The Maronite Patriarch is in the Saudi capital today, the first visit by a Christian leader to the ultraconservative kingdom. He will meet King Salman, the hereditary prince and the outgoing Lebanese premier. Yesterday Hariri said he was "free" and ready to return to Lebanon "soon". Beirut marathon turns into anti-Saudi protest.
Beirut (AsiaNews / Agencies) - This morning, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Raï will visit Saudi Arabia on the first, historic journey of a Christian leader to the ultraconservative Wahhabi kingdom. The cardinal will be received by King Salman and by the hereditary Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Mbs); he will also seek to meet Lebanese (outgoing) prime minister Saad Hariri, who has been in Riyadh since 4 November.
Analysts and experts point out the importance of the diplomatic mission of a high representative of the Catholic Church, and of Lebanon, in a context of a regional crisis. From the Biblical to the historical dimension of the Christian presence in Arabia, from Islamic-Christian and interreligious dialogue to the Hariri affair, there are many themes at the centre of the meeting.
According to Raï’s spokesman Walid Ghayad, the focus of the Maronite patriarch is the value of interreligious dialogue and the non-alignment of Lebanon in the Middle East as a prerequisite for stability in the country. The Cardinal spoke of these issues in recent days during a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who will be closely following the mission of the cardinal in the Saudi kingdom.
There will be two bishops accompanying Patriarch Raï: Msgr. Boulos Matar, Maronite Archbishop of Beirut, and Msgr. Boulos Abdel Sater, as well as the patriarchal spokesman and a photographer. The Cardinal will spend the night in Lebanon's embassy to Saudi Arabia, where he will receive the head of the government, trying to understand the reasons behind his gesture and to end the political and medid crisis that it has sparked in the Land of Cedars.
Tomorrow is due to travel to Rome, where he will meet Pope Francis in the coming days.
In the Sunday homily yesterday in the new church of St. Joseph in Deir Dourit (Chouf), he asked all Lebanese faithful and citizens to pray for this trip. "After the resignation of the Speaker of Parliament - he said - we are experiencing a crisis. It is marked by several questions, and circumstances ask us, as the head of state said, to show moderation, patience and reflection before making a decision. "
Yesterday, during his first interview released since the beginning of his Saudi exile, the former prime minister said he was "free" and will return to Lebanon "very soon". "I'm free - he added - if tomorrow I want to return, I can." "I'll be back soon Lebanon - he concluded - at most within two or three days."
The visit of the Maronite patriarch comes at a special moment in the recent history of Saudi Arabia. From internal repression against (possible) opponents launched by hereditary prince Mohammed bin Salman (Mbs) culminating in the wave of recent arrests to open confrontation with Iran, Mbs has embarked on increasingly aggressive policies that are characterizing his mandate. Recently, the long Saudi hand has also reached Beirut - considered hostile to (allegedly) attacks by the Hezbollah Lebanese Shiite - and causing the resignation of Saad Hariri.
That is why thousands of Lebanese citizens took advantage of the traditional annual marathon in the capital to protest Riyadh and ask for the return of the former Prime Minister. In the past Hariri himself used to take part in the sporting event, one of the most popular in the country. Along the way, marathoners showed signposts "We run for you" and "We are waiting". Many Hariri pictures and posters posted along the streets, while State TV broadcast an interview made last year during the event. A woman showed cameras a sign, addressed to Saudi Arabia: "Give us back our Prime Minister."
The first visit by a Christian leader to the ultra-conservative kingdom echoed in the local media. Some published a photo that clearly shows the cross, which is usually forbidden to show in public. The commentators insist on fraternal relations between the two countries and the role of religions in the perspective of peace and extremism. But the knot of the "kidnapping" and resignation of the Lebanese premier remains.
In the next few hours, the former Lebanese premier should leave Paris for Cairo. A meeting with Egyptian President al-Sisi is scheduled. His return to Lebanon scheduled for November 22, for independence celebrations. After speaking with Aoun, he should clarify the future.
The journey will last one day and should take place "within the next two weeks". The cardinal welcomed an invitation from Saudi leadership, which did not impose particular "conditions". A visit that fits in with the changes underway in the ultraconservative kingdom. Lebanon confirms the role of "bridge" to the Arab world.