Arab delegations arrive in Beirut for economic summit

Rafik Shalala, third right, the official spokesman of the upcoming Arab Economic Summit holds a joint press conference with members of the organizing committee in Beirut. (AP)
Updated 17 January 2019
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Arab delegations arrive in Beirut for economic summit

  • Hariri expresses regret over Libya’s absence and confirms that fraternal relations remain stronger than ever
  • Lebanon has reportedly invested $10 million into the event even as it grapples with dire economic woes

BEIRUT: Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri expressed deep regret for the absence of a Libyan delegation at an Arab Economic Summit taking place in Lebanon later this week.

Hariri was speaking at the Union of Arab Chambers (UAC) headquarters in Beirut on Wednesday.

“Good ties with brothers must prevail,” he said. “We are hoping for this summit to result in practical recommendations for promoting and raising living standards among all Arabs. What makes the summit on Sunday very important is that it will be the first to be held after the launch of the UN Sustainable Development Goals in 2015.”

Libya boycotted the summit after it said members of the Amal militia had disrespected the Libyan flag.

Addressing representatives from several Arab countries, Hariri called for updating decades-old local laws and enabling citizens to travel freely between Arab countries.

He also shed light on the importance of women taking part in politics and national economic development, “as they are capable of mitigating political conflicts.”

Lebanon has reportedly invested $10 million into the event even as it grapples with dire economic woes. 

Among the talking points of this year’s summit was poverty.

“The summit is being held amid an atmosphere of change, shifting alliances, a worrying global economic scene and tough local economic conditions,” said Mohammed Choucair, president of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture.

He called for “immunizing the Arab economy through implementing signed projects, facilitating trade and investment among Arab countries and encouraging creative initiatives.” Many, however, feel the country is not in any position to be funding nor hosting such an event.

“It has been eight months almost and still we have no government,” said Omar Itani, a small corner shop owner feeling the pinch as a result of the economic downturn plaguing the country.

“They spend all this money on hosting a summit, while our homes are getting flooded and roads being pulled apart by these storms. Wouldn’t it be better to use the money to help us citizens?”

Economy and Trade Minister Raed Khoury called on enhancing private sector participation and growth rates.

“The public sector must involve companies from the private sector, as well as banks and funds, in the financing process to help raise growth rates, which slowed considerably in the wake of the Syrian refugee influx,” he said.

Kamal Hassan Ali, assistant secretary-general at the Arab League, and Mohammed Abdo, UAC president, also spoke at the event.

Delegations of Arab ambassadors and delegates had begun arriving into the capital ahead of the weekend summit, including a Saudi delegation headed by Hussein Al-Shawish, economic adviser at the Finance Ministry, a Kuwaiti delegation and a Moroccan delegation, headed by the Moroccan Ambassador to Egypt Ahmed Al-Tazi, who said that Morocco would be represented by Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita.

Lebanon hosted two Arab League summits in 1956 and 2002. Economic and social development summits previously took place in Kuwait in 2009, Sharm El-Sheikh in 2011 and Riyadh in 2013. The 2015 summit, which was scheduled to take place in Tunis, was canceled amid security concerns.

Early in the third quarter of 2018, there were reports that Lebanon was teetering on the brink of economic collapse. Economists said the catalyst was the failure to form a government.

Lebanon’s Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said the country would launch an electronic platform to enhance share and goods trading, “thus promoting the market to attract liquidity from Lebanon and abroad.”

He said: “We will continue supporting the digital economy, for it is an important sector with a bright future and it highly benefits Lebanon. In 2018, our studies showed that the economic growth was between 1 and 1.5 percent, while in the region, it was at 2 percent. We would have been able to reach the 2-percent rate if the government had been formed on time.”


Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

Updated 16 February 2019
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Erdogan offers seminary exchange for Greek mosque minarets

ANKARA: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday suggested the mosque in Athens should open with minarets if the Greek premier wants to reopen a seminary in Istanbul.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras was in Turkey this month and visited the disputed landmarks of Hagia Sophia and the now-closed Greek Orthodox Halki seminary.
Tsipras said during the visit to the seminary located on Heybeli island off Istanbul on February 6 he hoped to reopen the school next time with Erdogan.
Future priests of the Constantinople diocese had been trained at the seminary, which was closed in 1971 after tensions between Ankara and Athens over Cyprus.
Erdogan on Saturday complained that the Fethiye Mosque in Athens had no minarets despite Greek insistence that it would open.
The mosque was built in 1458 during the Ottoman occupation of Greece but has not been used as a mosque since 1821.
“Look you want something from us, you want the Halki seminary. And I tell you (Greece), come, let’s open the Fethiye Mosque,” Erdogan said during a rally in the northwestern province of Edirne ahead of local elections on March 31.
“They said, ‘we are opening the mosque’ but I said, why isn’t there a minaret? Can a church be a church without a bell tower?” he said, describing his talks with Tsipras.
“We say, you want to build a bell tower? Come and do it... But what is an essential part of our mosques? The minarets,” the Turkish president added.
Erdogan said Tsipras told him he was wary of criticism from the Greek opposition.
After the independence war against Ottomans began in 1821, the minaret is believed by some to have been destroyed because it was a symbol of the Ottoman occupation.
Ankara had returned land taken from the seminary in 1943 but there is still international pressure on Turkey to reopen it.
Erdogan has previously said that its reopening is dependent on reciprocal steps from Greece to enhance the rights of the Turkish minority.