- Abdul Basir Hassan
- BBC – Cairo
Prior to handing over a list of a new government formation under his leadership to Lebanese President Michel Aoun, Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri paid a lightning visit to the Egyptian capital Cairo on Wednesday, during which he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi in the presence of the Egyptian Foreign Minister and the head of Egyptian intelligence.
After the meeting, the Egyptian presidency stated that Sisi affirmed Egypt’s full support for “Hariri’s political path, which aims to restore stability in Lebanon and deal with the current challenges, as well as efforts to form a government.”
The Egyptian presidency statement added that Sisi also stressed the “importance of everyone’s concerted efforts to settle any differences in this context to get Lebanon out of the situation it is currently suffering from, by upholding Lebanon’s national interest.”
The Hariri-Sisi meeting in Cairo is the second of its kind since the first was tasked with forming a new government in Lebanon to succeed the caretaker government headed by Hassan Diab, which resigned on August 10, 6 days after the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut.
However, the visit at this time and the immediate aftermath of Hariri presenting a cabinet of 24 ministers to President Aoun, after a declared and ongoing estrangement since last March between them, and expectations prior to the visit that Hariri would apologize for the assignment, raised questions about the role that Cairo might have played. In bringing about this shift in Hariri’s position.
Lebanese political analyst Nicola Nassif says in a call with the BBC from Beirut that Egypt has been an active party in the Lebanese arena in the recent period compared to other Arab countries.
And he added, “Only Egypt was moving to fill the gaps and gaps in the issue of forming a government. Cairos role re-mobilized this stagnant water and it seems that it encouraged Hariri to appreciate the government’s list and encouraged him not to apologize, especially since Cairo preferred him to head the government from the beginning.”
Since the explosion of the Port of Beirut, Egypt has provided various medical and food aid, a military field hospital and other forms of support to Lebanon.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited Beirut in April, where he met a number of Lebanese leaders, including President Aoun, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and Hariri, in addition to his phone calls with them on various occasions. In his statements there, Shoukry stressed that his country continues to make every effort to communicate with all Lebanese parties, to get out of the current crisis in Lebanon.
During his meeting with Hariri on Wednesday in Cairo, Shoukry reiterated the need for “all Lebanese parties to give priority to Lebanon’s supreme interest, free of any narrow interests.”
Al-Sisi also participated in two international meetings in the last quarter of last year devoted to supporting Lebanon, in which he called on “all Lebanese leaders to uphold Lebanon’s national interest, settle differences, and accelerate efforts to form an independent government capable of dealing with the current challenges… to prevent entering into a cycle of successive crises.
Nassif added: “There is talk of an Arab abandonment in exchange for a clear Egyptian move on the Lebanese arena, whether through visits or multi-level contacts by Egyptian officials and through the Egyptian ambassador’s movements in Beirut and his repeated meetings with Lebanese parties, including Saad Hariri.”
For his part, Ambassador Gamal Bayoumi, Assistant Foreign Minister of Egypt, told the BBC: The Egyptian moves with the Lebanese parties stem from “their good relations with all the parties to the Lebanese scene and the same distance between them and everyone there.”
He added that this role made it the most capable of playing the role of “honest mediator between the parties as a face acceptable to everyone there, as it renounces sectarianism and division.”
Bayoumi added that Egypt believes that Lebanon’s security and stability is in the interest of Egyptian and Arab national security, pointing out that Egypt supports Saad Hariri from the beginning as prime minister in Lebanon and considers it the best option, “and it does not forget the role of the late Rafik Hariri’s father in stabilizing Lebanon before his departure.”
According to Hariri’s statements after presenting a list of a new government to President Aoun on Wednesday, the latter is expected to announce his decision regarding the government list presented on Thursday.
Nassif and Bayoumi considered this step “important” as an attempt to end the stalemate and political crisis that has taken place in Lebanon since the explosion of the port of Beirut, which has caused severe economic repercussions there.