Hariri's Turkey visit raises political, economic questions - Al Ahram

The timing of former Lebanese prime minister Saad Al-Hariri’s visit to Turkey last week raises both political and economic questions, Egyptian state-run newspaper Al Ahram said on Saturday. 

The visit arrived as Lebanon is facing a challenging period in forming a new ruling coalition and Turkey - a country at odds with numerous Arab states in the region - maintains conflicting policies over several Middle Eastern issues, it said.

Hariri, Lebanon's prime minister-designate, arrived for an unannounced visit in Istanbul on Friday to hold talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. 

The pair held a two-hour meeting behind closed doors in Erdoğan's Istanbul residence, with the Turksih presidency noting the focus as being regional security issues and "deepening and strengthening" ties.

Hariri is “assessing his role” in local and regional dynamics ahead of a new administration and in light of the new Saudi-Qatari rapprochement, Imad Salamey, an associate professor of political science at the Lebanese American University (LAU), said.

Turkey ally Qatar’s deal with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other neighbours puts an end to a three-year blockade of the emirate.

Hariri is “testing the water” on whether the regional environment is ripe for a Lebanese-Turkish rapprochement, Salamey maintained, noting that Turkey’s support for Lebanon can only materialise in conjunction with Saudi and French efforts and through a comprehensive plan backed by Washington and Tehran. 

“Al-Hariri feels that his best bet is to reposition himself between the Saudi, French and Turkish axes, which could give him leverage in pushing for a Sunni-Christian convergence and, consequently, in backing for his premiership,” according to Salamey.

Al-Hariri might be interested in getting closer to Turkey despite the latter’s ailing economy, Al-Ahram said. But Steve Hanke, a professor of applied economics at the Johns Hopkins University in the United States, disagrees. 

Lebanon is faced with a political crisis, financial meltdown and the COVID-19 pandemic are wreaking havoc on the country.

“It’s always doubtful that a country such as Turkey can offer much financial support when it is embroiled in its own currency and financial crisis,” Hanke said, noting that Lebanon is in need of a “currency board” to resolve its problems.