Qatar ruler will attend Beirut’s Arab economic summit but Lebanon Speaker will boycott it

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani.

Qatar’s emir will visit Beirut on Sunday for an Arab economic summit which has been marred by regional rifts and internal Lebanese disputes even before it began.

Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s office said on Saturday Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani had informed it he would come to lead the Qatari delegation.

Rifts among Arab states over Syria and its ally Iran, on top of divisions inside Lebanon, have overshadowed the summit, with several leaders pulling out.

Although at least eight heads of state were originally due in Beirut, only the Somali and Mauritanian presidents were expected to come, a source in the committee organizing the event said on Friday.

Some of the 20 countries taking part, such as Egypt and Kuwait, are sending prime ministers, foreign ministers or finance ministers. Officials have dismissed the idea that the event would be poorly attended.

Last month, Qatar’s emir turned down a Saudi invite to a Gulf Arab summit, sending his state minister for foreign affairs, as a bitter row festers in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-GCC member Egypt cut diplomatic, trade and transport ties with Qatar in June 2017. They accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism and cultivating ties with Riyadh’s regional foe Tehran.

Doha, which denies the charge, says the boycott seeks to curtail its sovereignty, while the row has defied mediation efforts by Kuwait and the United States which sees Gulf unity as essential to containing Iran.

Ahead of this week’s Beirut summit, a key point of contention has been whether to welcome Syria back into the Arab League, now that President Bashar al-Assad has restored control over most of his country, with Iranian help.

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Assad, and its political allies including Aoun have stepped up calls for rapprochement with Damascus.

Berri to boycott  Summit

MP Anwar al-Khalil, a member of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s AMAL Movement, revealed on Friday that Berri is not going to participate in Beirut’s Economic and Social Development Summit.

In remarks he made to VOL radio (93.3), Khalil said the Speaker will not attend the summit: “Several state leaders have apologized for not being able to attend the summit, which is going to affect the attendance quality. The reasons are many, but the most important reason is that Lebanon still has no government.”

Khalil added stressing the need to push the government formation process forward, saying “Lebanon’s failure to form the government affected the level of participation in the summit.”

Earlier, Berri, a staunch ally of Hezbollah and the Syrian regime  suggested the summit be postponed due to the absence of a fully functioning government.

Libya has also decided to boycott the summit to  protest against the  burning of its flag  at the hands of supporters of Berri’s AMAL Movement. Threats were also addressed to the Libyan delegation and a number of Libyan businessmen were reportedly barred from entering Lebanon via Beirut’s airport.

Berri and AMAL have protested against the invitation of Libya in connection with the 1978 disappearance of AMAL founder Imam Moussa al-Sadr, a revered Shiite cleric. The former regime of slain Libyan leader Moammar al-Gadhafi is accused of kidnapping him. Berri and AMAL have argued that the new Libyan authorities have not exerted enough efforts to unveil his fate.

Syria will  also not attend the summit because its membership of the Arab League was suspended following the 2011 revolution.

REUTERS/YL