linked their approval of Bayssari to a position issued by the other team announcing the withdrawal of Frangieh, meaning that the approval of Bayssari was conditioned on the withdrawal of Frangieh first. This was also the stance of MP Gebran Bassil, who met Bayssari more than once and showed conviction in him.
According to a concerned political source, the Qatari movement has "entered the realm of suspicion." The only interpretation of the role Qatar is playing is that it is "just a part of buying time until several regional issues are settled, and what is currently required is not the election of a reconciling president or what is known as the third option that satisfies everyone," but rather "a maneuver aimed at withdrawing support from Hezbollah and Amal to nominate Frangieh and strike a deal with the latter to withdraw his nomination, allowing him to exit the competition. 
This does not necessarily mean an increase in the chances of Bayssari who may be just a pawn in the deception, and perhaps other names will be proposed later as Army Commander after Frangieh is ousted without his team being able to retract its withdrawal." Therefore, this team has become, unlike others, more tenacious in its choice and deals with all movements cautiously, considering them "mere traps."
 

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