Beirut, Lebanon – Saudi Arabia and France have pledged an initial $32 million to launch a series of humanitarian projects in Lebanon to help ease its crippling financial crisis.
Tuesday’s deal – struck between the French Foreign Ministry, the French Development Agency and the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center – will provide nearly 30 million euros ($31.9 million ) for the first humanitarian initiatives and more should come.
“This support comes as part of Saudi Arabia’s and France’s commitment to stand alongside the Lebanese people and contribute to their stability and development,” Saudi Ambassador Waleed Bukhari said during the meeting. ‘a press conference. “The kingdom strives to support anything that relieves the suffering of those in need.”
The first program will focus on food security and the country’s crippled health system, providing monthly cash assistance for food targeting 7,500 people, supporting hospitals in Tripoli and northern Lebanon and distributing infant formula to families in the need.
The remaining programs will focus on education, energy, water and Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces.
Lebanon is in the grip of a crippling economic crisis that has decimated lives and livelihoods over the past two years. More than three quarters of the population lives in poverty, while the Lebanese pound has lost 90% of its value and its staggering inflation is one of the highest in the world.
France and Saudi Arabia agreed at the end of February to set up a joint aid mechanism for Lebanon.
The deal comes two weeks after Saudi Arabia fired its ambassador to Lebanon as it slowly rekindles ties with the crisis-hit country.
“The Franco-Saudi initiative indicates the willingness of France and Saudi Arabia to be involved stakeholders in the Lebanese file,” the director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham told Al Jazeera. House, Lina Khatib.
“But that doesn’t mean either country will offer Lebanon a full financial bailout, or that they will prioritize Lebanon in their foreign affairs agendas.”
“Rehabilitate its image”
Riyadh was once a key political and economic patron of Beirut, where it has invested billions of dollars to bolster its tourist economy.
However, he was particularly concerned about the growing political power and influence of Iran-backed Hezbollah in the country in recent years and took a step back.
Political analyst Bashar el-Halabi said Saudi Arabia’s humanitarian initiative will help “rehabilitate its image” among Lebanese, especially the Sunni population, as they struggle to cope with the financial crisis.
“This aid will enable them to rebuild their social and political capital,” el-Halabi told Al Jazeera.
Relations between the kingdom and Beirut soured after comments by former Lebanese Information Minister George Kordahi aired last October criticizing the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen.
The famous former TV presenter made the statement a month before joining the Lebanese government, calling the long war “futile”, adding that Iran-aligned Houthi rebels in Yemen are “defending themselves…against external aggression”. . He resigned in December.
Riyadh’s key political ally, former Prime Minister Saad Hariri, suspended his political career in February, and his Future Movement party will not contest the upcoming May 15 legislative elections.
Analysts said Lebanon’s efforts to thwart drug trafficking to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries, play down anti-Gulf Cooperation Council rhetoric and promises to improve bilateral ties may have given reassurance the kingdom.
But experts also said Saudi Arabia is still biding its time before embarking on a new political strategy in Lebanon, at least until after the country’s legislative elections in just over two weeks.
“They are monitoring the political landscape ahead of the elections,” el-Halabi said. “The type of parliament that emerges after the elections will dictate the type of role Saudi Arabia wants to play in Lebanon.”