Lebanon s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri looks on during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 1, 2020. Reuters
Beirut’s deadliest explosion, which was caused by a fire in a chemical warehouse at the Beirut port, claimed the lives of dozens, injured thousands, left hundreds of thousands homeless and caused up to $15 billion in damage.
Since then, Egypt has launched an air bridge to deliver urgent medical aid to Lebanon and send medical teams to take part in the relief efforts.
Most recently, Egypt sent a shipment of more than 478 tons of aid, including medicines and foodstuffs to Lebanon, according to official statements. The shipment was the largest of its kind since the blast.
“The shipment was delivered by sea due to its massiveness as the aid [would have] needed around 37 planes,” Berri said, noting that the shipment included 265 tons of medicine.
Lebanon has been mired in political and economic crises in recent years after anti-government demonstrations erupted in 2019 then the blast a year later, which caused then-Prime Minister Hassan Diab to resign and kept the government in a state of political vacuum for months.
In July, then-Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri stepped down after failing to form a government for eight months. In September, current Prime Minister Najib Mikati formed a government, bringing an end to over a year of deadlock in the Arab country.
As the Lebanese pound has lost over 90 percent of its value and poverty has spiked since October 2019, Lebanese politicians and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) started talks in January on support measures to pull the country out of its economic crisis.
Talks between officials of Diab’s government and the IMF in 2020 broke down due to lack of agreement on the scale of the losses in the Lebanese financial system.
“By now, the negotiations between the government and the IMF is very successful,” Berri said, blaming the worsening economic situation on “political absence.”
“Lebanon is still rich in resources and assets and has a sea that is full of natural gas,” Berri said.
Egypt is also expected to start sending natural gas to Lebanon via Jordan and Syria as per a roadmap agreed upon by the energy ministers of the four countries in September to help Lebanon generate electricity amid its energy crisis.
Lebanon is preparing to hold its first parliamentary elections since the 2019 demonstrations in May this year and will also elect a new president in October.
“Meanwhile, the Lebanese government has to be done with its negotiations with the IMF and situations shall improve, like what happened with Egypt, Greece and Argentina,” Berri said.
Hariri, also leader of the Sunni-majority Future Movement party since 2007, said he will not stand for election “amid the state of national and sectarian division.”
“Hariri was prevented from running [for elections]. It was not his own decision,” Berri said, adding that such step “is not in the democratic benefit for Lebanon … as Saad represents a very important current.”
Berri is visiting Cairo to attend the 32nd Conference of the Arab Inter-Parliamentary Union, themed “Arab Solidarity.”
He thanked the Egyptian officials for inviting Syria to attend the conference.
“I have a personal rule that I established; I do not attend any conference for Arab parliaments without the presence of all Arab countries without exception,” he said.
On a possible end to the rift between Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, and Iran, Berri said he believes that the Iranians want to build best relations with Arabs and the Gulf, especially the Saudi kingdom.
“The US and the West managed to put Arabs in front of a foe that they created instead of Israel, which is the Iranian foe,” Berri said.
The Lebanese speaker said he failed to converge views between Egypt and Iran but succeeded in bringing Iran and Algeria together.