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’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

Updated 21 March 2019
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Erdogan’s ‘vile’ comments on Christchurch mosques shootings dismissed as not representative of Muslims

  • Turkish president has threatened to "send home in coffins" visitors from Australia, New Zealand
  • Aussie and NZ leaders want Turkey to explain the "vile" and "offensive" remarks

JEDDAH: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was condemned on Wednesday for “vile, offensive and reckless” comments after last week’s Christchurch mosque terrorist attacks.

Australia summoned the Turkish ambassador in Canberra to explain the remarks, and New Zealand dispatched its foreign minister to Ankara to “set the record straight, face to face.”

Brenton Tarrant, 28, an Australian white supremacist, was charged with murder on Saturday after he shot dead 50 people during Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Erdogan, in election campaign rallies for his AK Party, urged New Zealand to restore the death penalty and said Turkey would make the killer pay if New Zealand did not.

He said anti-Muslim Australians who came to Turkey would be “sent back in coffins, like their grandfathers at Gallipoli,” and he accused Australian and New Zealand forces of invading Turkey during the First World War “because it is Muslim land.”

But an international affairs scholar in Riyadh said Erdogan’s comments should not be taken as representative of Muslims. 

"He is a propagandist and an unpredictable politician,” Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri told Arab News. “He keeps saying these things and then he issues an apology. Right now, he is making these incendiary comments to win elections.”

It was inappropriate behavior for a head of state, Al-Shehri said. “Which president would use such language and issue these kind of comments?”

In his speech, Erdogan said that the Gallipoli peninsula campaign in 1915 was in fact an attempt by British colonial forces to relieve their Russian allies. The attack was a military disaster, and more than 11,000 Australian and New Zealand forces were killed. Thousands of people from both countries travel each year to Turkey for war memorial services, and the anniversary is marked on Anzac Day every April 25.

“Remarks have been made by the Turkish President Erdogan that I consider highly offensive to Australians and highly reckless in this very sensitive environment,” Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said after summoning the Turkish ambassador and dismissing the “excuses” offered.

“I am expecting, and I have asked, for these comments to be clarified, to be withdrawn.” Morrison described claims about Australia and New Zealand’s response to the white supremacist attack as “vile.” He accused Erdogan of betraying the promise of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk to forge peace between the two countries.

A memorial at Gallipoli carries Ataturk’s words: “There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets ... after having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.”

“Ataturk sought to transform his country into a modern nation and an embracing nation, and I think these comments are at odds with that spirit,” Morrison said.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said her deputy, Foreign Minister Winston Peters, would travel to Turkey to seek clarification of Erdogan’s comments. “He is going there to set the record straight, face-to-face,” she said.