There is no change in the Saudi position on Lebanon. Najib Mikati, for Riyadh, is like Saad Hariri. Accordingly, there are no Saudi intentions to assist the new government, and this “sanctuary” extends to the military establishment. Saudi intentions are limited to urging the Forces Party, the “sole” ally of the Kingdom, to run in the upcoming elections with joint lists with figures from “civil society” on which Riyadh pins hopes for “changing the political class.”
In the past few days, several Lebanese parties turned their attention to Riyadh, hoping for positive news from the meeting between Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, on whose agenda the French initiative in Lebanon was. Those in contact with the Kingdom mobilized their friends from the Saudi officials to inquire about whether there were any changes to Riyadh’s policy toward Lebanon. They heard a clear answer: “Saudi Arabia has remained in the same position since the election of Michel Aoun as President of the Republic.”
The details of this position were carried by the Kingdom’s ambassador, Walid Al-Bukhari, who recently returned to Beirut, “Aa Al-Sakt”, after leaving the middle of last month, urgently and suddenly. Al-Bukhari, known for his love of appearing in meetings and events, limited his meetings after his return to a very limited number of “friends,” and asked them not to announce his presence in Beirut. He cut off any optimism about a change in the Saudi position, after he conveyed to those who met him that “the Kingdom considers itself not obliged to announce any position regarding Lebanon because it considers itself not concerned with what is happening in it.”
As for talking to the limited guests, it revolved around four points:
– The first is that Western mediations, particularly the French, with the Kingdom to return to the scene, “did not succeed, and Riyadh’s response has remained the same since the resignation of Prime Minister Saad Hariri.”
– The second point that surprised them was their assertion that Riyadh’s position on Prime Minister Najib Mikati “is no less negative than its position on Hariri, and the kingdom considers that the head of the Azm Movement “entered into a settlement similar to the one concluded by Hariri in 2017.”
– Riyadh does not discriminate security institutions in their dealings with Lebanon. Al-Bukhari clearly emphasized that his country would not take any “exceptional step” with regard to aid, pointing out that “the time of the tap is over,” and this is not limited to parties (with the exception of the Lebanese Forces), but applies to other institutions, including the security, in reference to American and French demands for Riyadh to provide aid to the Lebanese army to keep it from collapsing in light of the crisis.
– The clearest and most important thing in what the Saudi diplomat confided to his visitors is that his country has “a complete bet on the parliamentary elections to change the political class.” They quoted al-Bukhari as saying that the Saudis, like the Americans and the French, are pinning their hopes “on the civil society groups they finance, to form a weighted bloc in Parliament.” Riyadh is also actively working with the Lebanese Forces party, the only one that still receives Saudi financial support, to form Regulations for contesting elections with figures from civil society in a number of regions, although there are still difficulties in reconciling them. This was not denied by sources in the forces who explained to Al-Akhbar that “coordination meetings are being held between the forces and figures from civil society that emerged after the October 17 uprising,” refusing to reveal their names. She stressed that “communication is continuing, but the title of any alliance must be based on the political position. For Maarab, the electoral alliance will not be isolated from the political title that we will raise in the elections,” meaning that “harmony in the political orientation is what will determine the fate of the alliance with parties in civil society.”